We’re in the thick of summer here in North America, which means short-term missions season is in full swing. While these trips are well-intended, they have the potential of falling into familiar patterns of aid and charity that often do more harm than good.
You’ve probably read When Helping Hurts, or at least heard of it. Maybe, like me, you’ve wondered “Okay, so how can helping actually help!?”
Hold that thought for a moment and let’s switch gears to clean water.
You’ve seen the statistics; nearly 800 million people still don’t have access to safe water. This is more than a humanitarian issue, it’s a crisis, and it demands a response. Surely, it’s better to pass out free water filters all day long than to do nothing. Right?
But is there another option, a third way that meets the needs of those in poverty without patronizing them or harming their economies? Better yet, is there a way to create sustainable solutions that are locally owned and led?
Since you’re reading the Partners Worldwide blog, you already know the answer: Yes, it’s called business, and it was created by God as a way to serve others and worship Him.
Business is not just about making money. It’s also a powerful opportunity to transform lives and communities, provide meaningful employment, and indeed, end poverty.
So how are clean water, Biblical business, and short-term missions related? The answer can be found in the story of Business Connect, one of our longest-standing partners.
By shifting away from an aid model, Business Connect is changing the way communities provide and receive clean water solutions. In 50 countries around the world, they have pioneered an entrepreneurial approach to the water crisis by working through local distributors.
Their model is quite simple: they supply top-quality water filters to local business owners, who then sell those filters for a small profit. In some cases, such as disaster relief or extreme rural poverty, the filters may be given away at a free or minimal cost.
Business Connect’s model helps foster local economic growth, empowers local leaders and entrepreneurs, and creates desperately-needed jobs in communities facing high unemployment and poverty.
This distribution model is, in some ways, obvious. Of course local business owners should be the ones who provide clean water solutions! But in other ways, it’s subverting an empire of aid that often harms local businesses and economies.
My friend Jereme, Co-owner and Director of Business Connect, was reflecting on the wave of summer missions trips, and how many of them bring suitcases stuffed with free water filters. A good thing in addressing immediate needs? Yes. But a long-term solution that edifies the local economy? Probably not. As you know, it’s difficult for a business owner to compete with “free.”
So if you are reading this and resonate with the idea of using business to create long-term solutions to issues such as the water crisis, reach out to us. We would love to dialogue about how we can build up local enterprises and local solutions to pressing issues like water scarcity.
If the global water crisis pulls on your heart and you desperately want to “help without hurting,” drop Jereme a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. He knows so much about water filters it’s scary, and has built up an amazing network of local distributors who not only save lives but also create jobs.
We would love to journey with you and align good intentions and generosity with business solutions that truly end poverty for good.