I was recently selected as a Global Justice Fellow by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, AJWS works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world. This is quite an honor, and together with about a dozen others, I will be participating in training related to identifying and defining issues, organizing successful campaigns, harnessing and deploying citizen power effectively, leveraging social media, and political advocacy. The fellows will be traveling to Uganda to meet with AJWS grantees and learn firsthand how the social sector functions and the challenges NGOs face in the developing world.
As part of the fellowship, each fellow is assigned a Chavruta partner. A Chavruta is a traditional rabbinic approach to Talmudic study in which a pair of students analyzes, discusses and debates a shared text. Among the readings we have discussed, both in these pairs and as a group, has been a history of approaches to international development, with a focus on the Basic Needs Approach and the Rights-Based Approach.
As I read these texts, the implicit assumption seemed to be that the development community -- or at least an organization -- needed to pick one. I would argue that multiple approaches are needed. We cannot abandon the "Basic Needs Approach" -- there are millions of people whose basic human needs are not being met in the here and now. Providing for these urgent needs -- shelter, food, clothing and other services -- is critical. But, if all we do is focus on those immediate needs, we don't do anything to increase the likelihood that future generations won't be stuck in the same destitute situation. On the other hand, if we take the Rights-Based Approach, we are shifting large systems -- political and legal -- to get at the root causes of poverty; that kind of change takes a very long time. The Rights-Based Approach makes sense if the goal is to ensure that future generations won't live in poverty, but it doesn't do a lot to ameliorate the effects of poverty for those suffering right now.
Real change requires both approaches. We need to work to feed the hungry, house the homeless etc. Now, even as we work to eradicate these social problems for the future.
I applaud AJWS for taking a two-pronged approach to realizing human rights and alleviating poverty in the developing world. For example, AJWS supports Shaheen Women's Resource and Welfare Association in Hyderabad, India. Shaheen focuses on on-the-ground interventions to prevent (or rescue) women and girls from being sold into sexual slavery.
At the same time, Shaheen trains and enables these young women to advocate for systemic --cultural, legal, educational -- change to eliminate trafficking permanently. Taking an even broader view of what it will take to achieve this systemic change, AJWS recently announced the We Believe campaign to persuade the U.S. Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), to permanently ingrain eradicating violence against women and girls into U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid programs. The combination of on-the-ground, in-the-here-and-now relief with local and international advocacy is what it is going to take to eradicate sexual trafficking and put Shaheen out of business.
The same holds true for nonprofits here in the US. The organization I run, Pacific Community Ventures (PCV) is focused on building an economy that works for everyone, where everyone who is able, has work. We have two "divisions" within the organization: one that works on the ground, directly with entrepreneurs to build (and finance) socially impactful small businesses and one that works through policy and best practice research/analysis/education to create a supportive environment for socially impactful enterprises at the systems level. We are constantly looking for ways to create quality jobs/economic opportunity in lower income communities today, even as we are working to shift policy to drive capital and resources to these communities to level the economic playing field in the future.
Nonprofit organizations are proliferating in the U.S. -- there are now 2.3 million nonprofits in the country, up 24 percent from 1.6 million in 2010. We should be working to turn this trend around: The leaders of these organizations should be working not just to ameliorate the effects of the social problem they are addressing, but also toward solving that problem once and for all. The goal of every nonprofit leader should not be to grow their organization, but rather to go out of business.
I get tremendous satisfaction when I speak with an employee who works for a PCV portfolio company, whose job was created or whose wages increased, because of the assistance we provided to grow that business.
At the same time, I'm enormously proud of our policy work. One day I would like to be able to stand up and say, "The U.S. economy is a stellar example of capitalism in service of people and planet. Corporations, investors and regular consumers are all considering the social and environmental impacts of their economic decisions. Capital and other resources are flowing freely to our least fortunate communities, building a foundation of quality jobs that support local businesses, including healthy food options, health care, retailers, restaurants and other services. While some among us have reached high levels of financial success, none among us lacks for basic human necessities."
When I can say that, PCV will go out of business. Much as I love my job and this organization, I pray that day comes soon.
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