THE BLOG

Solving Poverty: The New Philanthropy is a Job

05/21/2013 04:19 pm ET | Updated Jul 21, 2013
  • John Hope Bryant Bestselling business leadership author and philanthropic entrepreneur

The thing I am most proud of in my professional career is that I meet a payroll every two weeks, and have been doing this successfully for more than 20 years now through Operation HOPE alone. In 20 years, I have never bounced a payroll check, and never had an employee arrive at a hospital emergency room only to be told that their benefits were no good. I am proud of that.

The Power of Role Modeling

But I didn't just 'become' a guy who could do this out of no where. I meet a payroll, because my father did. I saw my father meet payroll when I was a small child, typically on Friday nights, out the front door of our modest home in South Los Angeles. My entrepreneurship DNA was planted at an early age. Thank God my parents instilled in me a powerful sense of "who I am," and "yes I can." Being a victim just wasn't an option in my household. Creating something, making something, developing something, adding to something, becoming something -- was the only option my mom and dad gave me. And yes, I was also fortunate to have a mom and dad at home. This is not a foregone conclusion in an inner-city home.

Today, I am who I am, because my father was who he was. And I am thankful.

Those who make payroll possible once or twice a month in this country are a very unique breed, and as far as I am concerned, represent true American royalty. Why? Because they create the thing that drives most all other good things -- JOBS.

Approximately 92% of all American jobs come from free enterprise, only 8% of all jobs come from government.

When you have a job, you have dignity in yourself.
When you have a job, you can take care of your family and yourself.
When you have a job you can provide a roof over the heads of your loved ones, and take care of them when they are sick.
When you have a job you have a purpose in your life, tend to feel more valued and valuable, and carry a greater sense of importance about yourself.
When you have a job, you have more hope about life. You have more hope in your life.

People have a need, I believe, to have a meaningful purpose in their lives. They need the dignity of knowing that they are contributing somehow, somewhere in this world. Whenever possible, people need to feel like they can take care of themselves. Given a choice, I have found that people even at the lowest of economic scales, both here in America and in developing countries around the world, want a hand up more than they ever want a hand out.

No rational person wants to be dependent. No rational person wants to be considered a bum.

I recall an inspiring story that my personal hero Ambassador Andrew Young told me. The founder of Dollar Stores came to him some time ago seeking his counsel around launching a major philanthropic effort benefiting inner-city, urban and low-wealth communities. He had a range of ideas, but all of them were basically around giving money to this cause, and that cause. All good, Ambassador Young said, but how about try something else altogether; open a series of Dollar Stores in low-wealth, urban, inner-city and under-served communities and create jobs for the people there.

Even bolder, give really talented operators a shot at genuine ownership. In other words, sometimes the best philanthropy we can provide is a job.

I don't know whether this gentleman took Ambassador Young's wise counsel, but I do know that most every time I travel through an urban, inner-city or low-wealth community, including today, I tend to see a Dollar Store somewhere. The stores are always full, seemingly prosperous, doing robust business, and appear to be staffed by people from the communities that they serve. This is philanthropy that keeps on giving.

Now, I am not of course saying that major corporations should not have an important and very real commitment to traditional philanthropy. They should. Operation HOPE benefits from the fact that most do. But if you are a young and struggling entrepreneur, a small business owner with options of where to locate your business, or who to hire, or just someone trying to figure out how you can give back and help those in need in a very practical way, remember what was said here. Creating even one job for those otherwise left-behind is helping. And if you cannot create a job, sponsor a business internship. In most cases, we can all do something.

When you do this you are joining a unique club of American job creators. You are becoming a hero or shero, by becoming the real engine of American GDP growth and jobs (50% of all jobs come from employers with 100 employees or less, and 70% of all jobs come from employers with 500 employees or less).

You are new American royalty.

You helped someone live the American Dream, because you made payroll today.

John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, author, advisor, and the nation's empowerment leader. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, The Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S.