A new monthly column by social entrepreneur and A2B Transformation Group founder Vivienne Schultz.
There is a vice lurking around community development, dressed as an angel of light.
Christians are sometimes blinded by its noble and sacrificial shine, but few recognise its poison.
It’s known by three aliases: Charity, Aid and Hand-outs.
Research shows that children easily become lazy, apathetic, unenthusiastic and demanding if hand-outs (giving and doing things for them) are a significant part of their upbringing.
Take the example of an incident at a night shelter where the manager’s car windows were smashed with a rock, because the clients were unhappy with the type of free food handed out to them night after night.
This is a universal principle of life: Humans react in exactly the same way, regardless of race and culture, because our brain infrastructure is the same.
The problem: A cycle of dependency
The cycle starts when a needy person with a victim mind-set receives a reward for her or his begging.
At first they are very thankful, because the hand-out really helps.
However, since this person is not empowered, she or he is unable to think of more constructive ways of meeting her or his own needs.
Also, she or he has now become aware of how easy it is to receive a hand-out without having to devise her or his own solutions. Then she or he begs again and is once again rewarded for her or his efforts.
The person soon becomes dependent on the handouts.
Dependency becomes chronic and develops into a sense of being entitled to the hand-out.
If the hand-out is denied, the person feels robbed and then goes on to aggressively defend her or his perceived right.
When one speaks of hand-outs, food, clothes, money, and shelter come to mind. But have you considered that quick-fix advice, thinking on behalf of a person as to what to do next, and the readily available help all of us dish out so easily are hand-outs and dependency perpetuators as well?
No amount of help — be that in the form of well-meaning Christian advice or government tenders or social grants — given without the VITALLY important volitional development and empowerment will EVER help the recipient to become an autonomous person who is socio-economically self-sustainable.
Christians in particular, armed with the mission of transforming the world and of being salt and light, should be THE experts in the restoration of the soul dimension — the backbone of human development.
We should be those provokers — provocateurs — of change and willpower in everybody we meet.
Case study: The passionate bull in the church china shop
Zinhle came across a school for disabled children which was in serious need of help.
Community members who were passionate about the well-being of children with disabilities had started the school.
When Zinhle met the staff, they had no equipment or training, but passion they had in abundance.
Passion alone, however, did not enable them to provide the quality of intervention that the children needed to move forward.
At first Zinhle always left the school feeling happy that she had empowered the school’s staff, only to get there the next week to see the teachers doing exactly what she had told them not to do the previous week.
She finally recognised the ineffectiveness of her own tools and decided on more specialised interventions.
Zinhle went away to assemble and produce all the required training materials. This time everybody was excited to get their hands dirty in the change process!
When everything was ready, Zinhle started training Mpho. She would demonstrate a specific activity to Mpho, explain the reasoning behind it and allow Mpho to practice it under her supervision.
This worked relatively well because Mpho was bright and learned the activities fast.
Unfortunately, Mpho was totally dependent on Zinhle. The moment Zinhle did not give her direct input or supervision, Mpho would simply continue with the same five activities Zinhle had taught her.
Boredom set in and enthusiasm to continue totally fizzled out.
As time went by and the problems stayed the same, Zinhle lost motivation.
Much to her shame, she was relieved when she was finally able to hand the project over.
How about you?
Perhaps you resonate with the raw passion of the young (and disempowered) community worker running onto the scene like a ‘bull in a China shop’.
Maybe, most of you identify with the once passionate, but sadly idea-less community worker at the end of the project, exhausted from continually running into brick walls, and having lost the motivation to continue carrying the full weight of transformation.
Nobody in this case study was even aware of the root of the problem, neither did anyone have a remedy for it.
One thing is clear — the result did not benefit the clients or the disheartened community workers.
Can we fix it? Yes, but a two-fold change journey needs to be walked in South Africa.
Firstly all of us Christians would have to be on a radical internal change process ourselves.
Secondly, we need to let go of some beliefs and behaviours that we have applied in the past.
Tip#1: Realise that disempowerment is as much a disease as any other human disorder, that every disempowered person has a unique “diagnosis”, but also that there is a cure for the root cause of it.
Focussing on a remedy for the EFFECTS of disempowerment (hunger, a lack of shelter etc) rather than the cause, only leads to ever more tangibles being thrown down a big black hole while the person who holds the key to the long term solution to the problem — the beneficiary of the “help” — is forgotten.
Tip#2: Rush in with Band-Aid type, quick fix medicine, and you will run the risk of exacerbating the dependency disease!
Poverty quickly turns into a disease of disempowerment, visible in a lack of ability and power to respond appropriately and efficiently to life demands (‘response-ability’).
Tip#3: Get in for the long haul — and admit to your fear of failure.
We normally prefer for change to be a single event because the journey of true change is in fact a very scary and painful one. It also takes hard work over a long time. Face your fear of failure, and plan to learn how to cope with the challenging results that change would bring.
Tip#4: Let go of the blame-and-shame game.
The blame-and-shame game will lock you into a ‘victim’ mentality — a starting point from which we could never change. We have to daily choose to leave the past behind and act on our resolve to go forward. If you still blame others, instead of partaking in the journey of development and growth, you urgently need the kind of new tools that you will discover in this column.
Tip#5: Start by working with beneficiaries who are ready for your intervention.
Let those who are willing, go forward and seize the new opportunities and pave out their bright new future of influencing others. Let those who wish to dwell in their victim state, do so too! You need to develop role models, experience satisfaction, stay relevant, and be respected for effective impact to happen.
Let’s build a society free of economic, physical and mental chains.
Let’s challenge people to liberate their thoughts, attitudes and self-belief.
Let’s create an environment where sustainable livelihoods and entrepreneurial action are rewarded.
Watch this space next month, as we delve into what it means to be a provocateur for change, or visit www.a2btransformation.com for more.