I’m currently reading a book called When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… And Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  It’s a good read which is challenging my concept of poverty, and how to deal with it.  I may post a review after I’m finished.

I read one thing today that really struck me – the concept that truly beneficial assistance for the poor will hinge on the questions that you ask them in attempting to help.  In a nut-shell, there are two basic questions that might be asked.  Either:

What do you need?


What do you have?

The authors stress that while both of those questions are beneficial, there is a world of difference in the underlying assumptions and the manner of response associated with each.

The question, “What do you need?”, implicitly assumes that the person asking the question is superior in a material sense (and sometimes morally as well) and that the person with the need is inferior.  The person in need must be rescued by the superior person – an attitude that reinforces negative patterns of behavior in both parties, which the authors define as poverty.

The question, “What do you have?”, recognizes the God-given resources that every person has, no matter how poor, and involves them in the process of allowing God to work through them for the alleviation of their own poverty.  This process is referred to by some as “asset-based community development” (ABCD), as opposed to needs-based.

Here’s a quote from p.126:

ABCD is consistent with the perspective that God has blessed every individual and community with a host of gifts, including such diverse things as land, social networks, knowledge, animals, savings, intelligence, schools, creativity, production equipment, etc.  ABCD puts the emphasis on what materially poor people already have and asks them to consider from the outset, “What is right with you?  What gifts has God given you that you can use to improve your life and that of your neighbors?  How can the individuals and organizations in your community work together to improve your community?”  Instead of looking outside the low-income community for resources and solutions, ABCD starts by asking the materially poor how they can be stewards of their own gifts and resources, seeking to restore individuals and communities to being what God has created them to be from the very start of the relationship.  Indeed, the very nature of the question – What gifts do you have? – affirms people’s dignity and contributes to the process of overcoming their poverty of being.  And as they tell us of their gifts and abilities, we can start to see them as God does, helping us to overcome our sense of superiority; that is, our own poverty of being.

A good read, so far.


One Comment on “ABCD”

  1. […] the edge of a bottomless pit, and you’re in danger of falling in.  I think we’re learning lessons regarding poverty and stewardship that are applicable in more familiar contexts as […]

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