relief to development


By Bertrhude Albert, Ph.D. and Co-Authored by Priscilla Zelaya, Ph.D. 

World-changers are constantly seeking new ways to impact the world. With 90% of Americans engaged in charity work, generosity has become a part of the American lifestyle. They seek opportunities to donate their time and resources to help hurting people in places like Houston, Haiti, and Puerto Rico. As noble these generous efforts are, generosity can sometimes save lives, but other times, it can destroy lives.

As an organization, P4H Global desire to help people maximize their desire to aid hurting people.

Directly following a natural disaster, hurting people need immediate aid. During those times, life-saving supplies such as food and clothes are a necessary form of relief. Although this type of aid is appropriate immediately after a disaster, it becomes grossly inappropriate if it is still being given months later. Relief aid can quickly turn into hazardous handouts that stifle ingenuity, cripples local economies, and perpetuate cycles of dependence and poverty. Essential scholars that have influenced our understanding of the issues at stake are:

  • Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton
  • Dead Aid by Dambisa Moya
  • When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • More Than Good Intentions by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appeal
  • From Dependence to Dignity by Brian Fikkert and Russel Mask
  • Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
  • Charity Detox by Robert D. Lupton
  • The Big Truck That Went By by Jonathan M. Katz
  • Serving With Eyes Wide Open by David Livermore

There is a better way to help.

This simple model shows how to help without hurting. Each disaster is unique and will look differently, but the key to providing effective aid is to link relief efforts to long-term development plans. When a disaster first strikes, ask before giving aid. Start with a simple needs assessment to see what people on the ground actually need. From there, determine which stage is most appropriate.

The first two stages are an immediate response to crisis. In Stage 1, help should consist of providing the essentials, such as food and water. Stage 2 should be geared towards providing resources that help people rebuild their lives. The transition into Stage 3 is significant. It’s the start of long-term investments that aim to increase the capacity of those receiving help. Six months after the disaster, development initiatives should be taking place. In Stage 3 and Stage 4, supplies should be introduced as supplements to training initiatives. The aim of Stage 4 should be to establish more independence. Moving into Stage 5, the trainings established should emphasize community leadership. Lastly, in Stage 6, the people being helped are achieving the goals they’ve set out for themselves. Together, continue to engage in mutually benefiting partnerships. Throughout this entire process, there should be a continually assessment of the community’s assets and development needs in order to know which stage is most appropriate.

Although it happens everyday around the globe, staying in a relief stage for a prolonged time is detrimental to local communities. Whether working individually, with a church, or donating to an organization, this model can help maximize ones impact.