Relief to Development

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Co-Authored by Priscilla Zelaya, Ph.D. 


You want to make a difference in this world, and you’re not alone.  90% of Americans engage in charity work. Generosity is a way of life in America. We donate our time and resources to help hurting people in places like Houston, Haiti, and Puerto Rico. We want to help you maximize your impact.

Here’s the tricky part of generosity, sometimes it saves lives, but other times it can destroy lives.

Directly following a natural disaster, hurting people need immediate aid. During those times, we provide life-saving supplies such as food and clothes. Although this type of relief is appropriate immediately after a disaster, it becomes grossly inappropriate if it’s still being given months later. It’s true. Relief aid can quickly turns into hazardous handouts that stifles ingenuity, cripples local economies, and perpetuates cycles of dependence and poverty. Check out what these scholars say about the issue.

  • Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton

  • Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo

  • 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’s 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, we’ve got to ask before we aid. Start with a simple needs assessment to see what people on the ground actually need. From there, you can determine which stage is most appropriate.

The first two stages are an immediate response to crisis. In Stage 1, you help by providing essentials. In Stage 2 you provide 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 you’re helping. Six months after the disaster, development initiatives should be taking place. In Stage 3 and Stage 4, you provide supplies as you introduce trainings. In Stage 4, you’re working towards establishing more independence. Stage 5, you provide trainings while emphasizing community leadership. In Stage 6, the people you are helping are achieving the goals they’ve set out for themselves. Together, you continue to engage in mutually benefiting partnerships. Throughout this entire process, you should continually assess 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 you are working individually, with your church, or donating to an organization, this model can help you can maximize your impact.

Bertrhude Albert, Ph.D.