We are frequently challenged by issues that divide our time, resources, and energy between short-term maintenance of symptoms, and strategic organizing around a real solutions to deeper social problems. For example, soup kitchens and food shelves do not solve the problem of persistent malnutrition. They are critically important, and potentially life-saving maintenance strategies, but they do not begin to get to the core of the issue of poverty.
The temporary solution, and the permanent solution have a complex relationship. The temporary fix frequently has a charity approach. The implementation of this approach often occurs without an eye to broader social change. For instance, if you are motivated by the Bible, and Matthew 26:11 says ‘The poor you will always have with you,’ then you may simply feel that it is your Christian duty to be charitable to a permanent class of needy poor people. Further complicating matters is the fact that the short-term charity is a quick exchange that makes the benefactors feel good about themselves. The complex unraveling of causes and options that could lead to a more permanent solution, just seems like hard work – because it is.
The permanent solution requires a commitment to the belief that the so-called “needy” have paths out of poverty. Identifying and navigating those paths requires political will, and investment in low income people’s abilities to be productive, gainfully employed residents of the community.
So what does all of this have to do with leadership? Let’s return to the example of hunger.
Who is actively working on the issue of hunger in your community? Was your immediate response organizations that are involved solely in hunger relief? Probably. People need to eat every day. Hunger, as a phenomenon, is a daily concern. Hunger, as a social issue, however, requires a simultaneous focus on increasing the wealth of individuals and families who have less money than other people in our communities.
Leaders engage in strategic planning. They need to know who is already participating in related work, and whose intellectual, relational, natural, and financial assets have yet to be leveraged to achieve their common goal.
Malnutrition, hunger, and related concerns are all most effectively addressed when we see them as community development, workforce development, and economic development issues. It’s simple, people with more money overall, have more money to spend on food. So by all means, feed people. Treat them with dignity, and recognize their humanity. Your efforts, however, must also be complemented by plans to increase the wealth of those same people as part of a sustainable solution to the challenges to seek to overcome.