Partnerships Instead of Paternalism

by Ben Garrett

If I were to ask you to visualize an entrepreneur, what image springs to mind? Perhaps a slick suit, some new, exciting product, or a Silicon Valley start-up company? For me, the image that comes to mind is a man in a Chicago Bulls t-shirt and red basketball shorts who gently placed a white card and black woven bracelet on my table at Starbucks.

The white card - no bigger than a standard business card - read, “Hello, I’m deaf. Forgive me for bothering you, but I am selling this bracelet to earn a living and support my family. Will you kindly buy one for a $5 donation? Thank you. God bless you.” I immediately began rummaging through my wallet, and even though I could only locate four bucks, he smiled, pointed to the cash, and gave me a thumbs up.

This man demonstrated an array of savvy business skills. He made a product with mass appeal. He went to a location where he would have a receptive audience with disposable income. In fact, his marketing instincts were so good that every person around me purchased one of his bracelets. I suspect he knows exactly how much it costs to produce each bracelet and how many he needs to sell in order to meet his financial goals. This man is an entrepreneur.

Let’s zoom out from this exchange for a second. In many social circles and traditional non-profit settings, this man might be viewed as “poor,” or at least someone in need of help. But what if we thought about “the poor” from a different perspective? Rather than seeing those who are experiencing material poverty as people with needs, what if we saw them as entrepreneurs who simply lacked startup resources? What if what “the poor” need is not a donation, but rather an investment?

This way of thinking has already produced amazing results in other countries through the micro-lending movement. Hope International is one organization that is helping to create entrepreneurs by offering micro-finance loans.

At EIRO, we strive to see and work with all people based not on what they need, but rather on their strengths. This is one way we move from paternalism to partnership. Are there places where you have seen this way of thinking at work? Do you know a church or non-profit that could benefit from this paradigm shift? Let us know. We’d love to begin a conversation with your local church or nonprofit about how to see people as entrepreneurs and move from a mindset of paternalism to partnerships.