Do you ever stop to wonder if your donations make a lasting difference in the lives of those who benefit from them? One of our goals at Viable is to encourage donors to think differently – not just those who choose to support Viable’s work, but anyone in the position to give of their time, talents, and resources to various charitable organizations with a goal to see survivors of abuse, tragedy and abandonment get back on their feet and stay there under their own power.
There are countless organizations doing the powerful and important work of providing aid and relief for individuals in crisis, and we do not want to minimize or discount what they are accomplishing. Clearly, support must be provided for charities that rescue starving people, provide medical care to those in dire need, or protect and care for individuals being physically victimized. Our focus begins after that work, as an effort to honor the service of caregivers and continue the progress made by survivors. When wounds have healed, immediate danger is no longer imminent, survivors are beginning the task of living without aid, and the scope of work for emergency relief agencies is deemed finished, we walk with survivors who carry the baton the extra mile to financial self-sufficiency.
In Matthew 5:41, Jesus said, “...if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
Let’s consider an example. A large network of children’s’ homes is in the trenches, caring for foster youth, and providing shelter, counseling, and safety. At 18, if not previously adopted, these children are “emancipated” – they age out as legal adults and are released from care with an unspoken ‘good luck out there.’ At best, they are on their own to find income and a place to live, pay their bills, further their education or training, and the list goes on. At worst, they trade their orphan label for that of unemployed or homeless “adult.”
Imagine yourself at 18, or maybe your child at 18. Were you ready to be truly on your own? Were you given any advance notice of the “cold, cruel world” you were walking into? Most of us, in pursuit of our first paying job, were given the benefit of a head’s up by a family member or friend, a prompt for what to consider and what we might expect to encounter. This is community. Most of us relied upon our connections to identify and cultivate opportunities, seek interview advice, or even receive a ride to work. It is likely there were a few trusted adults we could list as references on our job applications. Most of us relied upon our network to get our foot in the door, and we called on this network again if we made mistakes along the way. Having community and connections make all the difference when starting out. Maybe you’re not 18, looking for your first job, but imagine being recently hospitalized, divorced, widowed, or laid off. After you caught your breath, your first step might be to go to your network to help you find what you need to move forward in life. At the top of your list of needs is a job, but thirty percent of youth who have aged out of foster care in America have zero income between the ages of 18 and 21. Of the 70% who had any earnings during this time period, most generated a mean annual income of less than $6,000. (More data like this can be found here). This is, in part, symptomatic of a lack of preparation and connection, or as author Bob Lupton puts it, “a caring and connected community.”
Survivors of human trafficking face similarly startling statistics. Globally, eighty percent of trafficking survivors are re-trafficked if they do not obtain meaningful employment in the interim. The reason is the same – although they have been served mightily by caregivers addressing trauma, addiction, child custody, criminal records established because of what they were forced to do, etc., they lack the connections and community support required to thrive safely and independently following their rescue, recovery and restoration. Without means to achieve and maintain financial independence, they remain vulnerable to further exploitation.
Examples of similar International scenarios are plentiful. In a rural village full of suffering, painful history, and corruption, an inspiring charity is helping countless women and children survive and thrive on their property. The individuals they are serving have lived through some of the worst atrocities we can imagine. The ministry leaders are excelling at providing a safe haven with food, access to education, counseling, and modeling daily living activities. Additionally, leadership positions within the organization are filled with local, qualified adults who are thankful for the jobs. But what does the future hold for the residents and students once they graduate or age out of the program? Understandably, the waiting list is often very long for well-funded American or British ministries offering safety, nutrition and education in developing nations. The cycle is seemingly never ending. With the best of intentions, the charity embarks on training programs teaching basic vocational skills and handicrafts. They might even aspire to provide “entrepreneurship” or business training, but market connections for employment or business opportunity are not being made and applied for graduates. The skills being taught aren’t relevant or marketable in the local economy. Those leaving the program do not leave with jobs, or the practical knowledge, ability, or connections to obtain them.
So what’s next? Viable provides an alternative that pushes through the traditional finish line. Our focus starts after the work of aid and relief agencies, because we know the beneficiary’s needs are not yet fully met, and the race isn’t even close to finished. The last mile of charity is still to be traveled.
Business experience provides us with a unique perspective to know what is required in the marketplace. We can see the gap that remains between the end of traditional charitable services and the beginning of a career in the marketplace. And, we know how to close it. Despite the buzz around “entrepreneurship” as a universal solution to poverty, we understand that everyone cannot be an entrepreneur, regardless of previous economic or social status. In America, the ‘land of opportunity,’ 75% of entrepreneurs first worked for someone else for at least six years before starting their own business. So why would we provide entrepreneurship training to every survivor in transition across the world? The first step is almost always to connect with a successful business venture in operation – with seasoned leaders who have identified markets, developed a business model, raised investment capital and have a track record of operations. In many areas where “the poor” or the vulnerable are served by charitable services, investors and business opportunities can be found with needs for labor and supply. We are experienced in assessing the local market, looking to businesses that are doing well and are open to growth. We excel at opening doors for survivors, making introductions, facilitating opportunities for others, and coaching leaders of charities and survivors understand what is required to close the gap in mindset and skill so they can deliver value to ethical employers in exchange for pay. These businesses operate in challenging environments. They need help to meet demand, which means they can employ survivors who can deliver value. Their beneficiaries might still struggle with their memories and their pasts, but they now have a future for themselves and their children. The recipients of the charity’s good work have left the merry-go-round and have jumped on a bicycle headed down a path of financial self-sufficiency.
At Viable, we encourage donors and beneficiaries alike to seek more than survival. We want leaders to ask the hard questions and extend their vision to consider what it takes to create prosperous futures in areas where success has been deemed unattainable. This isn’t something we call out and dump in their laps as another to-do on their list. We are engaged operationally in this effort. We can change the way the world approaches the last mile of charity, but we have to be willing to go this extra mile. It begins with a vision for what is possible and the effort requires a team. No one should expect one organization to do this difficult work alone. Viable has significant experience in creating and growing incomes of vulnerable populations. If you need assistance with the extra mile, or if you sense you may have the skills or resources to help us achieve these goals, please reach out to us.