Reframe Poverty Alleviation: Five Holistic Principles


We wanted to spend the time unpacking some of the main concepts of this new Exchange model and our work around poverty alleviation. These are not fully formed ideas, but a free flow of thoughts about what these concepts mean to us. They are open for discussion, disagreement, and even denial. This exchange is an ongoing dialogue. If we had all of the answers at the beginning, this process wouldn’t be nearly as fun, engaging, or important!Building diverse social networks to decrease isolationProfessional services are a good thing as they are the bedrock to the safety net we have created in America, but professional services alone are clearly not enough. The community must be involved. In fact, the community has abdicated their responsibility to their fellow man, especially to low-income individuals. The vital social networks within neighborhoods are the economic stepping stone for low-income individuals to experience the mainstream for economic vitality. Let’s face it, low-income individuals are in isolation, just as much as those in the middle and upper class are in their own isolation, but when we intentionally bring these groups together, it creates enriching social capital for both parties.Doing WITH individuals & communitiesDoing for and to others is so much easier when you think about it. It’s fast. I can see quick results. I make myself feel really good about helping the unfortunate. Doing with individuals can be so frustrating; long-term and there are no quick results. But the temptation is overwhelming for governments, foundations and social service safety nets to quickly put the fire of crisis out for low-income families or individuals without regarding the long-term effects of damaging the human spirit by doing to others what could be easily done by themselves.Listening first to discover strengths & build upon themFocusing on ones deficits is another bad habit to break. I’m inclined to rely on my big heart, my multiple degrees and my type A personality that draws upon how I made it up my own economic ladder or achieved the American Dream. Therefore, listening to people who are stuck in poverty is the last thing I want to do; because of course I know what they need. However, when I reflect on my own life, the times when someone gave me the space to listen to what was deep in my heart and soul, these were transforming moments. Yet so many times we fail to let this happen for other people. The power of presence and listening to those who want to realize their voice can lead them to find the solution to their own problems in life. Truly, one of the best ways, and certainly one of the first ways, to love another person is to listen.Holistic- recognizing the interconnected parts of individuals and communities (financial, intellectual, relational, physical, spiritual)This principle is so obvious to our common sense, yet our instinctual rescue and relief efforts fall so short in the total development of the human person and the whole community at large. Which wing of an airplane is more important? It is of course a rhetorical question. You cannot focus only on the condition of someone’s soul and neglect their physical body. Nor can you focus on their physical body and ignore their soul. It is crucial we keep all the facets that constitute a human being on our radar.Promotes Leadership & Self Governance from WithinResisting the temptation for outside experts to solve community issues and disregarding the desires of the people in the community grants the people living there the freedom to take ownership of their neighborhood and its restoration. Restoring ownerships is the outgrowth of the restoration of the human spirit to succeed and advance.What are your thoughts about these principles? Which one resonates with you the most?John White, Partnership Director, Think Tank Inc.For more about John and his work, go to