OPINION: Charity vs. Opportunity – Charity Will Never Be Enough to Eliminate Poverty

Rory Wehrlie March 3, 2012

This is a Guest Author Post by Steve Conrad from Forgotten Shirts.  Learn more about Guest Author Posts and how to submit your own article here.

In 2006, I had the opportunity to visit Eastern Congo. Like most first-time visitors, I was overwhelmed by what I saw – poverty, disease, and violence. And like most people who spend time in Congo, I was amazed by the Congolese people – talented, hard-working, and determined in the face of great challenges. I lived in Congo for several months, and in the following years had the opportunity to work with some great organizations in Congo and Uganda that were providing health care, education, and other basic physical needs.

Over time, I began to realize that there was a missing piece. Though there were lots of aid organizations doing great things, I continually encountered people living in poverty that wanted nothing more than to have the opportunity to work and provide for themselves and their families. They appreciated aid, but wanted opportunity.

In 2009, Forgotten was born. We created Forgotten with the mission of creating opportunities for people who often have no way to build a better life for themselves.

We are convinced that charity will never be enough to eliminate poverty in places like Uganda and Congo. That is why we seek to create good, dignified jobs. (Each one of our shirts provides 74 minutes of employment and directly benefits 3 people.) We hope to empower individuals so that they no longer need to rely on charity, but rather earn a fair income that will allow them to send their children to school, buy medicine and invest in their own communities. We envision a world where we don’t need to spend billions of dollars each year in aid. Rather, we imagine a world where the marginalized are given opportunities to succeed.

This kind of change is hard. It requires investment in the lives of people who have often been forgotten and marginalized. But it also takes a shift in the mindset of those of us who live in affluent countries. Our consumer system conditions us to look for the lowest possible price without thinking about who produces what we make and whether their job enables them to build a better life or simply keeps them trapped in poverty.

It’s our hope that hundreds of companies like ours spring up around the world. We make shirts. Others make shoes, jewelry, bags and household products. One day, there may be alternatives for just about any product that we want to buy. Thousands, perhaps millions, of people will be lifted out of poverty – not through aid, but simply by creating opportunities to work.

Steve Conrad founded Forgotten Shirts in 2009 after working with various aid organizations in Congo and Uganda. Forgotten was born out of a desire to great dignified jobs for people in sub-Saharan Africa where millions of people lack access to jobs that can help them build a better life. Forgotten produces organic cotton t-shirts – providing hope and opportunity to the cotton farmers and textile workers who make them. Follow Forgotten on Facebook and Twitter.  Learn more about Guest Author Posts and how to submit your own article here.

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