Johanna Ryan, VisionFund’s Global Director of Impact participated in the 2018 OneAccord Forum that brought together Christ-centred relief and development organisations. Here she shares her takeaways from the event.
The forum, organised by the Accord Network took place in Ridgecrest, North Carolina. Set in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, with the autumn sun shining on the gorgeous colours of the changing leaves, the conference site itself was quite inspiring — God has given us such gifts.
These gifts were brought to the table by the participating organisations and speakers in an effort to leverage learning to achieve more for the communities we serve.
This was the first time that the forum included a presentation track focused on Business and Small Enterprise, and it was also the first time that as World Vision’s microfinance partner, VisionFund was represented. The track included interlinked discussions on Business and Alleviating Poverty and how to do both faithfully, The Missing Link: the need to Develop Entrepreneurial Capacity, and the Challenges and Consequences of Good Intentions.
Good Intentions and the Right Ingredients
VisionFund’s microfinance work covers a spectrum of economic development activity; working alongside World Vision, predominantly in rural areas, means that communities receive the basic support for resilience, and VisionFund’s offering of savings, financial education, credit and insurance means that families have all the right ingredients to a path of productivity and prosperity.
Because we are mission-focused, we recognise that poverty has a spiritual dimension, and to address this, World Vision is now rolling out ‘Empowered World View’ training – aimed at transforming hearts and mind-sets, breaking dependence, helping discover the value of being created in the image of God, utilising resources within and around, and becoming agents of one’s own change. This is further illustrated in a case study from Tanzania Breaking the Chains of Poverty with Empowered World View where World Vision demonstrates the ways in which faith and biblical training can transform core beliefs to break cycles of poverty, opening the eyes of individuals to their own God-given potential.
VisionFund’s work at every step is aimed at improving the lives of children by helping their carers to build livelihoods and increase incomes so that children have all that they need to reach their full potential.
Even with all the right ingredients, challenges and unintended consequences prevail. From the cost of operations and funds to inactive bank accounts, and the adverse effects of the ease of access to credit on a mobile phone. Combine easy access to small loans with easy access to gambling sites — as is the case in Kenya, confirmed by a Kenyan in the audience — and the potential to exacerbate suffering is terrible. Let’s not even begin to talk about the interest rates charged to reflect the risk of lending to someone the institution knows nothing about.
This is the difference between focusing solely on financial inclusion as an end in itself, and really taking needs and context into account. And the latter was the common denominator that conference participants brought to the table and were interested in further exploring.
Keeping Mission at the Centre of Intent
‘Financial inclusion’ is simply not enough. We need to understand our contexts and to plan for what contexts we will be working in in the future. And we cannot do it alone.
Peter Greer, President and CEO of HOPE International, summed this up well during a lunch-time talk, through a theory which he illustrates in his book ‘Rooting for Rivals’. In his own words: ‘We’ve been given a mission and mandate that requires nothing less than the best of our efforts working together in unity for the sake of the Kingdom. It’s time that we model a far more gracious and collaborative spirit among us. Rather than competitors, it’s time that we see each other as co-labourers and perhaps even friends. It’s time that we focus on the Church’s unified mission above our organisational agendas. And in some small ways, to begin rooting for our rivals.’
The OneAccord Forum brought together nearly 200 participants, all from relief and development organisations that are Christ-centred. We are united by the Sustainable Development Goals and by our faith. At VisionFund we have made it a strategic priority to build strong partnerships to create greater impact, and my hope and prayer is that together, we can put up an even stronger fight against the complexities of poverty.