According to the famous 12th century Jewish sage Maimonides:

The highest degree of charity, exceeded by none, is that of one who assists a poor person by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him to find employment — in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people’s aid.”

In other words, acting as a resource to help one become self-sufficient is more valuable than an outright gift. The logic behind this rationale is powerful from several perspectives: First, assisting one on their way to supporting themselves and their family hopefully makes the need for assistance only temporary as opposed to a permanent fixture. Second, as Sir Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sachs describes, “The idea that the highest form of charity is to find someone a job speaks volumes about its [Judaism’s] understanding of human dignity — people don’t want to be dependent.” Giving someone a job, putting them in business, or offering them a bona fide loan is not an outright gift. It is temporary assistance whereby they retain the obligation to pay it back or work for it.

Enabling this self-sufficiency can be accomplished without ever writing a check. Sometimes a simple introduction or personal vouching can help secure much needed employment. In times when funds are needed, they may be structured as a lending service so that they aren’t an outright gift, but rather a bona fide loan that is paid back over time. This idea was recently employed to great effect by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunuswho championed a program of granting microloans to help poor people start small businesses. Recipients of these loans were given an opportunity to become self-sufficient as opposed to having their basic needs covered. Looking elsewhere, on a recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo we were introduced to a situation where local organizations were partnering with an electric utility to bring electricity to first time commercial users to enable them to transform their operations and increase profitability.

There are countless opportunities to utilize this concept creatively in ways that can transform individuals and communities. While there may be the opportunity to establish a new avenue to employ this tactic, our guess is that there are many existing organizations that would welcome additional funding sources.

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