How When Helping Hurts Influenced Water Mission

Interview with Lara Lambert

Though the Chalmers Center has many resources and trainings for specific situations around best practices in poverty alleviation for both North American and Majority World contexts, our “big-picture” ministry focus has always been to help Christians think differently about poverty and then do something about it.  

One of the primary ways we’ve done this over the years is by putting out big ideas through books and speaking engagements to help spark a movement toward kingdom-centered, effective, sustainable poverty alleviation ministries that are rooted in the local church. By God’s grace, we continue to hear stories like the one we’re sharing today from ministries that have changed the way they approach their work as a result of engaging our biblical framework for understanding material poverty. 

Dr. George and Molly Greene founded Water Mission in 2001 following a transformational visit to Honduras in 1998, with the vision of engineering safe water, sanitation, and hygiene systems across the Majority World. To date, Water Mission has served over 7 million people in 57 countries.   

After a decade of faithful work, the Greenes encountered When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, and decided to implement the principles from the book within their organization.  

Lara Lambert, Water Mission’s Director of Program Development says: 

It’s from the very top, from the board and our founders down, we’re all speaking the same language, and it informs our culture and what we do. We adopted these principles back in 2011. Year after year, we’ve held workshops at the country level where we explore [the question] “What is poverty?” and seek to understand broken relationships. It’s embedded not just in the knowledge, but in how we do our community development activities, our training, [and] our tools…. 

Water Mission’s relational approach to poverty alleviation is part of what drew Lambert to the organization. Through her role as Director of Program Development, she advocates for evidence-based, asset-based approaches to international development and relief work. With a background in community development and appropriate technology, she emphasizes that people are the ones who solve poverty-related issues, not technology. Lambert points out that there is a noticeable gap in economic development when organizations engage in technology-centered design versus community-centered design.  

The Ongoing Impact of The Chalmers Center 

When Helping Hurts has had a lasting influence on Water Mission. In fact, the organization requires all new staff to read it, from their leadership team to those working directly in the field. It’s critical that every team member, not just program staff, understand these principles and recognize that they do not have all of the answers to “solve” poverty.  

Water Mission chooses to prioritize local community leaders and local churches to guide their efforts. Lambert says that their staff try never to work separately from local government, practices, and authorities, even in the midst of broken relationships and systems. Rather than focus on capacity-building, the program staff leans into relationship-building with local stakeholders, church leaders, and government officials.  

In recent years, Lambert explains, Water Mission has worked with local communities and churches to continually improve their monitoring and evaluation techniques and how they measure success. They recognized that the community needs to be the driving force in moving projects forward. If they’re unwilling to invest time, money, land, or other resources, Water Mission will not move forward with the partnership. It feels good to help people, to do things for them, but this does not ultimately lead to dignity or to empowerment. Rather, working alongside churches and communities creates lasting, sustainable change. Water mission has learned that successful projects hinge entirely on the community’s ability to provide foundational resources.

Do You Have a Story To Share?

At the Chalmers Center, we hear stories like this one, and continue to be amazed at how God has used the work He has given us to influence the ways whole organizations think about their approach to poverty, down to their program design. We would love to hear from you! Do you have a story of how the principles of When Helping Hurts have shaped your ministry? You can share it with us through our contact form.

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center helps God’s people rethink poverty and respond with practical biblical principles so that all are restored to flourishing.

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