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HN Issue 13: When Helping Hurts (And What We Can Do About It)

Dr. Brian Fikkert was describing the value of partnership-based development when the words “Donor Alert” appeared on his giant presentation screen.

He had been making the participatory model sound too good, too effective and beneficial, but he was about to reveal the catch hidden in the fine print.

He paused, then tumbled out with it.

Good intentions are not enough,” he admitted.  It’s something that donors and front-line workers don’t always like to hear.

Brian is the co-author, along with Steve Corbett, of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...And Yourself. On December 1 he headlined the “Helping Without Hurting” conference in Edmonton, AB, hosted by FH Canada.


FH Canada training manager Melissa Giles organized the event as a training tool for pastors, lay people, aid workers, and anyone involved with engaging poverty and injustice locally or globally.

We wanted to give back and provide a resource for people,” says Melissa. “This isn’t presently being talked about by other big speakers in Canada.

She realized just how pertinent the topic was when 525 people registered for the event. Participants came from all over Western Canada and even the Northwestern States.

The conference broke down the principles of relief and development, equipping participants to respond in appropriate, life-giving ways that empower the poor instead of undermining their dignity.

Based on the overwhelming feedback, the training challenged the crowd and confronted several assumptions about the nature of poverty. It also suggested alternative ways to engage complex issues and laid the foundations for more effective involvement. Most importantly, it helped participants be aware of the ways their good intentions could actually bring harm.

The whole concept was paradigm shifting. It completely changed the way I view the needs of the materially poor and how to get involved in the solution,” said a seasoned volunteer.


The face of our missions trips, social work and community service could be dramatically altered for the better through the information I learned,” said Jessica, who works with government social services.


There are things I think the church needs to hear, and Brian has a way of communicating them that’s really effective,” explains Melissa.

But it wasn’t a conference about guilt or shame for mistakes of the past. It was meant to inspire, educate and enable individuals, churches, volunteers, and non-profits to make smart choices as they engage with issues of poverty—not only for their own good, but for the good of those they aim to help.


If you missed the conference but want to attend a Poverty Revolution Bootcamp, visit www.povertyrevolution/bootcamp.

Photo credit: Joe Reimer

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