HN 24 | Pay-It-Forward

The first time I encountered the phrase “pay it forward” was in the 2000 film of that title about a young boy, Trevor, who turns a school project into a quest to make the world a better place. He decides to do three acts of kindness for three strangers. Instead of repaying Trevor for his help, each of them is asked to do three acts of kindness for three new people—Trevor asks them to pay it forward. Through this chain reaction, Trevor plans to spread kindness throughout the entire country.

This phrase caught my attention 12 years later when reading an article about a Tim Horton’s in Winnipeg. It reported that 228 customers paid it forward in an unbroken chain of altruism for three hours! It all started with one anonymous man who picked up the tab for the person behind him in the drive-through.

The third time I noticed this concept playing itself out in an extraordinary way was when I started working for Food for the Hungry. As I began reading our communities’ year-end reports detailing their successes and challenges over the previous six months, I saw an amazing thing happening.

Whenever a family received a goat from FH they agreed to give the first offspring to a neighbouring family in need. Instead of paying FH back for the goat (as would happen with a traditional loan) they paid it forward to someone else who also needed a leg up on poverty. This remarkable activity happens in every community where FH Canada works. It’s a simple, cost-effective way to accomplish a number of different goals.

Firstly, it enables the impact of Canadian gifts to be multiplied throughout communities far beyond the initial cost of a goat. Someone gives one goat to a family in 2018 and by the end of 2019, you’ll find not one but three goats supporting two families. Circle back in 2020 and there will most likely be six goats helping three families, and so on. That’s worth a whole lot more than the initial $75 donated!

Secondly, paying it forward nurtures a stronger sense of community responsibility and comradery and empowers families to help each other get out of poverty—together. Instead of each family working individually with FH, they can begin to turn to each other for help. It frees them from relying on outsiders.

Thirdly, people get to experience the power of paying it forward as a liberating approach to life. The scarcity they suffered in the past might prompt them to cling to whatever resources they can get ahold of. But the abundance mindset of paying it forward encourages an open-handed trust and generosity, a sense that by giving to others we get more rather than have less. Their entire approach to survival can begin to shift.

This pay it forward practice isn’t just limited to goats! FH community members pay it forward with sheep, cows, and pigs. They pay it forward with vegetable seeds and tree saplings. They pay it forward with new ideas and technology. The result? Their world is, indeed, becoming a better place—a place of incremental growth that leads to exponential thriving.




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Food for the Hungry: HN 24 | Pay-It-Forward
HN 24 | Pay-It-Forward
Food for the Hungry
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