I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the concept of giving, and I’ve shared some eye-opening conversations with people who have dedicated their lives to serving others. In one particular conversation, a minister surprised me by saying that giving should not actually be the goal. When we give to someone, the transaction is temporary. We feel good about ourselves, and their problem is solved for the time being, but there is no lasting relationship. The goal, instead, should be sharing. When we create a sharing relationship, both parties are continuously fulfilled. It’s a much more joyful way to be mission-minded.
Enablement Versus Empowerment
These conversations have also raised the idea of enablement versus empowerment, which is something I keep at the top of my mind as we grow the Brighter Together Foundation. As we say in our mission statement, the goal of the foundation is to turn inspiration into action through community, collaboration and empowerment. We chose those words very deliberately, and to us, empowerment happens when we give someone the power to lift themselves up and hold them accountable to whomever they want to be long-term. On the other hand, enablement is what happens when we simply give someone the means to stay within their current problem or situation.
You’ve likely heard the metaphor about teaching a person to fish. In its simplest terms, enablement can be described as giving a person a fish to feed them for a day, while empowerment is teaching them and feeding them for a lifetime.
Bringing Empowerment to Life through the Brighter Together Foundation
With the Brighter Together Foundation, we take this metaphor a step further. In partnership with Project Concern International, a Global Communities Partner (PCI), Brighter Together is the primary funder for their Women Empowered (WE) programs. The goal of these programs can be described as not only teaching women to fish, but also teaching them to salt and save what they catch, so that it can benefit them in the future.
What I love about the Brighter Together Foundation is that it doesn’t just give money to these women. It can be so tempting to just write a check – it makes us feel good about ourselves and creates quick change. But, as Melinda Gates observes in her book The Moment of Lift, simply giving money isn’t going to enact the great cultural or societal transformation that we’re actually after. Even on a smaller scale, within our own personal lives, we have to be committed to and own a change, or it won’t last.
The Brighter Together Foundation teaches women in impoverished countries to start their own businesses, save the money and then use the money to help other women. They create a micro-lending system that allows them to invest in the betterment of their own lives and community.
Enacting Real Change
With women, especially, I often see a well-meaning person wanting to solve a problem as quickly as possible, both in their personal and business lives. For example, if your cousin asks to borrow $500 to pay off some credit card debt, the easiest course of action might be to just give them the money. But, as we can all relate to in some way or another, that does very little to help your cousin actually improve their situation. Chances are, they’ll be needing to borrow more money again very soon. So rather than enable them to continue down the same path, shifting your process and your mindset toward empowerment can make all the difference. Rather than just giving your cousin the $500, maybe you offer it with the stipulation that they must first show that they have 10 lawn mowing customers lined up. Then, after they’ve returned your loan with the lawn mowing money, you encourage them to continue to mow lawns and invest what they earn. By holding this person accountable, and empowering them to hold themselves accountable, they can start to make real strides toward becoming the person they want to be.
This is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from the Brighter Together Foundation. In the amazing way of a true sharing relationship, we get as much from these women as they get from us.
I’d love to hear about a time you shifted your mindset from enabling to empowering. Share your story in the comments!