When Good Charity Looks Like Giving Out Cash

Once a year, many Christian international anti-poverty nonprofits release Christmas catalogs filled with items they hope you’ll purchase—only the gifts aren’t for anyone you know. Instead, most catalogs sent by groups like World Vision, Heifer International, and Compassion International boast items like livestock and other agricultural products that they’re hoping you’ll buy for those in need overseas. But is the strategy the best model to fight poverty? Why not give cash? “We tend to trust our family members with cash gifts,” said economist Bruce Wydick. “But in the past, at least, we’ve had much less trust for how people spend cash.” In CT’s December cover story, Wydick explores research that suggests giving cash may be one of the best ways to fight poverty. “One of the things that’s liberating about this system is that people are accountable to themselves for how they use the money,” he said. “No one is holding their hand, telling them they should do this or that.” Wydick joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the biblical tension between generosity and accountability, fighting paternalism in development work, and how cell phones connect to fighting poverty.

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