Seeds of Change Chapter 2: From Handout to Hand up

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

From Vincentian Family News Blog's introduction to the Systemic Change: Seeds of Change series: Pope John Paul II encouraged people to analyze the situation of the poor carefully, to identify the structural roots of poverty, and to formulate concrete solutions.

This article continues a twenty chapter series offered by the members of the Commission for Promoting Systemic Change about strategies that are useful, often even essential, for bringing about such change.

Adopting as its starting point a group of projects in which systemic change has actually taken place, the Commission analyzed stories of leaders of successful projects. From these stories, the Commission sought to identify the strategies that helped produce lasting change. It soon became clear that many of the strategies that led to structural changes and transformed the circumstances of individuals and communities flowed from the Gospels and from our Vincentian tradition.


Strategy 2: Design projects, creative strategies, policies and guidelines that flow from our Christian and Vincentian values and mission.


Joseph P. Foley, C.M.

by Joseph P. Foley, C.M.


This strategy is rooted in a very clear assertion of St. Vincent, “I am for God and the poor.” To me, this is the simplest expression of who Vincent is; it also expresses the focus of his commitment. Vincent’s respect for the dignity of the person led him to the conviction that “needs” must be identified and prioritized by the those who have the needs. The people themselves must be involved in planning and implementing solutions to those needs – from the start. In other words, they must be the owners of their projects.


Under Vincent’s guidance, projects were always carefully planned and they started out small. At the same time projects were designed in such a way that they could develop and last. Vincent knew that effective planning required sufficient financial and human resources to insure that initiatives be self-sustainable. Foundations such as the Daughters of Charity and what is now known as the AIC are dramatic and creative examples of the means taken by Vincent to give staying power to his most cherished projects.


An Urban Recycling and Employment Example


Recently I was reminded of some of these same strategies when I visited a Craft Fair in New York City. One of the booths exhibited some very beautiful mats, hats, hand bags, wall decorations and photograph frames. The promoters of this exhibit came from Grahamstown East, South Africa. Grahamstown East is a city of schools and churches but no large industries. In this area, 80% of the black inhabitants could not find employment. Great numbers of people spent long hours on breadlines; and the quality of housing was abysmal.


A woman who managed the Grahamstown Area Distress Relief Association (who was also a member of a local Chapter of Soroptimist International) suggested to the women who came for food that they could learn to make various kinds of crafts from ordinary plastic bags discarded by shoppers. The women learned to cut plastic into strips suitable for making baskets, mats and other items that could be sold. They then revived traditional Xhosa beadwork, clothing and grasswork, and they introduced the production of paper-mache furniture. This was a first small step.


Next, the women formed a craft cooperative; they continued to perfect their skills and they taught them to others. They developed a market for their goods – first locally and gradually expanding their market to the tourist industry; eventually they started filling international orders. Their major customers were service clubs, businesses and organizations who needed the goods as promotional gifts at conferences.


Early on, the craft cooperative received sponsorship some funding from an international organization called Project Five-O. Within a few years this craft cooperative, now called Masithandane (meaning, let us love one another) had become a free standing, locally owned and managed enterprise that generated employment, recycled discarded plastics and contributed to the development of the community. Among the products created were ribbons for campaigns to end AIDS, TB, and abuse against women. Among its community outreach efforts were such things as a child feeding program in their own community.


Project Five-O is a partnership of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, the International Council of Women, the International Federation of University Women, Soroptimist International and Zonta International. The presidents of these organizations met during the First United Nations Conference on Women in Mexico City. The idea of a partnership that would offer education to marginalized women appealed to them. Five years later the presidents signed a partnership agreement. They also entered into agreements with UN entities and other organizations where the “mission” corresponded to their commitment to provide education to women in such a way that it would lead to equality, development and peace.


This example employment creation appeals to me because the partnership of that is Project Five-O has many characteristics that make it similar to the partnership of the leaders of the Vincentian Family. Now in its twenty-fifth year, Project Five-O has stimulated and supported many small and large projects that are very impressive, and in this particular example it uses many strategies that are very familiar to us.


For additional examples and strategies, please visit The Institute for Sustainable Communities