In 2005, economist Jeffrey Sachs published a book called The End of Poverty. In it, he outlined how the Western world could alleviate extreme poverty by 2025 if certain measures are taken (especially increased aid).

Sachs’ book inspired responses ranging from praise to sharp criticism, including rebuttals in a number of subsequent books. As I’ve studied poverty, it appears that most seminal works are written from an economic perspective. This assumes that poverty is primarily a lack of financial resources.

Yet, on the contrary, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo suggests that no developing country has ever risen from the ashes and become an economically empowered state primarily through aid.

What does this have to do with leadership?

Leaders, especially those in Western institutions, often assume that problems can be “fixed” with money, strategy, vision, etc. Just follow five easy steps, and you’ll succeed! If this is true, then why has roughly one billion of the world’s population failed to “graduate” from extreme poverty, despite the best efforts of really smart people?

An alternate perspective on poverty may have significant implications for leaders. Bryant Myers (Walking With the Poor) suggests that financial distress is only one aspect of poverty. Poverty is emotional, spiritual, physical, social, and political.

Myers further posits that:

Poverty, in its essence, is when someone does not know who they are, or for what purpose they were created.

Those caught in cycles of holistic poverty no longer believe they matter, or understand that they have a purpose. And by the way – this definition challenges the idea that poor people are the only ones who experience poverty.

I wonder if our job as leaders, then, is less about trying to “fix” things, people, or systems, and more about investing in relationships such that those we encounter are challenged to a deeper understanding of who they are and why they were created. Of course, from a Christian perspective, this conversation cannot exist without the gospel message.

Does your leadership help followers find deeper meaning regarding who they are, and why they were created? How might you take steps to “end poverty” today?

Daniel Gluck serves as Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at Jessup, and Lead Faculty for the B.A. in Christian Leadership program.