Outreach’s approach to overcoming poverty is different than any other.

The first stage of Outreach’s “PHDP,” or “Participatory Human Development Process,” is for Outreach field staff to identify and enter communities affected by poverty and talk with residents about their lives. Later, staff encourage residents to come together as a community to discuss common issues. People talk to one another while Outreach listens.

Juan, a longtime field team member from Nicaragua, explained some of the first steps taken by communities as they determine first if, then how they would like to work with Outreach to improve their surroundings.

“Normally, when we visit a community, we don’t go directly to a meeting, we do prep work in our first few weeks in a community by interviewing 4-5 families in a day, for many weeks beforehand,” he says. “[The families] talk about the effects a given problem [like poor roads, inadequate access to clean water, lack of farming resources, etc] has on their lives. It takes about an hour for each family interview. After each meeting, [the family] makes an agreement to continue discussion collectively as a group.”

It can take a few visits per week over many months, but inevitably, Outreach team members prove themselves worthy of acceptance into a given community. “When you build this outside trust, you become a confidant. We can talk about other things besides the work yet to be done; we can soon come in and be part of their family.”

Having met with relevant parties to establish a baseline of trust and facilitate the identification of issues and potential solutions, it’s time for the community to take the reins. “As the process continues,” Juan says, “these groups become more organized and elect community members for specific project leadership roles.”

After years of PHDP facilitation—assisting communities through identifying, prioritizing, and accessing resources to address issues— field team members prepare for a hand-off. “We then move into the ‘consolidation phase,’ where Outreach field team members prepare to minimize their presence in the community, do less facilitation, identifying participants who have the potential to lead as local facilitators, and do some observation of community-led meetings while continuing to serve in an advisory role. Our goal is to continually teach the people to lead and take an active role in their work.”

Admittedly, this is a much more time-consuming approach to ending poverty, and one without any immediate results to bolster confidence. “Although the word ‘facilitator’ comes from the word ‘facile,’ meaning ‘easy,’ in reality, our work takes a long time, and results don’t come right away. We have to stick to our process until those results can be seen,” Juan says.

The trade-off for all that extra effort? PHDP is a categorically more effective, sustainable method to achieve positive change than is practiced by any other non-profit. “For other non-profits, it can be really simple: enter a community, see a situation– for example, an ear infection– give them money, take them to a doctor,” says Juan. “Bad Roof? Take out money and buy them a new roof. Any problem, throw money at it. But our mission is not to make people dependent, it’s to facilitate so that the people demonstrate that they can do things for themselves.”

What we want the people to do is leave their footprints, not ours.

Juan adds, “When you do the easier work and [arrive] immediately at a solution, you’re not making the people more independent, you’re making them dependent. That’s dangerous, because when that organization leaves the community, that community collapses. In our work, we do the opposite– work so that people are raising themselves up. This is why we’ve worked so hard on our process, where people internalize and grow to understand their own role in their community, so they’ll be able to continue once we’re not around. We’re just passers-by, just there temporarily— we’ll leave eventually, so they’ll have to learn to be resourceful.”

Coming up next: Step 2.