As I attended the ESR Conference and spoke with people informally or heard their personal stories I was intrigued to learn about the history of their introduction and first involvement in this space of microcredit/microenterprise/microfranchising/ and various efforts to help the poor. Three common histories:
1) Peace Corps. John Hatch (FINCA) and Greg Van Kirk (CESolutions) both were exposed or became dedicated to this kind of work when they volunteered with the peace corps.
2) LDS missionaries. Obviously, considering the conference was in Utah but this is a very common phenomenon. The LDS church has over 50,000 young people aged 19-21 spread out across the world at any given moment in time. These kids are on the streets, in the slums, in the homes of people around the world; they learn the language, fall in love with the culture and develop a soft spot in their heart for the people they served. They come home after two years of service and still feel a connection and want to make a difference.
3) The third common pattern was family vacations off the beaten track that exposed people to poverty for the first time in their life. The personal interaction and eye-witness experience changes them profoundly and they decide to take action.
I think the common thread is personal interaction. This has a couple implications:
First, there is great hope. The world is more interconnected than ever before. I can get on an airplane and be on the other side of the world even remote parts in a matter of hours. I can get on the internet and have an instant exchange with someone from India or Kenya. Prosperity is allowing more and more people to travel internationally. As personal contacts increase the number of people to get involved in efforts to eradicate poverty will increase.
Second, if you want to convert a donor to your cause find a way for them to personally interact with the beneficiaries of your program. I think of the example of Men on the Side of the Road in South Africa in which they consciously arranged, even if it was less efficient, for the beneficiaries to personally collect the donated resources from donors. They have extremely high commitment levels from their donors for their project at large. The same principal would apply if you are trying to secure a multimillion dollar grant. Take the drive to forge the personal connection.
Third, if the sector wants to recruit the best and brightest they must get into the universities and even high schools and facilitate the travel and personal interaction between the young people of the industrialized world and those struggling in poverty.