A recent episode of NPR’s Planet Money opened with the question in the title above: What’s better for helping the poor — greed or charity?
Host Adam Davidson talks with Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus, the “father of microfinance”, and Vikram Akula, the founder of a for-profit micro-finance institution. It’s a fascinating debate on whether greed might actually do good, with Yunus arguing “no” and Akula arguing “yes.”
Yunus says that greed will always hurt the poor. As soon as one begins talking about profit, it’s a slippery slope from a social mission to a commercial mission. Profit-driven interests will always take over social interests, if given the chance.
Yet Akula disagrees. His company doesn’t see a difference between a social mission and a commercial mission. He argues that his company creates greater shareholder value as women move up the economic ladder, creating both development and profit.
Lutheran World Relief obviously works out of a not-for-profit system, providing microfinance loans through our Tripartite model, so that these microloans go directly to, and stay in, developing communities. We hope that our supporters act out of a place of gratitude rather than a motivation of profit.
Yet this debate makes me think of the Lutheran confession that we are simul justus et peccator — simultaneously saints & sinners. Can we do good without selfish motives? Can we help people living in poverty and profit off of them?
Listen to the podcast below, and let us know your side of the debate in the comments: