To Give a Heifer…

“Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” This Chinese proverb is the idea that the founder of Heifer International, Dan West, formed his company around. While serving in the Spanish Civil War as an aid worker, he quickly realized that a small cup of milk for a family would not be sufficient in the long term. While working to create a more sustainable program to help the impoverished people out of the poverty-cycle, he decided, why not give a heifer? Giving an entire animal instead of a partial end product would be much more beneficial to the family/individual in need. It is with this idea in mind that Heifer International sent over 17 heifers to Puerto Rico.

Over the course of 70 years, Heifer International has been able to diversify with other types of livestock such as goats, fish, chickens, pigs, and bees to name a few. Having more options for donors to give, allows them to reach a larger market and also helps meet the exact need of the family receiving the livestock. In most cases this may seem like a handout. This concept is more of a helping hand. Being able to provide a family with what they need is a place to start. That is why Heifer International has taken on this concept and transformed the way gifts are distributed and used.

When a families’ livestock are delivered, there is training that takes place with that family. Livestock training takes place in order to treat that animal with proper care, along with being able to sustain their family for long-term use of the animal. A key aspect
worthy of mentioning entails the “passing on the gift” principle that Heifer holds on dear. “Passing on the gift” requires the family who obtained the animal to give their livestock’s offspring to another family in need. This brings the concept of giving to their families—accompanied by a partnership between the two families. As the cycle continues, there are many families being affected by the initial donation of the principle livestock.

Although Heifer International only expects there to be a one to one model set in place, communities have taken the initiative to go even further. A community in Cameroon has put in place an incubation program where seasoned livestock owners and farmers can initiate the training process in new farmers as they see fit. Whether these owners are passing on livestock or agriculture knowledge, this carries a sustainable model that Heifer has a one of their hallmark values. Again, this goes to show that if taught to fish, you will feed a man for a lifetime.

Training of the community members consists of sharing, caring, improved animal management, nutrition, disease control, along with genuine need and justice. Without these, members would not truly understand the value of commitment and the high standard that Heifer holds for their participants. Animal management is needed along with nutrition because the users of the livestock need to have a complete understanding of animal husbandry. In order to take proper care of their livestock—procuring the use of management of what is enough or high quality product along with disease control. Necessaries the participants need to understand also include the genuine need and justice for the livestock. Without understanding the need, they will not care for the animal and its products, potentially misusing byproducts and harming people or the animal in the process.

Reaching over 5,000 families and having revenues over 122 million, Heifer International needs to have a strict performance gauge to keep their values in line, making sure there are no deterrents, leading them to failure. Heifer makes sure to have a holistic approach to finding social, political, environmental, and economical factors affecting the roots causes of hunger and poverty—making sure that they are actually helping fix the problem and not cause it. With the creation of an internal team to solidify decisions and coordinate all teams, they are able to make certain the finances and administration are on the straight and narrow. Also creating a key knowledge management system to work at defining their 360-degree accountability in all their programs. The system holds administration, along with members of the program 100 percent accountable to all the work done. Without this set in place, companies can deter from what is right and wrong, looking to gain profit more than they are working for the common good—holding themselves accountable to doing the work of the kingdom.

Company aspects that Heifer International could work closer with could be adding a type of micro loan from the poor member of the community instead of donating an entire animal. Personally, the donation of an entire heifer still seems like a handout, though the person it is given to must give the offspring to another person in need, the first animal is still given. It’s hard to get the handout concept out of mind when it is commonly used in charity practice. Thankfully, Dan West understood that handouts were only depreciating a person’s self-worth and decided to do something about it and start a well put-into-practice organization like Heifer International.

In conclusion, the world’s population of a little over a billion people living in extreme poverty will hopefully be eradicated in 20 years, leaving the rigorous work of finding jobs for those in extreme need finished. Knowing that poverty will always be in existence, Heifer International provides a new start for the poor, enabling themselves an out over the poverty-cycle.


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