BPR Interviews: Liz Ellis

 Liz Ellis is a community spokesperson for Heifer International, a non-profit that works to solve the problems of hunger and poverty around the globe. Heifer’s unique model seeks to develop sustainable change within communities. The organization is dedicated to connecting isolated markets, gender equality, and its model of “passing on the gift.”

What is the state global of hunger and poverty right now?

Since the United Nations started the Millennium [Development] Goals (2002) with a lot of organizations working to end poverty globally, hunger has decreased considerably over the last thirty to forty years. Where about one in eight people lived in hunger, that number has gone down drastically. What those involved in the developmental world [say] is that hunger is one of those few [issues] we can end with continued support, continued innovation, and sustainable solutions.

How does Heifer International’s model deal with the interrelation of poverty and food access?

Heifer’s work to provide access to nutrition, community support, education, development, and training has always been a key tenet of our work. People must have access not only to tangible things such as livestock and animal protein, but also knowledge, like how to diversify vegetable crops [or] how to rebuild soil, which are necessary if people are to achieve food stability. We also work to promote access to market chains to be able sell our client’s products, to have a diversified and steady income.

How does Heifer develop sustainability from within the communities they help?

A key difference is between development and aid. There are so many situations in the world…where the first thing people need [is] aid. Yet, Heifer is specific in that who we work with are people who have some access to land and possibilities for community development. Whatever dollars, funds, training, or resources we put in, we never look to be a continuous input. We try to create those foundations for communities, so then they have what they need to move on. This is what makes the difference between ending hunger and poverty, rather than making sure people are fed day-to-day. Another key element of Heifer is this idea of “passing on the gift.” Every family that receives our help enters into a contract in which they agree to pass on the same gift to another family. We have a huge majority who successfully pass on the gift. Really almost any funded Heifer gift is passed on an average of nine times.

How is women’s empowerment incorporated into Heifer’s projects?

There can never be big answers to the world’s problems without full participation. We cannot only be working with a marginal section of society, or with just the people who traditional have held power. In the countries where we work, this generally has been the men. When Heifer begins working with communities, we are asking communities to trust Heifer’s model and to question gender roles. At first, it takes a lot of trust. But, when women have ownership, such as over livestock, for example, or money management, the return is too hard to ignore. So, we try to form women self-help groups that offer women a voice, and create programs that allow [women] to create small savings. This is really where we get the depth of our impact—from individual psychology and community support.