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A Holistic Perspective on Transforming Nations

I am part of an organization which works with a wide array of organizations in societies around the world. We work with academia, businesses, civic groups, faith based organizations, NGOs–as well as social enterprises. We are empowering people working in each and every one of these areas so that they can impact societies and change nations. Typically, when one works with a community, someone will work in a school or a business or another area and only one or two areas are impacted, but the entire community is not changed. When we go into countries and want to have an impact, we need to work with a variety of organizations and structures.

We also need to begin to ask ourselves what kinds of things we are going to do to change nations. We need to determine overarching goals and the methods to be used to attain them. We also need to investigate ways in which we can cooperate with one another to achieve our goals. Individually we will not impact an entire nation. The New Testament says that we are to make disciples of people just as Paul helped to disciple Timothy. It also says that we are to disciple nations. While people are to disciple people, it takes a nation to disciple nations. How do we get to the place of a nation that can disciple a nation? In 2 Peter it says that we are a holy nation. Therefore, we (followers of Jesus) are a nation, and as a “nation” we must begin to disciple the nations by transforming them on every level. This requires cooperation and “partnering” together in order to do that.

What are the issues that must be addressed? Firstly, we must look at the issue of peoples’ worldview. Worldview is the glasses we look through; it is how we see our world and how we perceive what we see based on what we believe. We need to impact people with a holistic worldview that encompasses not just the spiritual aspect, but also every area of life. George Barna, who does research on groups and organizations, recently found in one of his surveys that only about five percent of evangelicals in America actually have a biblical worldview. It would take too long to discuss this in detail here, but most of the world espouses some form of either an animistic or a humanistic worldview. These two tend to be the two extremes. Either, it is fate that rules our lives in the animistic view, and we can do nothing to affect our lives and our world. Or, in the humanistic view, man is in the center of the universe and all the pressure is upon mankind to change their individual life and also the world around us. In viewing the results of both worldviews we see that society has not been positively changed. We need a holistic, all-encompassing worldview in order to impact all aspects of society and every community.

Secondly, if one desires to build something that is sustainable and reproducible, one has to have a plan of how to build it. What are the underlying precepts and concepts of our belief system? These are the foundations upon which we build our worldview. Either we build on truth, honesty, healthy relationships, etc. or we build on dishonesty, misconceptions, ignorance, lies, manipulations, oppression and many other things. When we look at nations, we want to build on foundations that will help that nation prosper and endure. Whatever we build should be firm, established squarely on solid foundation stones. To build a solid foundation, we have to dig down to solid rock. I remember frequently walking by a construction project in Hong Kong where the well-known Hilton hotel in Central had been torn down to build a taller office building. Month after month there was a fence around a deep hole in the ground. The workers were somewhere down there digging the hole to lay the foundation. One day, I rhetorically asked my office manager, “Are they ever going to finish this building?” and he said, “You can be glad they’re digging out the foundation down there. We don’t want one of those skyscrapers falling over.” He continued, “In Hong Kong, fifty percent of the time is spent digging foundations below ground where you never see anything. The other half is the building you see.” The concept impacted me and I asked myself: “Do we do that? Do we spend fifty percent of our time studying the soil and researching the cultures of the countries in which we work? Do we try to understand the nation and the people in order to understand their heritage and their values?” If we want to impact a country, we must do “soil analysis” and lay foundations.

Thirdly, we must evaluate our methods of cultivation and development. How do we then cultivate the soil so that we build in a way that empowers and enables that country and its people? How do we help people create businesses that will create jobs that are not only productive but also meaningful?

From 1989 until after 2000 I had a Joint Venture business in Lhasa, Tibet. Through our business, we created new jobs, hired people with physical handicaps and served the overall good of the community. After three years of business activity, the Chinese government awarded our business with that year’s annual Joint Venture of the Year award. After the event, the presiding official congratulated us for our business saying that they liked the way we did businessalthough they didn’t totally understand our philosophy. I believe he was saying that he both recognized that we did our business well and that we conducted business according to our beliefs. While he may not have totally understood some of that, he acknowledged that we had done our business in a way that benefited the city and the province, being forthright, open and honest, and he respected that. As a representative of the government, he honored us for that. I believe that when nations and their leaders see these kinds of models and examples, they like it, and it also impacts their lives. As we empower people locally by what we are doing, it will bring either dignity or poverty to a nation depending on the impact we have.

In doing this, we help to lay new foundations in communities and countries. This will begin to impact their paradigms and belief systems and help them see a holistic worldview. This will, in turn, transform the values people have in the community where they live, and it will help them to realign their behaviors to build positive and healthy relationships. Those are the things we can do if we go into communities with a holistic approach.

Fourthly, our focus needs to be “asset-based.” This approach is as simple as ABCD: “Asset Based Community Development.” Most development approaches focus on the “needs” of a community. This tends to depress and discourage people. We need to find ways to create dignity and value for the individual and the community. If we look at communities from a needs-based approach, we will make them dependent. But, people and communities always have assets. It does not matter if it is a slum and the poorest place on earth. If you look at any nation, the assets are there. If we encourage people to build on the “assets,” to multiply them, this will empower them and can bring transformation within every community. They will be able to sustain themselves and it will provide dignity and justice for its members.

Fifthly, and this is closely tied to the previous point, we must have a holistic approach on how to deal with poverty. Poverty is one of the biggest challenges to community development. However, we need to clearly see that poverty is not caused by a lack of resourceswhat people have or do not have. It is about broken relationships. As we look at that, we see how to transform relationships by bringing healing and restoration to them. We have discovered there are at least twelve areas of community development. Different people will be involved in one or more of these areasit might be agriculture, government, business, education or one of the other twelve. What we want to do is impact as many of these twelve areas as possible and move them from where they are to where they should be. We especially need to work with local entrepreneurs to empower them and enable them to build local businesses, build both the capabilities of communities and also the capacity in an asset-based approach. If businesses are built, they tend to be the economic engine that drives and sustains things. Therefore, businesses should be a major factor in any community development project because they will help people stay and continue what they are doing and provide for them. This model is reproducible because people will begin to see it, they can understand it, they can touch it and they can see how it transforms their lives. When that is done, transformation begins to be all encompassing; it is seen throughout the community. Through this approach, we have seen whole communities transformed.

Finally, what we do must be relationship driven with each person having value and multidimensional assets within their community. If we use this approach, we will see policies begin to change, activities will be based on peoples’ capabilities and skills, and we will see community development take place. When communities are brought into the process, they are fully mobilized, they become “involved” and we see transformation on all levels. We call this approach the HIST model. HIST is: Holistic, Integrated, Sustainable and Transformational. Holistic refers to the whole person as well as the entire society and all sectors of society. Integrated means it is not a foreign endeavor; rather we are trying to enhance and bring out the skills and abilities of the local partners that we work with. They will be there long-term allowing transformation to become sustainable, lasting and reproducible.

Ultimately, we desire results that will be transformational and sustainable. We want to impact and build entire nations with a Holistic approach that is Integrated into communities and societies using Sustainable models that will impact each of the twelve areas and Transform communities and nations. I believe that is a workable model for any nation.

Image credit: Rural China by Samuel Vigier, on Flickr

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Tom Jennings

Tom Jennings, BS, is the International Director of Relief and Development in Asia and South America for Humanitarian International Services Group (HISG). He attended an MBA program at the University of East Asia and lived and worked in Europe for 14 years before moving with his family to Asia where …View Full Bio