In this second episode in our 'Jesus and the Poor' series, Sew Powerful co-founder, Jason Miles answers the central question: Why do we do what we do? And what's next? Following Eliyahu Goldratt's (The Goal) and Peter Drucker's (Management by Objectives) models, Jason talks us through our theory of change. What needs to change; what do you change to; how do you change? Jason compares and contrasts motives and priorities Christian versus non-Christian organizations implement when working with those living in in the most challenging and desperate conditions, as we do with those in Zambia.
Our Theory of Change with Jason Miles
IN THIS EPISODE
Ngombe compound, Livingstone, Lusaka, Zambia, Jesus, control freak, theory of change, motivations, organization, believers, culture, passionate, community, gospel, change, world, messiah complex
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu Goldratt, 30th Anniversary edition, © 2012, North River Press
Management by Objectives, by Peter Drucker, © 2019, independently published
Scripture Citations: Matthew 25, Matthew 28, John 10:10, Acts 2, Acts 8
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Jason Miles
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know, the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Jason Miles, Guest 00:19
What in the world are we doing as an organization? What motivates us? And why do we do what we do? This question is central to the mission and effort of Sew Powerful, and we're going to talk about it today, we're going to explain what we mean by our theory of change, and what we hope to see happen in the world in the communities that we work in. And I'm really excited about this topic. Jan, are you ready to jump into this fun one?
Well, I am, but I need you to start us out. Define theory of change?
Oh, sure. Yeah. So, it's a great phrase that is being used more and more, it has its origins in a couple amazing people, Peter Drucker is one and then Eliyahu Goldratt is another. I'll describe it this way. Imagine that you're in the most challenging, desperate place you can imagine on the planet. And you're there and it's a complete social, cultural, financial, economic, environmental disaster. The question is, what needs to change? What do you change to? And how do you make the change? And those three questions come straight out of the book, by Eliyahu Goldratt called 'The Goal'. And as soon as you're that that person in that context, you have to ask yourself, if I want to be a part of something that's happening here, how do I participate? What is my thinking, or my theory of what change needs to occur? And that's really the gist of the phrase, 'the theory of change.' And we get to grapple with that and think about it in the context of Ngombe compound in Lusaka and in in our communities we work in in Livingstone, in Zambia, and it's something to really unpack together, I think, is in a conversation and as an organization.
Well, you know, I have a corporate background. And so I'm familiar with Peter Drucker's Management by Objectives, which I think maybe sort of feeds into this a little bit. And...
Yeah, and I know that he talked about short term, intermediate and long-term goals. So yeah. Okay, so now I'm with you here.
So Jason, now that we know at a high level, what the theory of change is, how does that apply to Sew Powerful?
Sure, yeah. The biggest ideal is really the thing to ask ourselves about, like, what is the big change the biggest change we can imagine? And the way I like to imagine this as sort of a, like a mental metaphor. Imagine you're in that place of total desperation; that place of brokenness and challenge, and you could plant one seed. And that one seed would grow into something that was beautiful. What would that seed be? And as believers, as Christians, we would say that seed is the good news of the gospel; that we would say the number one thing that we're motivated by that we're inspired by, is the idea that if people will turn their heart towards heaven, magical change, I guess, to use the word magical, if that's okay, change can begin to happen in their lives, in their relationships, in their society, and culture. And that is the highest ideal for a Christian organization, is that the good news of the gospel makes a difference in us. And if you don't have that mindset, if that's not your thinking, if you approach these issues of global need, without that with, you know, non-Christian point of view, then the question is, what is your highest and best idea? What, what is that seed that you would plant? Some people would say it's money. Like, well, poverty is defined as lack of money, if you just give him money, it'll solve the problem. Some people would say, it’s freedom, that people are in bondage, they're in oppression, people are not, not free to be the actors of change and change agents in their own life. And so, freedom is the central idea. And those are not wrong ideas. Those aren't bad ideas. They they have a place in, you know, the idea of change happening in the world. But as, as believers, it's important for us to say we clearly believe Jesus is central to the heart change and life change of people in the world. And we believe that and that's what our organization is founded on, that we are a Christian organization. And that's what it means for us. And so that's kind of what we think is our most important theory of change. Now, one piece that comes out of that is we're operating in Zambia, and in a context in which all people, many of the people in the community are passionate believers. They have said yes to the gospel. They're, they're on fire for Jesus to, you know, use the charismatic phrase, and yet they're in desperate poverty. And so that begs the question, then what do we do?
Well, right. And, you know, a lot of churches emphasize evangelism, does that get us to the goal?
I think it starts the conversation. And the question is, after the evangelistic message goes out, and people say yes, to the good news of the gospel, what then do we do? That is really what we, as a Christians in the West, have to ask ourselves and grapple with, and people have been grappling with this literally, since the birth of the Church. Go look at Acts, Chapter 2. People began laying down their financial gifts at the feet of the apostles, and they were not used by the apostles for a good life. They were distributed to the poor, Acts Chapter 2. Then in Acts, Chapter 8, you see that the Jewish widows who began to believe in the way, in Christ, they were needing help, and the apostles appointed deacons. Stephen was the first Deacon to literally wait on tables. And so that first call for the gospel of good news to believe, to turn your heart toward heaven, is one step in the journey. And, and I believe, we believe as an organization, that second step where we begin to walk with people, disciple them, work with them, stand with them in solidarity and their struggle. That's at the heartbeat of who we are and what we do. And I believe that every church who's operating in international missions needs to think through those things and many do many have, and thought through what happens if they say, Yes, you know, and I think it's important to think about.
So the churches that are emphasizing evangelism, is that wrong?
No, not at all. I don't think it's wrong. I think the question is, are you called to a community of people, and to present them with the good news? And if they say, yes, then what's your calling after that?
And it's, and Jesus said, in Matthew 28, "Go you therefore into all the world and make disciples and teach them." And that 'make disciples' piece, and that 'teach them', it's like, what do you teach them? Well, you teach them the good news; you teach them about the New Testament teaching the Bible, but there's also reading, writing and arithmetic. There's also teaching them, you know, and I think a lot of times we can over spiritualize the message of Jesus. You know, when Jesus said to Peter, for example, "Feed my sheep", many people over spiritualize, that in my view. What if He meant feed his sheep? What if He meant literally feed the people? Like, oh, no, He didn't mean that. How do you know he didn't mean that? Maybe He did mean that. Clearly, you know, Peter was a fisherman. And then in the New Testament, book of Acts, you start to see them literally serving people, serving the poor, making sure people had their needs met, and discipling people and training them up. And, and Paul goes on to become a tentmaker. And he teaches people how to make tents to supply their own needs, so that they can go out and do outreach work. So, I'm passionate about this idea that 'going' is important. But also, you know, that's Matthew 28. But also, Matthew 25 is important, which is, you know, Jesus said, "At the end of the age, I'll come back and divide the sheep from the goats." And then what will he do? What will he find? The the people who were 'the sheep' doing? Well, they will be clothing the naked, they will be feeding the poor, they will be literally, you know, making a difference in society and culture. That's what they're supposed to be doing, according to Matthew 25. And I think a lot of times we just kind of, you know, that doesn't; it's hard to hard to implement.
But that I mean, what a great analogy to what you said, if you apply that to Zambia. I mean, it almost ticks every box there. Right?
It does. And I think I'm passionate about this topic, because we've talked about our program for over a decade with people. Our program at first was helping moms with jobs sew school uniforms. And we would talk about it and people were like, well, do you share with them the gospel? And I would say they are already Christians. So, when people say that, do you share with them the gospel? And then I say they're already Christians. You can see what their theory of change is. Their theory of change is just tell them about Jesus. But we did that. That happened. That was that was good. That was a good first step. Now what's next? And and many of us who just have that, 'Did you share with them the gospel?' commentary haven't really articulated what does step two look like? What does it mean to say, oh my gosh, these people are all passionate believers? They're desperately poor. They're sick and dying of HIV, AIDS, TB, malaria. They have no food in their houses. They don't have any education. There's no school in their community. How then should we act as the people who and I wasn't a part of the evangelism of Zambia, that happened by a guy named David Livingston, 100 years ago, and many, many other missionaries. But here we are today with beautiful people who are just so passionate for Christ. And their belief is that they have good news and hope. But they also are taking action in their community. And it's exciting to come alongside them, and to really understand what God is doing in that place, before we got there, in those people's lives, and you know, that we're part of what their story is, in a small way. We're not the heroes. We're not the, you know, we're not the saviors, anything like that, we just get to come alongside what God has been doing in that place, and what those people feel passionate about. And many times, that's education, like for the children, or it's clinic work, or it's clean water. I mean, it does become practical very quickly. It's why when you go to Ngombe compound, you see many, many, many little, tiny, underfunded, schools that are community schools that are faith based schools, because the Christians there know that if they can get their children educated, they're going to have a next step in their journey towards you know, life in all its fullness to quote John 10:10.
Right? Yeah. And, you know, I think about the children, especially at the Needs Care School, because I'm more familiar with that, but I'm sure it's true throughout Zambia, and many other places, but to send the children to school on an empty stomach, and to expect them to, to learn and progress. I mean, it's just all so tied together. You have to have the basics to sustain your life so that your life can be lived in all its fullness. So.
Yeah, and if you're not familiar with that verse, and you're listening to this, John 10:10 is a beautiful passage, Jesus said, "The thief comes to kill and steal and destroy." And by that he meant, you know, Satan. And then He said, "but I have come that you might have life, in all its fullness." And that life in all its fullness, that's what we all want. That's what you want in Houston, Texas, and we want and Seattle, and what they want and Lusaka. They want a beautiful life. And they're working towards that. Yeah.
You mentioned that, you know, there's a lot of Christian schools but there's a lot of organizations that have come into places like Zambia, and sometimes they come in and start something and leave. And other times they try and do a little better job than that. But what kind of motivations do these organizations and people have when they start these programs?
Yeah, yeah. It's a wide gamut. You know, I've been in this business if you call charitable, nonprofit, international work, a business, I've been in the industry for a long time. Since I guess I was 19, I started going on short term trips, and then really spent my whole career professionally in international relief and development work. And you end up seeing many, many motivations of people. The worst of them, the worst of the motivations are blatant ego, you know, egoic needs, I guess you could say, people have a need for making themselves feel important. Vanity, status, a lot of status positioning stuff can happen in the worst, you know, motivations. You also see a ton of control freaks in non-profit work. I mean, if if you gave a control freak, a perfect opportunity to literally just go crazy, you would say, hey, go try to change some incredibly desperate place.
Are you talking to me?
No, not all. No, but you get my point is that if you you know, if you see an urgent need, like, you know, and there's many many projects that are run like that, like they need water. Well, we're putting in wells. Well, this is how it's gonna work. Like well, do you know anything about the culture? No. The climate? No. The water table in that part of the world? No. Chemicals that could be in the water like arsenic? No, I don't know any of that, but I'm getting those wells dug. You know, you see stuff like that you're like, okay. You know, so you see control freaks. You also see people who are responding to a feeling of guilt, which is a whole different, you know, kind of a mental trap, where people feel very blessed, very rich, and they know it and they know that there's something that feels very disturbing about their opulent, amazing life in the context in which people have crushing poverty in their lives. And so that guilt can play a part in responding. So those are the negatives, but they're also very altruistic motivations that you see. Obviously, having a compassionate heart is top of mind for people. There are people, and I'll just be completely candid, there are people who are passionate Christians. And when you talk to them, you immediately see they do not have a compassionate heart. And then you can meet people who don't have any interest in faith, no, not not interested in the Jesus thing. But they have really, really compassionate hearts. And you know, you can see that, so that's cross cutting. And then you know, there are people who are just really, really altruistic in their, in their thinking, and compassionate in a way that they want to serve fellow humans in a way that is humble, and egalitarian, I guess. And you see those things. And so, you get the broad swath of all of this. And the real question is, for all of us, what is our heart motivation? What what is our highest ideal versus our, you know, base desires and ideals that we're trying to operate on? And we will have to think through this stuff as we do work and cultural contexts that are different than ours.
You know, I think a lot of the people who make purses for Sew Powerful, probably myself included, when I first heard about Sew Powerful, and the situation that the girls were in, as women, we can relate to that and then empathize with a situation we might have had, and then imagine it to be 10 times worse. So compassion certainly comes into play. And, you know, I think it's like being a more mature believer, as you're a more mature volunteer with Sew Powerful, you start to learn the subtleties. And this theory of change. I mean, you know, this is, this is more of the underlying reason for our compassion.
Yeah, that's right. I want to be really clear about this. This is not a criticism of people who aren't, you know, faith-based organizations doing good work. There are many organizations doing good work that aren't faith-based. But this is important for us to be clear on: we are a Christian organization. I was a part of an organization for a while that was founded by an evangelist, but never got incorporated as a Christian ministry. It got incorporated as just sort of a non-defined, nonprofit. And there was so much confusion. Part of the people were believers and thought they were on a Christian mission. And part of the people there were just, you know, kind of humanitarians and didn't want anything to do with that. And it was just a big jumble. And so, I think it's important for us to be very clear about our role in the kingdom, and in serving the Lord, and in serving the least of these with passion. And that's what we're excited to do. And, and hopefully, that doesn't offend anyone. And hopefully, it doesn't make us alienate anyone, or make people feel like they can't participate in an enthusiastic way. But hopefully, it makes it clear what our heartbeat is, and what our motivations are, you know.
You know, sometimes organizations come in, and it's sort of a combination of everything you've talked about, where we're from the West. We know what's best for you. We're gonna come in and tell you how to do it. Now, maybe that's the control freak of me saying that, but can you sort of talk about what that is? And what the danger of that is?
Yeah, sure. It's so common. It's fair to say Americans think they know best in this context. And when you actually go and walk with people and spend time in a culture with people and start asking questions, the onion peels back real quick. And you realize you don't know what you're talking about. And you don't know anything about their culture or context, you do not understand the way in which their society has merged into reality, at the household level, the individuals in it and the culture and society. And it's just one of those things where, in my view, all I can tell you is I've worked in different places around the world. And all I knew to do was try my best to spend as much time as possible in the culture, and with the people of the culture, learning from them, and asking them questions about reality in their context. And you know, there's a phrase called the 'Messiah Complex'. And, and this is a sort of a twist on it: and that is that if you're Christian, that goes to serve, your role is to point towards Jesus, because that's the motivation of your life. If you're not a believer, and you go to work in a community, the question is, what are you pointing to? What is your highest theory of change and who is the agent of change that you're pointing to? As Christians, we should be pointing to Jesus as the the author of change in those people's life in the community culture. And if that is not the context in which we enter a culture, then we're pointing to either ourselves or to some other thing like a, like a legal entity or government or something like that. But we will, we will, we will have someone on the throne, being the ultimate change agent, either as believers pointing to Christ, or as you know, nonbelievers, pointing to something, and that something frequently is themselves. And even Christians can do this, where they think they're the agent of change. They think they go; they make the difference. If they didn't go, nothing would happen. That's just not true. God is working amazingly, in culture, and in people's lives around the world. And we get to step into that story. We're not the heroes of the story. It's just not reality. And so I think that's important to think through.
Thank you for that. Final question. As we wrap up here today. Can you sort of summarize, what do you hope listeners take from this conversation?
I think the presiding idea here is to know that our number one goal, our desire is to shine brightly, and live out our highest and best ideals, which is that Jesus changes individuals and changes culture. And we can work together to see that really, really play out in people's lives in an exciting way. When I see the moms in Zambia, whose lives have been transformed because of a good job. And they can then impact their household, I think, okay, they're passionate about their faith, checkbox, number one. They also have been educated and have a vocational training that gives them the agency to make a difference in their household level and to pay their bills, and to have a good life, checkbox number two. And we get to be a part of that. And there's nothing better. We get to be a part of an amazing story that's unfolding around the world. And it's just a joy. So, I just hope that everybody understands kind of more about why we're doing what we do more about the thinking behind it. And hopefully it clarifies who we are what we're all about.
Well, thank you. That's great. And you know, that was a great segue, because next week, we're going to be talking about local hiring and the impact that that has a local communities so good segue. Thank you.
Awesome. Now this has been great. Thanks so much for having this fun conversation. Jan. It's always an honor. These are these are turning into just just fantastic conversations. But this is our second one. But this is really, this is exciting.
So yeah, so our series is called 'Jesus and the Poor' and there'll be ten, twelve, or so and maybe more topics as we we start to peel back the onion. So, thank you so much, and we will talk to you next week when we talk about local hiring local impact.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference. I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org That's SEW POWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns, or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.