Much has been said over the last several decades about why organizations should be values-driven and how to recognize one that is. Becoming values-driven takes more than just writing down a bunch of great-sounding words. An organization’s values must drive the culture, strategies, and decision-making.
I think Food for the Hungry’s (FH) core values are worth sharing with others moved by faith because regardless of what one is called to do, I believe these capture the heartbeat of God, align with the vision to follow God’s call, and guide us as we decide what we’re to be doing:
We follow Jesus.
Our work is relational.
We invest wisely and focus on results.
We serve with humility.
We pursue beauty, goodness, and truth.
In the many years I’ve been a part of this particular organization— as a donor, a church partner, a board member, and now as President and CEO — I’ve participated in many conversations about naming values that reflect Food for the Hungry’s particular calling: ending all forms of human poverty worldwide. We’ve found that while the way we may express these values is adapted to different settings, their essence remains the same and that’s important.
Expressed values inspire, energize, and perhaps most importantly during times like these, they offer hope. Sometimes that hope is found in the most unexpected places.
FH had to hit the ground running as camps filled with Rohingya refugees who were forced to flee for their lives from Myanmar into Bangladesh. These crowded settlements of homes made with donated bamboo sticks and plastic sheets probably seem like the last place on earth to find hope. Mothers here wait to name their babies until they’re sure their children will survive. Children walk through raw sewage on dirt paths, and diarrhea takes the lives of way too many of them.
But then there is the young man, once an English teacher until soldiers set his village on fire, now living in this settlement that stretches as far as he can see. His situation is very difficult, but he has found purpose by volunteering as a community health worker trained by FH. He teaches fellow refugees about water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) practices, and he has learned about basic disease detection to help reverse the trend of deadly diarrhea. To me, when neighbors helping neighbors overcome health issues so that babies can receive names the day they’re born, there is evidence that Jesus, relational work, results, humility and goodness — our core values — are in action in our daily work.
Having common values has built a level of increased commitment and resolve throughout our global organization. They make it easy for us to decide to take on hard tasks when we go to some of the world’s hardest places; and they give us the humility to understand that we walk together with those we serve.
What we learned long ago is that we need to talk with, not at, community members and get their involvement in the development process. We ask them what they think their biggest needs are; what they think chains them in poverty. We work together with them to develop a plan and help them implement it. We make it clear to the community that they bring as much to the table as we do. We measure their progress. And we move on when we know they can carry on without our partnership. Our goal is to leave a community within 10 to 15 years. And every time we do, it’s cause for celebration.
I recently saw a woman sweeping around her front door, carefully avoiding a beautiful flower that decorated her tiny dwelling in an urban slum. To me, the flower and the woman proclaimed that the reign of God’s peace had taken over the hearts of this family, even in this hard place. I saw in this woman someone who understands the truth that she has value because she was made in the image of God. I saw someone who has hope for her future and for her children. She has found beauty, goodness, and truth. And that is also cause for celebration — and hope.