For PCI (Project Concern International), the true key to breaking the treacherous cycle of poverty and poor health around the world is empowerment.
That’s why PCI doesn’t just jet around the world to give hand-offs to impoverished countries. While hand-outs certainly can benefit a struggling community on a short-term level, they do little to strengthen that community and prepare it for long-term, sustainable development and progress.
PCI is more interested in finding solutions to poverty by encouraging and supporting the talent, aspirations and skills of individuals in need.
PCI’s mix of programs, ranging in focus from HIV/AIDS to infectious disease, food and livelihood security and humanitarian assistance, aim to address the root causes of disease, malnutrition and economic insecurity by giving communities the power to change their own lives. PCI provides communities with the tools, training and financial resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty and create a healthier future for their families.
So while some may be satisfied with a more distant form of involvement, PCI serves the impoverished at a personal, emotional level by working hand-in-hand with individuals.
“In order for our work to be sustainable and have impact, we have to engage people on the ground and in these communities,” says PCI President and CEO George Guimaraes. “That is the only way to ensure our efforts will last.”
This hands-on, long-term mindset isn’t a new strategy for PCI; it traces all the way back to the organization’s initial establishment, over 50 years ago. After saving the lives of two children dying of pneumonia in Tijuana, Mexico in 1961, Dr. James Turpin set out to found PCI, motivated by a desire to create lasting change in vulnerable communities around the world.
Today, PCI works in 16 countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas, and the organization’s outreach and impact continues to grow with each passing year. In fact, in 2011, PCI grew by more than 20 percent in both staff and operating budget and added or expanded programs in 10 of those 16 countries, serving nearly 7 million people.
Even during PCI’s earliest days, Turpin ensured that the people he helped took responsibility for their own care by repaying him in some way. If they didn’t have money for healthcare, Turpin would take payment in the form of a bag of coffee or a chicken—anything to ensure that they had a stake in the solutions to their individual situations.
“I think what most establishes PCI is our belief that people have the power to change their own lives,” Guimaraes says. “As we look at some of our economic development programs, our microfinance programs, our programs in India and our work in Africa, we can see families taking control of their lives when they can pool their resources and build a healthier future.
Giving Globally and Locally
PCI is devoted to finding ways to help people across the globe, but that doesn’t mean it overlooks its own backyard. Communities in and near PCI’s headquarter city of San Diego benefit regularly from the organization’s local initiatives, which range from health outreach to low-income families to arranging for San Diego students and their families to travel overseas and participate in some of its global programs.
Through a savings-led group program, PCI trains women to pool their own money, create business plans and objectives as a group, and develop a self-monitoring payback system. By mobilizing and guiding these vulnerable women, PCI allows them to create their own banking systems within their villages.
After observing the success of its micro savings and loan programs in Ethiopia and Zambia, in 2011 PCI launched its Women Empowered campaign with the aim to integrate a micro savings model in all 16 countries of operation.
“We’ve seen incredible results in the first wave of this,” says Guimaraes. “[The women] feel an amazing sense of self-efficacy—like they have some control over their lives. They create a community among themselves that becomes a support group. They begin helping one another beyond the banking sphere and it becomes a community mobilization group for other community improvements like education and sanitation.
In Ethiopia, before the program, 27 percent of women felt they had some control over their lives. After the program, that number switched to 82 percent, after just 18 months. That shows you the power of the human spirit. And what is PCI doing? We’re not even lending any money.”
Earlier this year, PCI organized a regional county director conference in Ethiopia and visited one of the first Women Empowered program sites. While listening to stories from the women involved, PCI discovered something remarkable: not only had the women’s lives changed dramatically, but the changes happened in the two-year period when PCI physically left the area and allowed the women to take control of their own circumstances.
“That’s wonderful to see,” Guimaraes notes. “That’s what sustainable development is all about—people doing it for themselves.”
What Can You Do To Help?
PCI is always interested in expanding its work through opportunities like corporate social responsibility partnerships and its alignments with other organizations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Starbucks’s Ethos Foundation. But as an individual, what can you do to
“Call me,” says Guimares. “(858)-576-9223. If you’re interested and serious about being involved with an organization like us, I’ll sit down with you and we’ll find a way.”
The bottom line for Guimaraes and his team at PCI is and always will be to serve people and make a lasting difference in their lives. But there’s something else Guimaraes would like to achieve as well.
“I want to banish the word ‘charity’ from everybody’s lexicon,” Guimares says. “We’re about change, not charity. PCI is about people who want to get involved and be a part of changing their lives for the better.”
For more information about Project Concern International, visit the PCI website.