Rather than a hypothetical question, this became a challenge for the members of Ringwood Uniting Church recently.
Church treasurer Simon Watters was inspired by articles he had read on the analysis of cash transfers by the charitable organisation GiveWell and the work of world-renowned development economist William Easterly.
GiveWell was founded by a group of donors who also happen to be employed in the hedge-fund industry. In their attempt to accomplish as much good as possible, group members found themselves conducting research on the most effective means of donating to charitable organisations.
Both Easterly and GiveWell contend that one of the most effective means of reducing poverty is by small-scale, direct action, rather than grand schemes that can often become bogged down in bureaucracy. Easterly speaks of ‘planners’, those with big ideas who aim to ‘end world poverty’.
He contrasts these with what he terms ‘searchers’, people who find opportunities to offer immediate and effective help.
In a letter addressed to the Ringwood congregation, Mr Watters encouraged members to be searchers – seeking out the will of God. The letter explained that each adult and child listed in the church directory would be offered $100. The only condition was that the money would be spent on furthering the work of God.
“Do not be afraid that your idea may not work,” he wrote.
“It’s like the parable of the sower. Some ideas will not work out as we had hoped, some will be OK and some will produce an abundance.”
So on 19 May, congregation members young and old lined up to collect their $100 and set about doing good.
Ringwood UC’s Kerryn Gosbell said approximately 160 people signed up for the scheme. She said it was much more than a one-off day where money was handed out and then donated to charity. The dynamic nature of the scheme has had added benefits for the congregation as stories are shared.
“People have been both challenged and energised,” Ms Gosbell said.
“It has certainly empowered many people in our congregation, especially the children.
“There has been a really diverse range of ideas as well. So far we’ve bought sewing machines for Burmese refugee women in the local community, money has been put towards an edible garden and two little girls held an afternoon tea that raised $1400 for HopeBuilders in Uganda.
“One little boy used his money to buy story books, which have been given to male prisoners who have children. They are recorded reading the book which is then given to their child along with the book, so their father can read them a story.”
Ms Gosbell has been tasked with keeping track of the effects of the project.
Although there is no obligation on people to report back, she hopes to collect stories and images of the work being done. So far the ripple effect has been felt locally, nationally and overseas.