Friday, 14 June 2013

The Heifer Foundation

Established in 1944 in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Heifer Foundation (also known as Heifer International) is an international non-profit with the admirable and lofty goal of ending global hunger and poverty. What sets them apart from the average charity organization is that they do not simply dole out the money to charities, but rather they make smart investments from the donations of individuals and businesses and donate to charities in a sustainable fashion (in the form of livestock, seeds, trees and infrastructural improvements) from the interest those investments accrue.

The History

It all started with one cow: Dan West, an Indiana farmer, was moved by the plight of the refugees of the Spanish Civil War. As a charitable man, he volunteered to ladle out meagre amounts of powdered milk as rations to refugees, and quickly realized that what these people needed was “not a cup, but a cow”. Essentially, his realization that people needed more than just temporary quick-fixes was along the lines of “give a man a fish, and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” He followed through, and in 1944, the first 40 cows were sent to Europe by West and some neighbouring Indiana farmers. 69 years on, the Heifer foundation has grown substantially and now provides more than 30 types of animals (from guinea pigs, to bees to geese to buffalo) to those in need around the world, as well as plants, seeds, and more.

Spiritual Roots

Although West credited his philanthropic impulse to his Christian upbringing, the Heifer foundation now embraces people of all beliefs, and people of no belief, as the overall goal of ending poverty and hunger should waste no time on these relatively petty differences. Partners are asked for no faith statement, but they do all share the same singular commitment, to help the poor and hungry to help themselves.

The Current Impact

Though born of humble beginnings, Heifer International as it is now known has given gifts of regionally appropriate livestock and seedlings to over 125 countries around the world. They ensure that every gift is in line with their goals of agro-ecology and sustainability, and every animal that they gift to needy communities must have the “Seven M” qualities: meat, muscle, milk, money, manure, materials and motivation.

Participating communities are encouraged to further the sustainability of the efforts of Heifer International, by way of the “Pass on the Gift” mentality: they give at least one of the female offspring of the gifted animal to a neighbour who is also in need, provided they have received the Heifer International training, ensuring that they too will pass on the gift when the time comes.

Awards Abound

Heifer International has been widely recognised for their incredible philanthropic efforts. In 2003 they were named one of Forbes magazine’s top 10 charities. In 2004 they received the Conrad N Hilton Humanitarian Prize for their efforts to eliminate and help communities to become self-sustaining.  2006 saw Heifer International awarded the Social Capitalist award from Fast Company magazine.