October 9, 1998

Generosity’s ROI

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Generosity is transformational for both the receivers and the givers.

Until just a few years ago, Malti was a teenage girl living on the streets of Dehradun, northeast India, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Her parents had separated from the family, and Malti had taken over the responsibility of caring for herself and her three younger siblings. She was making a pittance as a beggar and sometime “ragpicker,” or street trash collector. She was uneducated, ragged, dirty, smelly, and ill, showing signs of the beatings and abuse that are all too common for defenseless street children.
Then one day she met a local woman named Shaila, who was one of the leaders of a program called Street Smart, providing food, education, and vocational training for street children in the area. Malti immediately accepted the invitation to join this program, and gradually she began to heal in the loving environment it provided. Her horrendous background had somehow failed to rob her of her dream to make a better life for herself and her brothers and sister. Irrepressible and upbeat, she was always the first in line for everything Street Smart was offering.
After two years of receiving the help that Street Smart provided, Malti was ready for the next step in her transformation. She took a job as a stitcher with a handmade textiles company called JOYN, whose tagline is “joining artisans to markets, bringing joy to communities.” Started by an American named Melody (Mel) Murray, this company’s primary purpose is providing work for the poor of Dehradun—in other words, people just like Malti. But make no mistake, JOYN is a quality business. The company’s distinctive block-printed handbags and other fabric accessories are getting noticed around the world, featured in such outlets as Refinery29 and TOMS Marketplace.
Malti has flourished at JOYN, in her turn making the work experience better for her co-workers with her smile and gift for laughter. With her earnings at JOYN, she has bought a plot of land where she intends to build a home for herself and her siblings. She has longer-range plans to start a grocery store.
The Malti of today is almost unrecognizable as the grown-up version of the dirty and impoverished street child she used to be.
I learned about Malti’s story because Mel Murray and her husband, Dave, are friends of mine from northwest Arkansas. I have seen firsthand their determination, motivated by Jesus’ example of compassion, to move overseas and create sustainable solutions for the very poor. (Dave founded a high-end guitar-making company in Dehradun at the same time Mel started JOYN.) I’ve heard about the challenge it has been for them and their two little boys to adjust to life among the poor of India, and I have witnessed the joy they are experiencing within the close-knit community they have found with people like Shaila and Malti.
Dave and Mel have been transformed by the business of generosity, just as have their formerly impoverished employees. To me, their story is a stand-out example of the truth that the business of generosity should result in a return on investment. A transformation takes place. Something changes for the better. And just as there are many currencies of generosity, as we saw in Chapter 1, so there are many kinds of return on investments in generosity.

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