How to Empower Orphans to Overcome Poverty for Good: Gaston Warner from Zoe Empowers (#13)
Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Hey fellow impactful ninja ? You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts. Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click. But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend. First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide. And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you). And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself. You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money. Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go. Stay impactful,
Why do we add these product links?
What do these affiliate links mean for you?
What do these affiliate links mean for us?
What does this mean for me personally?
Hey fellow impactful ninja ?
You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.
Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.
But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.
First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.
And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.
And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.
When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).
And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.
You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.
Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.
Did you know that empowering youth is one of the best ways to help them overcome poverty for good? Well, then you’ll enjoy our conversation together with Gaston Warner from Zoe Empowers!
“What are the pieces in your life you’d need in place in order to never need charity again and to be able to provide for yourself?”Gaston Warner, Zoe Empowers
Three Key Points You’ll Learn From This Episode
How an orphan who used to live in extreme poverty herself helped shape their empowerment program…
How their unique organizational structure helps empower the youth…
The impact that their empowerment program has had on the youth and their communities…
About Gaston Warner
Gaston Warner is a person concerned with those who suffer the most adversity in our world; he is a pastor, author, TEDx speaker, lecturer, and leader in an innovative global movement successfully empowering over 180,000 orphaned children and vulnerable youth throughout Africa and India. Gaston joined Zoe Empowers as a board member in 2007 and currently serves as CEO.
About Zoe Empowers
Zoe Empowers help empower orphaned youth—for good: Through their three-year program, they equip orphaned children and youth-led families with solutions to overcome extreme poverty. In this program, locally-led program, participants become safe and healthy, skilled for long-term success, and able to lead meaningful lives within a supportive community providing them with a positive impact.
Links and Additional Information Discussed
The Full Transcript
Dennis: Hello and welcome to the Impactful Ninja Show. I’m your host, Dennis Kamprad, and today we are joined by Gaston Werner from Soy Empowers. Gaston, welcome.
Gaston: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be on the show.
Dennis: Nice. Happy happy having you as well. Now before we go into your journey, Give us a little overview. What is Zoe Empowers and what are you doing there?
Gaston: Zoe Empowers is it’s a really fun concept. It’s an empowerment program for Orphan children and vulnerable youth that are living in extreme poverty to take the lead in their own journey out of poverty. And what we’ve organized is a global network of local organizations, so, you know, local staff to each country where we operate that are joining together to empower orphans using this program.
Dennis: Nice. With that in mind, let’s rewind that. Let’s get back to that later as well. Tell us a little bit about your journey as well. What did you do before joining Sohyan Powers?
Gaston: Well, before joining Zoe Empowers, I’m a pastor, a Methodist pastor, and I also have some business training. My wife and I met just In college and right after college, we got married and pursued our education. And we were in North Carolina in the US doing some work at Duke University, and then we Took a stint in England serving churches there. My wife pursued her PhD, and it was a problem for me because she was getting smarter and I was getting dumber. So I also took on an MBA, and so was able to pursue a little business training. And then we returned to the US, and because my spouse Had a very specific topic that she could teach on. There are only a few universities where she could have those classes. And so my career followed her career.
Gaston: It was interesting the pushback we got from family and friends on that, but it worked out so well because as I Followed her career, when there was a church available, I used usually would pastor a church and then do social work on the side. When there wasn’t a church available, I would work for a non Profit or an NGO doing that kind of work. So it it ended up kind of skilling me out for, working with Zoe Empowers in a way that I had no idea at the time. But that’s It’s been a wonderful journey for us both to kind of come to that place.
Dennis: Nice. Yeah. Sounds like quite some quite some experience in in different areas, different Well, different continents. And also with a little hint of you’re working on nonprofits before and before you joined Zoe Powers. How did it How did it get to actually joining then? Was there can you remember, like, the exact moment or how that came about?
Gaston: Oh, I can remember the exact moment. I was working for Duke University while my wife taught there, and my job working for the university through the chapel was to be an outward face To non profits, as we call them in the US, or NGOs. So I’ve worked with about 60 or 65 NGOs. Many of them were local, doing local work. Some of them were regional or national. Many a few were international. But I’d work with about 60 or 65 a year, Helping them connecting to the university and the resources that were available there, but also with synergy and strategy and cooperation between them in a way that was A lot of fun. It was a job that I absolutely loved.
Gaston: And I sat on a number of NGO boards as part of that capacity, and I remember a friend of mine, who was a minister out of Florida, She came to me and she said, Gaston, there’s this organization that empowers orphan children and vulnerable youth, and I want you to come on their board. And I I remember saying, well, Janet, what do they do? And she said, oh, they’ve stumbled across this 3 year community based indigenous led empowerment program, Graham, and in a very consistent way, it moves these orphan children and vulnerable youth from life threatening extreme poverty To sustainable self sufficiency while living in their own village and being surrounded in layers of community. And I distinctly remember thinking, wow, that’s really unlikely. I I you know, I wasn’t an expert in African orphans, but I knew that that particular population, Very likely or arguably at least face more challenges than almost any other population on the face of the earth. And to have that kind of Transformation seemed probably unrealistic to me, but I loved my friend, and I feared her slightly because she was so passionate about the work Then I came on the board and I was blown away. I was blown away not just by what they were accomplishing, but the way that they had structured what they were accomplishing was unlike Anything I had ever come across working with other NGOs. And so I was I was all in. After 2 years on the board, my wife gave me permission to come on staff, which was Kind of a funny transition, because I I really enjoyed my position at Duke University, but it has been an incredible ride ever since.
Gaston: And so it was really kind of a wonderful introduction to the ministry.
Dennis: From from some research I also saw, you joined quite some time ago As a board member first and then well, stepping your way up and becoming much more operational within the organization and being the CEO now. How was the transition for you from being a board member to jumping in much much deeper?
Gaston: Well, it was interesting. So I I joined the board in 2007, And that was the same year that they had moved from relief work, which is what they were doing before, to this empowerment program because they were introduced to it through a Rwandan social worker named Epiphany Mujuamana. And so transitioning from the board where I had I, you know, I knew what was happening, and I would assist them in small ways, but it wasn’t the thing I I woke up every day thinking about and so transitioning to the staff was a lot of fun. At that time, we were very small, and we were Still figuring out how to have an organizational structure around this very different program that we had discovered. And I can say a word about that if it’s helpful, but I’d have to tell the story, an Epiphany story, which is really fun.
Dennis: Yes, please.
Gaston: So Epiphany, Epiphany Mujuamana is the person we were introduced to. When Zoe started, it began as just a relief a typical relief ministry. So it it started out of North Carolina, And it did. It would work with orphaned youth in Zimbabwe and a little bit in Zambia with medical relief programs feeding programs, and clothing programs, and some scholarship programs, so they could have called it empowerment, but it wasn’t empowerment in the way it was going to become. And so at the end of 2006, This organization had an overage of funding. People have been very generous in funding it. There was money in the bank, and that was a little bit of a problem for the board because People had given this money for a humanitarian crisis, and so it felt wrong to leave it sitting in the bank. But at the same time, if you just throw money out there at things, it it evaporates.
Gaston: And so they put out word that they were looking for something truly effective, working with orphan children and vulnerable youth at that time just in Africa, And they were introduced to Epiphany Muju Romana. Someone had heard her speak at a conference, and and were just intrigued by the way that she was approaching things. An epiphany has a pretty powerful story of her own. She was raised as a vulnerable child in Rwanda. At the age of 9, Her father passed away in an automobile accident, and her mother was disabled. And so Epiphany, you know, we kinda asked her, how did you survive? She said, well, I I started doing businesses. I I would buy these little gum squares. In Mexico, they call them chiclets.
Gaston: And and she would buy these little gum squares, and she said, I would sell them in my village, and we said how much did you charge? And she said, oh, no. I was only 9, but I was very cute. And so instead of asking for money, I would ask for just a handful of grain. And because I was a 9 year old girl, people would sometimes give me 2 handfuls of grain, and I could then sell the grain for much more than I could have sold the gum for in the 1st place. And then she would plow her profits into helping feed her family, and helping her stay in school, but also other businesses that she began. So from the age of 9 years old on, She was an active part of helping her family survive. And then she became a successful and very popular school teacher in Rwanda, and it Seemed like kind of a wonderful ending to a powerful story, but then the 1994 genocide decimated her country, and she survived that that horrific event. But in the wake of it, sure, heart went out to all these children.
Gaston: There were 800,000 orphans created in the period of a 100 days. And she knew what it was like to walk in their shoes, and so she decided to dedicate her life to helping these young people recover. And she went to work where the resources were some large Western aid organizations in her country, and she worked for each for a couple years with these well known organizations And became disillusioned with what she saw as a cycle of relief and dependency on that relief, with no way for these young people to ever stand on their own feet. And so Epiphany and a team of other frustrated Rwandan social workers, on a shoestring budget, started going directly out to the communities and the villages. And they spoke with all the important people, the village chief, and, you know, all all the the community influencers. But more importantly, they went directly to these child and youth led households. You know, you have a 17 year old young woman raising 3 younger siblings, and they would go to these youth led households. And Epiphany began asking a different question than I would have ever thought to ask.
Gaston: You know, in situations, especially of extreme poverty, I would always ask, what can I do to help them? But Epiphany started asking, and her and this team of other Rwandan social workers started asking, what are the pieces in your life you would need in place In order to never need charity again, and to be able to provide for yourself. And with that very different kind of question, Over time, they developed that 3 year community based empowerment program that touched on every area of life in powerful ways, But did it in a way where the young people were in control of their own journey out of poverty. And so here we were, we were funding epiphanies work With our overage of funding, and we were doing all our relief work on the side. And when I came on the board in 2007, I came on at the end of the year when the board was evaluating the effectiveness The work for that year, and it became immediately clear that everything Epiphany was doing was better by any measure, By orders of magnitude than anything we were doing, and so we decided to take the decision to pull out of our relief work, and come behind Epiphany’s work. And we did that over a period of about 3 years because we didn’t wanna leave our partners in the lurch because we had pulled out too quickly. But we were very certain The epiphany and her team’s method was just more effective than ours. And so that was the challenge. And the challenge going forward was how do we develop an organizational structure It will allow this very different approach to thrive instead of the staff from the global north trying to control it and smothering it in the process.
Gaston: And so that was kind of our next big challenge.
Dennis: Oh, wow. So many so many things all at once there. It sounds like a beautiful transformational journey from from Epiphany from the very beginning that she was able to, well, take into the world and and help people in completely different places with similar or with a similar approach than what She experienced in her childhood. It’s, like, kind of kind of reminds me of this the saying is, like, between just giving someone a fish and teaching someone how to fish And really enabling them to be on their own feet instead of just having to depend on charity work. You also mentioned there was, like, a lot of transformation happening between epiphanies Programs and the other programs and it’s like a some kind of transformation phase with the charity work. Walk us through what happened what happened afterwards? How was this transformation? And And where are you now with Soy Empowers as well? With all the all the work that you’re doing.
Gaston: Yeah. The transition was really interesting. And I love your example of teaching a person to fish instead of giving them a fish. And what Epiphany was doing is teaching them to fish, and then teaching them how to run the fishing industry. And these young people were just thriving in that. But the transformation on our part was really interesting. As an NGO, we had a number of supporters, and the supporters had bought in to the relief Efforts that we were doing, and this was a decade and a half ago, before empowerment really became something that was a popular term. And so when we made the transition, A lot of our supporters were quite concerned.
Gaston: There there were 3 or 4 schools that we worked with, and we worked a lot through schools. We did some scholarships For orphan youth to attend those schools, and we paid for some of the food that they would require and some of the pieces they they would need for that, and then we helped fund Schools. And when we made that transition, a lot of our donors were very nervous about the transition. They didn’t understand why we were changing things. And the schools that we were supporting were also understandably quite nervous. But what we decided to do is because we were sold on this idea of empowerment, we went to the Schools that we were partnering with, and we said, look, we’re we’re gonna transition to empowerment from this relief work, and we would love for you to transition as well If you would like to, and so we said we for the next 3 years, we’ll continue at the grant level that we’ve been giving you, so that you have time to make alternate plans. Or if you would like to pursue some kind of income generating activities for the school that would replace the money we’re giving you, we’ll give you this much larger grant, And you can do the empowerment pieces. And I think out of all the schools we are partnering with, only 1 school took us up on that.
Gaston: And they started a piggery in their school, and that piggery was so Successful, and it taught the students how to how to operate a business as well, that it almost fully replaced the funding that we had been giving them. But the rest of the schools just took the grant for the next 3 years.
Dennis: Oh, wow.
Gaston: And then that relationship tailed down. And so it was kind of a sad Story in how difficult it is to change methodology for doing things. But it was their decision, and so hopefully it will Pass us. Our donors, it took a little while to make that transition, but as soon as they started seeing the impact Of the empowerment work over the relief work, and the sustainable impact, and they began to understand what we were trying to accomplish. They not only continue to support us, but they increased that support, and they started sharing it with others. And so while it was a risk at the moment, It turned out to be a much better model for both raising funds and having impact.
Dennis: Sounds like some some big self selection happen happening on both sides. On the one hand, for the schools, selecting whether they wanna go with this new model or not. And only 1 1 school chose basically getting a bigger grant for doing something different That then also happens to be more impactful and the same with the donors to, well, see the impact that they can have and then choosing whether they wanna continue going forward with this new model or not. How exactly did this happen in over the next next couple of years? So you mentioned, like, from the beginning, there’s, like, always this kind of transitional period. How did how did you evolve then, well, fully going with the epiphanies model?
Gaston: Yeah. And in retrospect, that’s also clear, but in the moment, things are are less clear. So at the moment, we were thinking, and that was about the time I was on staff and became kind of directing the program, and our thought was, Alright. There’s this amazing program, and by that time it had been replicated in Kenya, in Rwanda, in Zimbabwe, And we thought we have something that’s really powerful here, and it’s replicable and scalable to an extent that we haven’t seen before. But we need To set a new organizational structure around it, and a structure that will allow it to be free to become what it really can become without smothering it. Because, I mean, I I’d worked in enough nonprofits, especially international nonprofits, to know that often the global north controls the narrative and controls the programs, And the implementers in the global south are just doing a job as with the global north kind of controlling what that is. And that again, that’s Something that’s beginning to change, but 15 years ago, that was still very much the model. And so we wanted to break out of that model.
Gaston: So we set a few internal disciplines to the organization. One of the big lessons we learned from the program is that for empowerment to actually work, the young people, these orphan children and vulnerable youth, Had to be the decision makers. And if they weren’t making their own decisions, then whatever they learned and achieved wouldn’t be sustainable beyond the 3 year program. And so we needed an organizational structure that took kind of that top down power structure and flipped it on its head, So that it was the participants making the decisions, and the support staff were the people that would normally be in charge. And so we designed this crazy organizational chart That looks like this weird sunflower where the US staff is at the bottom as support staff. And then each of the NGOs in Africa and India are The next level on that kind of area. And then the young people are actually at the top of our organizational chart because they have to be the ones making the decision. So what was designed was this Framework for the local community in Africa and India to stand behind their own young people and for those young people to be in charge of their decision making with the staff of Zoe Empowers.
Gaston: 1st, the staff that’s local to that country being the next layer that kind of supports them, and then the US staff helping with bureaucracy and fundraising and the pieces That that we can contribute. But there was a strict internal discipline that although there was iterative changes in the program every year and always improvements, All of those improvements came directly from the program countries, and the US staff couldn’t make any suggestions for improving the program itself. Nope. We were big data nerds, so we were tracking all the data. We knew exactly what was happening with every piece of the program. We had audits From some of the big five kinda auditing firms. And so we we knew what was happening, but the US was in a supportive role, which is unusual for my people in the US. We like to control things.
Gaston: So so that was a big change kind of in our organizational structure. And one of the pieces that embodied that is I’m CEO of Zoe Empowers Global North, and my colleague Reagan Kiberia in Kenya is CEO of Zoe Empowers Global South. He’s in charge of all the program And all the really cool stuff that’s happening. And I’m in charge of fundraising and bureaucracy. So but we find that that, Separating the control of the organization in those ways make a lot of sense. And the US can do what the US is really good at, and and increasingly kind of global north writ large with Other countries kind of coming in into that group, and the global south leaders can do the part that they really know how to do well without having to worry about the other pieces. And so together, we’re like 2 sides of a coin, but it works well in totality.
Dennis: Before also going a little deeper into the 3 year program. Was there any kind of big challenges that you that you faced as well, like implementing that new let’s let’s continue of the visual, like, the sunflower organizational structure?
Gaston: I mean, there there were a couple challenges. In the US, we always had to explain to our board that, yes, they were in charge of you know, they were board members and they had operational that it was the boards with our partner organizations in Africa that had control over the program. But we would recruit board members who understood That way of thinking about doing it, and then what really made that easier is is showing success. And so as soon as we operated in that way and Freed both sides, global south and global north, to do the pieces that they were really skilled for. We found that the organization really began to grow. And so we had a pretty steep growth curve. And as we started collecting data, we saw that the impact from it was really impressive, And that helped drive growth. It it helped showing donors that that impact was happening.
Gaston: They gave more money. And then in Africa and India, when village chiefs and political officials Saw that these young people were moving from being beggars and sometimes thieves in their local community while they were vulnerable in just short years to being employers And business owners and leaders in their community and advocates for the vulnerable in their community, on both sides, when we began to show that kind of impact, It allowed the growth to really take off, and then we began to scale in countries at a pretty rapid rate, but then we also found that it could replicate across country And continent. When we made the transition from Africa to India, we weren’t sure it would work, but it really worked well in India as well. It seems like as long as the young people were in Extreme poverty. Not a couple echelons above that, but if they were in that extreme life threatening poverty situation, this program worked really well for them.
Dennis: Let’s jump a little deeper into the program as well. Can you give us, an overview of how is this 3 year program structured, And how does it really empower those kids, those youth and poverty?
Gaston: Absolutely. So when Epiphany and her team were designing it, there were a couple Somewhat counterintuitive pieces that really made it work. For example, when Ebiffany went to the villages, he said one of the big problems is that these young people are completely isolated from their community Because they might be sick, and they might be dirty, and they might not smell great, and they might be begging all the time, or stealing food, they’re often treated as a pariah in their community, and they don’t feel like they can attend community events because their clothes aren’t great, and maybe other people avoid them on the streets For fear that they’ll be begging from them. And so although there were hundreds and hundreds of these young people in the community, each of them felt like they were completely isolated. So Epiphany said the first thing we need to create is a sense of community. And so the basic structure of the program are these empowerment groups. And an empowerment group is roughly twenty Five child and youth led households. And so it’ll, you know, be an elder sibling.
Gaston: I gave the example earlier of a 17 year old young woman with 3 younger siblings. Each family has an eldest child who’s kind of the the de facto parent of the family, and that raise ranges in age. From the youngest, we try to keep it at least 14 years old on up to almost 20 years old, along with their younger siblings. So in an empowerment group, the average age of the heads of the households Might be 18 or 19, and the average age of the whole group might be 11 or 12. And so the younger siblings range everywhere from infants On up to, you know, kind of early teens, usually. So that’s the basic structure of the program, these empowerment groups. And that empowerment group is the unit that kind of moves forward. An epiphany said, look, there’s a couple other pieces.
Gaston: One is that if there’s too many adults in the room, the young people will never take their own authority. And so by design, there’s roughly 1 Zoe staff per 1,000 orphans in the program, and that’s that’s not a budget limitation. That’s the piece whereby the young people have to make their own decisions. Epiphany said, unless they’re making their own decisions, the empowerment won’t stick. And it’s unreasonable to think that Staff won’t make decisions for them, and the young people won’t want the staff to make decisions for them, especially when they’re very vulnerable at the beginning. But with 1 staff per 1,000, it’s impossible for the staff to do that. Now each empowerment group also nominates a volunteer mentor, a volunteer from the community, who’s an adult who will walk with them and kind of helps them interface with the rest The community, and that’s a powerful piece. And then we have the Zoe staff, but the young people have to be making their own decisions.
Gaston: And then the final piece that Epiphany said is poverty is a system, And so there’s no one panacea that’s gonna solve poverty. The whole system has to be addressed in a roughly simultaneous way. So Zoe’s goal was to help these children first become safe and healthy. You know, the things that were kind of life threatening pieces in their lives. They had to be able to get food and have a secure source of food. They had to be able to have housing, either repair the houses that their parents had left them or build a new house if they were completely homeless. They needed to understand hygiene, so they’re not getting sick all the time and have access to health care when when that’s necessary. And they needed to understand their rights children.
Gaston: Everything bad you hear about happening to children in our world is concentrated on the shoulders of those who are most vulnerable and whose voices are least heard. And and arguably, African orphans and and orphans in India and and otherwise vulnerable children are are right in that kind of epicenter of of abuse. And so having those pieces in place kinda help them be safe and healthy. But Epiphany said, we also need to focus on getting them to a place where they’re skilled for long term success. So things like formal education, if possible, or vocational training, if that’s more appropriate. Pieces like starting businesses. And at the beginning, the businesses are really rudimentary simple things. By the 3rd year, most of them have 2 or 3 diversified businesses with employees of their own.
Gaston: It’s really kind of a powerful piece. And they do individual businesses, but they also do businesses as an empowerment group. So that if a business fails, there’s enough cash to kind of keep Going to the next kind of granting cycle. And then understanding how money works. And these young people, again, begin with kind of a rudimentary sense of how money works, But by the time they’re graduating, they’re engaging in pretty sophisticated financial transactions and investment Schemes that are really powerful for driving them forward. And then the final piece is to be able to live meaningful lives, which is something we want for all of us. And that looks like community reintegration, where instead of being seen as a pariah in their community, they’re invited to weddings, and they’re invited to, you know, Events in the community, and when there’s a fundraiser, they can contribute to it. And other pieces like family reunification, if there are adults in their lives that can be reintegrated in ways that are safe going forward, and they can do that, but they do that with agency, knowing where their rights are and having their own sources income.
Gaston: Another piece is how they pay it forward. So they’re acutely aware of what it was to be vulnerable when no one would care for them. And so as soon as they start getting a stable source of food, we find them sharing their food with other orphans. As soon as they need to hire employees in their business, We see them hiring other orphans or widows because they know how much they struggle as well to be their employees so they can help them do that as well. We find them identifying elderly people in their community and digging latrines for them. It’s so important for them that they started as recipients of this mission, But very quickly, they become not only participants, but they become the ones who are reaching out to others who are vulnerable in their village. And so it’s just a really beautiful kind of thing that It begins to happen.
Dennis: Yeah. That that sounds really beautiful and neat. Now from the question also for for all of us listening to it and wanting to know, how Can we how can we support you? How can we help Zoe Empowers grow? How can we help more orphans, well, become more empowered?
Gaston: Absolutely. We’re looking to grow in 2 separate ways, and so your listeners perhaps can assist us in one of these 2 ways. We’d like to grow our own organization. We know that We can do this, and we can expand in new countries. This year, we grew by almost 29% in terms of how many children came into the program. So we had an additional 15,000 that was able to enroll over last year. And so we’re serious about kind of responsibly, but aggressively growing so we can help more children. And so funding is always a big piece of that.
Gaston: If people would like help us with funding, we would love for them to contact me personally or or through our website. But we also wanna share this approach with other organizations. If we could get the plan international and World Vision and Compassion and Samaritan’s Purse and some of these larger organizations To take on this kind of empowerment approach, we can move from a drop in the bucket to something that substantially impacts this humanitarian crisis. Along with thousands of smaller NGOs that are looking for more effective ways to engage this population. Mhmm. So in addition to growing our own program, we’re also Actively trying to share this approach with others, and we’re we’re in conversation with these other organizations. So if any of your listeners have connections to other NGOs, we’d love to be in conversation, Whether they see what we’re doing and just take pieces that that might work, or if they wanna partner more directly, we find that if you don’t care who gets the credit, You can accomplish almost anything, and so we’re really interested in sharing that approach.
Dennis: Nice. So basically, for for our listeners, we will we’ll put all those these things in the show notes as well. Can, on the one hand side, basically, go to soyempowers.org and have a look at how you can get involved, but then also Have a look which other organizations would be great partners as well and reach out to Gaston directly with some with some tips here.
Gaston: Absolutely. That would be wonderful.
Dennis: Beautiful. Let’s have a slight transition into the into the next section going to your personal learnings as well. Based on all the work that you’ve been doing with SoyEmpowers, How did that reflect on your personal life? How did you how did it change yourself as well?
Gaston: You know, it’s hard to see these young people who have had So many things go against them in life and witness their resiliency without being changed by their example. And so a lot of pieces that I’ve learned, I’ve learned from The children and the youth in Zoe’s program. You know, the pieces that make for an impactful life, there’s so many parts of that with lots of nuances. But I think with Zoe, one of the biggest things that I’ve learned personally is that sharing power allows power to grow. And so Whether that’s a partnering between the global north and the global south, actually sharing power and respecting each other’s worldview and Ability to engage in impactful mission or if it’s allowing the participants of a mission who are normally seen as just recipients, But to allow them to actually be participants and leaders in that mission because they’re the ones most effective affected, and they’re the ones that know the most about their situation. So engaging them in partners in mission instead of just seeing them as receivers of mission, especially in terms of long term poverty. In emergency situations, you gotta keep people alive, and that’s understandable. But in Understandable.
Gaston: But in situations of long term poverty, the recipients really should be the primary movers in that mission. And so seeing that, Yeah. On the ground has changed my whole view of what mission means, not only for the work that I do, but in my own personal life as Well, how do I open up and share power with others in ways that increases that power instead of holding it to myself In ways that aren’t healthy for me or for anyone around. Sorry. That might be a little too hard into the weeds. Mhmm.
Dennis: No. It’s it’s beautiful. I love it. It’s your personal learning after all as well. Now let’s already go into the final part. If you had to share with our listeners one tip so that they could become more impactful. What would that one tip be?
Gaston: So I think being open to not just having to design a new idea, but to look around and See what’s really effective and is actually working, even if it’s in small ways or in a place that’s normally overlooked, but to see what’s Actually being working in a mission and coming behind that instead of us always having design our own way forward, especially for those of us in the global north. I think sometimes we see our own country’s wealth and achievements, especially as it compares with some places in the global south where there seems to be a Lot of poverty and a lot of problems. We see our own achievements as making us better equipped to make decisions for the global south, And I think we’re beginning to come to a point in history where we’re realizing that we don’t have the answers for the Global South, but we need the partnership between us In lots of different ways, and there’s things we can learn from the Global South and things that we can give to the Global South, but it actually has to be a partnership where both sides give and receive something valuable. And if it’s not a partnership where both sides give and receive something valuable, it’s a relationship, but it’s not a partnership. And so engaging in mission, especially across those boundaries In ways that make it a partnership, I think it’s worth doing. It’s messier. It means you have to listen. It means you have to accept another person’s worldview as It’s valid, but the results of it can be so powerful.
Dennis: Beautiful. Thanks. Thanks so much for sharing that. Thanks. Thanks so much for joining us today and for for for all the great work you’re doing with Zoe Powers as well, Gaston.
Gaston: And, Dennis, thank you. And thank you, for for this podcast. It’s just such a wonderful concept, and and we appreciate you sharing it with us all.
Dennis: It’s my pleasure. Really happy to to share your work. And to everyone else listening to us, thanks so much for joining us as well, and stay impactful.