Monday, November 9, 2009

Transformational Development: The Purpose of Plant With Purpose

by Aly Lewis

The other day I was telling a good friend about the work Plant With Purpose does in other countries. I said something like, “we work in X amount of villages in Oaxaca, Mexico,” to which she replied, “and what is work?”

And—even though I talk and write about Plant With Purpose almost incessantly—I found myself at a loss for a succinct way to boil down exactly what it is Plant With Purpose does. I mean, our work includes a million different aspects and nuances. We work with the poor. We work to restore the land. We work with our local partners. We work with communities. We work on specific projects: tree planting, sustainable agriculture training, business management, stove and cistern and latrine building, partnering with churches, and a smattering of other projects and initiatives.

From the looks of it, we’re workaholics. But what, exactly, is the point—the purpose—of our work?

Luckily for me and my feelings of Plant With Purpose-explaining-inadequacy, we’ve started a training series as a staff to go through the book Walking With The Poor by Bryant Meyers. Granted we’ve only gone through the first chapter, but Meyers’ discussion of what it looks like to come alongside the poor in a process called transformational development has already illuminated, explained, and articulated so much of what we do—and why we do—that I feel like not sharing what we’re learning (or relearning) would be a crime.

And if the term transformational development doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry. I’d never heard the term until coming to work at Plant With Purpose and even then the exact definition was still a bit hazy. I’ll do my best to do no harm in my explanation (Bryant Meyers gets a whole book; I get a blog post).

Most of us know or have a general idea of what development means. As Meyers says, “When most people think of development, they think of material change or social change in the material world.” We think healthcare, access to water, education, and economic opportunity—all good things. But at Plant With Purpose our goal, our purpose, goes beyond helping people in rural countries to “get more things.” That’s where the transformation part comes in.

We believe that all of us—not just poor people or rich people or people who speak different languages or live in different countries—are on this journey of transformation. A journey of learning—and choosing—to live and enjoy life as it was intended to be. A journey to “recover our true identity as human beings created in the image of God and to discover our true vocation as productive stewards, faithfully caring for the world and all the people in it.”

There are four important things to remember about this journey:

  1. We are all on this journey. We are all a work in progress.
  2. This journey takes work. It is not a free float down a lazy river, but a tough, worked-for journey that requires effort and patience and intentional choices and sacrifices.
  3. Transformation includes every aspect of our lives: the physical, the social, the emotional, and the spiritual. It includes our relationships with each other, with God and with everything around us.
  4. (We think) it’s worth it. The result is an abundant life, a meaningful life; life as God intended it.

So when we talk about transformational development and Plant With Purpose’s role as an organization, we’re referring to our goal of working with rural communities to seek “positive change in the whole of human life materially, socially, and spiritually.”

That’s it. That’s what we’re about. That’s what this “work” is that we do. With a heaping dose of humility and a hearty dash of respect we seek to come alongside individuals and communities to bring about this positive change, both in their lives and in our own.


  1. Thanks for your post! I appreciate your thoughts on Transformation and tghe focus of PwP!

    I have one question in response to your post...

    How does PwP/Floresta measure "transformational" impact?

    I'm really curious, because I see a trend internally in development org's where making "decisions" (at a board/CEO level) is done on the basis of measures...and the best measure is cold hard facts like how many children received "x" or how many trees were planted.

    Is it possible to have a goal of "transformation" and not have a quantifiable measure/ROI to report to its donor base and its leadership?

  2. Hi Mkaech,
    Thank for your great question! We do quantify our transformation goals with a series of indicators.
    The transformation we look for falls into three areas: Quality of Life, Relationships, and Sustainable Benefits (i.e. the work and benefits continue even after we are gone, as we don't want to create dependency). For each fo these three areas we have another set of indicators.
    For Quality of life we are looking at: Change in health and nutrition, increased levels of education and gender equality.
    For Relationships we look to see if people report more harmony in the community and we measure how disputes are resolved. We also measure changes in people's perceptions towards the environment and their relation to God.
    For Sustainable Benefifts we look to see the number of people trained who are training others, the involvement of children and changes in the local churches or other locally run institutions' capaity to continue development in the community. PWP hopes to empower communities to be self sustaining and continue to develop after we have left.
    Together, these indicators create a index, which we call our transformation index, which help us see village to village how far along communities are in transformation terms.

    I hope this answers some fo your questions! Feel free to contact as for more information!


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