Roots of Quaker international development work

John Woolman on poverty and oppression

Until his death in 1772, John Woolman was in the forefront of the opponents to slavery in America. He also worked for justice for Native Peoples and had a concern for the poor. Then, as now, others saw other issues such as the freedom of the marketplace as more pressing than social injustice.

"Oppression in the extreme appears terrible; but oppression in more refined appearances remains to be oppression; and where the smallest degree of it is cherished, it grows stronger and more extensive. To labour for a perfect redemption from this spirit of oppression is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in this world."

- John Woolman, A Plea for the Poor, published posthumously in 1793 as A Word of Caution and Remembrance to the Rich.

A modern Canadian Quaker on international development

"I have had to grapple with the larger question of what truly helps "underdeveloped" people - both in Canada and abroad. Friends have always known that the only way to really help is in such a way that the people themselves eventually take over the complete control of particular projects. One of the lessons we are having to learn, which is even harder, is that our way is not always the right way for other people. No project will be successful no matter how well-meaning and good it seems to us unless it fits into the culture and aspirations of the people the project is meant to help. We must learn to listen and understand. Then we must allow people to decide the way our aid is used and to control their own lives. Projects will only last, after development, if these criteria are fulfilled. Mistakes will be made but that is human and mistakes are often a learning experience"

- Nancy Pocock, former Clerk of Canadian Friends Service Committee, 1977.

Friends on economic causes of poverty

"We do not believe that all the ills of men spring from economic causes but many are in fact so caused, and a lack of understanding of economic laws hinders our service. There is a need for competent heads, as well as good hearts, and we must guard against the danger that our thinking may be hindered by our material standards of living"

- Friends World Conference, 1952 (from Christian Faith and Practice, London Yearly Meeting, 1988)