Poverty Alleviation through Transformative Relationships: Escalating the Long-term Impact of Short-term Interventions

Statement of Problem and Importance:

Companies, organizations and consumers around the world are involved in numerous projects aimed at alleviating poverty. Projects may be organized around education, water, sanitation, housing, food/agriculture, or health, to name just a few. Often, these projects take the form of short-term engagements by volunteers within long-term engagements between NGOs and communities. An open question is how these poverty alleviation efforts are viewed from the perspective of the community and whether short-term engagements have a long-term impact on consumers, NGOs, and communities. Therefore an opportunity exists to explore what a community sees as successful or challenging and to identify key relationships that escalate the long-term impact of these interventions.

According to the capabilities approach (Sen, 1985; Nussbaum, 2000), poverty can be conceptualized in terms of the inability to engage in basic human capacities, such as life, bodily health, affiliation, and ownership of property (Nussbaum, 2000). Just as there are many forms of impoverishment, there can be many avenues for poverty alleviation. A variety of NGOs attempt to address poverty by providing or facilitating these basic capabilities through short-term initiatives like well-drilling, construction, and medical clinics. Likewise, many academics are motivated to partner with NGOs in these initiatives and to make them the basis for service-learning experiences for their students. However, relatively little research has explored the long-term impact of these initiatives on needy communities, volunteers, and NGOs.

Theory may offer a relevant framework from which to study and explore these experiences and how to boost the efficacy of this important poverty alleviation work. One lens that has been used to frame and structure these efforts is transformative learning theory (Mezirow, 1991), which has been used in research to show evidence of transformative change in volunteer participants (Mulder, Rapp, Hamby and Weaver 2015). Opportunities exist for research to build upon this work and the emerging foundation of transformative services research (c.f. 2011 TCR track; Rosenbaum et al., 2011, Anderson et al., 2013).

In addition, the relational engagement approach (Ozanne et al., in press) suggests that the formation of strong relationships among stakeholders is a means of enhancing the societal impact of academic initiatives. Researchers from a variety of fields have pointed out the importance of social relationships to personal and organizational effectiveness (Borgatti et al., 2009). The structure and density of social networks have proven to be important factors, as has the strength of social ties (Granovetter, 1973; Scott, 2012). Short-term poverty alleviation initiatives involve the creation of many new social ties, both within stakeholder groups and across stakeholder groups, and these emergent networks may be a key determinant in the transformational impact such initiatives have on the participants

Track Goal:

This track seeks to better understand short-term poverty alleviation efforts and identify ways in which they can be improved in terms of their impact on impoverished communities, NGOs, and volunteer participants. Heeding the call for transformative consumer research (Mick, 2006), we seek to better understand how relationships can escalate the impact of these efforts and create lasting transformation in impoverished communities as well as in those individuals committed to helping them.

This track will seek to assemble researchers with diverse backgrounds, interests and experiences in this area; with the goal of participatory research with impoverished communities. The overall goals are twofold:

  • First, using qualitative and action research methods, the team will build relationships with communities (leadership and community members) to better understand the impacts of foundational community projects, such as water, food or sanitation, and the important relationships that are formed in the course of these projects. Depending on the research timeline, the group may elect to share results in a special issue related to TCR 2017.
  • Using insight from this research, the goal is to develop a mix of qualitative and quantitative research (e.g. social network analysis) that will help build even more effective models and inspire action in the area of poverty alleviation. This research could take several years and could involve grant applications to help fund the work. The goal of this research would be to produce insights that could guide academics, NGOs, and community members involved in short-term poverty alleviation efforts and ultimately escalate the impact of these efforts on all involved.

Tentative Track Schedule


Initial data gathering and literature review: September 2016 – January 2017

Several track participants have participated in short-term poverty alleviation efforts in the past and have established relationships in developing countries. Track will begin conducting qualitative interviews with NGO staff and residents of communities that have hosted short-term poverty alleviation efforts in the past. In addition, a large poverty-alleviation NGO, World Vision, has expressed interest in sharing data on short-term and long-term effects of poverty alleviation efforts with the team in this stage. Track participants will also select and review the relevant research on poverty alleviation, relational engagement, transformative learning, network theory, and other relevant theoretical lenses that inform the analysis of qualitative texts.

Focused data gathering: March 2017 – June 2017

In order to test and further develop emerging insights from initial data gathering and literature review, additional interviews will be conducted with community members, volunteers, and NGO staff. Several track participants will be leading or participating in scheduled short-term poverty alleviation efforts during this time period. In addition, tentative arrangements have been made with a community development organization, Manna Project International, to visit a community in Nicaragua where short-term interventions will take place but have not yet occurred.

The track chairs, and potentially other track participants, will travel there the week of June 12th (2017) to interview community leaders about their hopes and expectations regarding potential future poverty alleviation efforts. This will be the starting point of our longer-term study of relationships and their impact on poverty alleviation.


Shared learning: At the TCR Conference, each track participant will then summarize and share insights and themes from their own interviews. The goal of the shared learning at the conference will be to reach consensus on a theoretical framework that helps explain 1) the role of relationships in the lived experience of participants in short-term poverty alleviation efforts, and 2) the importance of relationships to the long-term efficacy and impact of these efforts. This framework can then be further developed and tested with long-term engagement and data collection.

June 19 – Morning Session: During the morning session the track team will report on the results of their analysis of qualitative interviews. In addition to sharing written and oral narratives, participants will create tables, network maps, and other data displays for viewing by other participants.

June 19 – Afternoon Session: After lunch the team will compare the results of the individual analyses to glean common themes among the various data collection sites. This may involve grouping and re-naming codes and generating new data displays. Emerging insights will be captured in a poster for the evening session.

 June 20 – Morning Session and working lunch: At this session the team will attempt to reach consensus and capture the insights of the previous day in a coherent theoretical framework to guide future data collection and engagement with poverty alleviation participants. Ideally, this framework could be the basis of a submission to the TCR special issue, and if participants agree, initial plans will be made in this session to move a submission forward (e.g. author roles, deadlines, etc.).

Post Conference:

Continued Research and Publication

This is a multi-year research project, and one that will include the potential for multiple visits to the partner community. There are two potential publication opportunities for the track:

  1. A potential contribution to the TCR special issue of the Journal of Business Research
  2. One or more future publications sharing the insights from the multi-year project (journal(s) TBD).


Mark Mulder

Pacific Lutheran University

Todd Weaver

Point University


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  2. Borgatti, S. P., Mehra, A., Brass, D. J., & Labianca, G. (2009). Network analysis in the social sciences. Science323(5916), 892-895.
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  4. Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  5. Mick, D.G. (2006). Meaning and mattering through transformative consumer research. Advances in Consumer Research, 33, 1-4.
  6. Mulder, M. R., Rapp, J. M., Hamby, A., & Weaver, T. (2015). Consumer transformation through volunteer service experiences. The Service Industries Journal35(15-16), 865-882.
  7. Nussbaum, M. (2000) Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University press.
  8. Ozanne, J. L., Davis, B., Murray, J. B., Grier, S., Benmecheddal, A., Downey, H., Ekpo, A., Garnier, M., Hietanen, J., Le Gall-Ely, M., Seregina, A., Thomas, K., & Veer, E. (in press). Assessing the Societal Impact of Research: The Relational Engagement Approach. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.
  9. Rosenbaum, M.S., Corus, C., Ostrom, A.L., Anderson, L., Fisk, R.P., Gallan, A.S., Giraldo, M., Mende, M., Mulder, M., Rayburn, S.W., Shirahada, K., & Williams, J.D. (2011). Conceptualization and aspirations of transformative service research. Journal of Research for Consumers, 19, 1-6.
  10. Scott, J. (2012). Social network analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  11. Sen, A. (1985) Commodities and Capabilities. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.