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  • Writer's pictureCharity Chat Podcast

E211 - The Graduation Approach To Development With John Stephens

"…climate… this is the disaster that’s looming and development isn’t anywhere near addressing the issues around resilience that’s required to help people adapt and cope with this…” – John Stephens

In this episode we speak with philanthropist and CEO of BOMA, John Stephens. We find out more about John’s career, his experience as both a philanthropist and a charity leader, and what has led him to lead an organisation that follows the Graduation Approach to development.

1. The Graduation Approach to development

Bringing people out of extreme poverty and keeping this as the focus of the mission is BOMA’s approach. John was very clear that economic independence and self-reliance is the aim and that BOMA is seeking to support as many people as possible in this first step.

While some charities will seek to support a given group as holistically as possible, others will seek to support as many people as possible and every charity has got to consider how thin they can spread their projects and their resource.

2. Helping people to achieve self-reliance

When it comes to helping people to achieve self-reliance there needs to be a level of equality between the charity and the beneficiary. Mutual respect, starting with a good knowledge of the challenge and a collaborative approach to solving them, makes for a solid foundation.

Of course there are different views on how to solve the challenges that communities and individuals face. Looking at development as a mutual endeavour for everyone’s success sounds like a good start.

3. Reframing the problem

The scope of the challenges that we see across the world are often vast and while many of us may be aligned with an organisation or two seeking to tackle a part of a problem or challenge, none of us can say that our organisation alone has the antidote. John said that charities provide catalytic change but governments need to step in and provide solutions at scale.

John made the point that until we map out the problem and the cost of the solution we can’t put things into perspective. And rather than leading supporters to despondency, quantifying the size of the problem and size of the solution can lead to clarity of purpose and galvanise support. We need to move away from seeing an endless problem that will never be solved, and instead give that problem a number, a figure, a target to aim for.

4. The importance of media focusing on aid

John made the point that aid is being channelled to support those affected by the war in Ukraine but possibly at the detriment of other need. We have to hope that funders do the due diligence to recognise the wider need of peoples across the world, and channel their giving into the work of those who are proven to be making a difference. More than this we need to find ways of raising the profile of other needs and growing the pot to support all of them rather than accepting that some causes will gain at the expense of others.

This episode of Charity Chat has been brought to you by our platinum sponsor Work for Good. Work for Good believes everyone should be able to turn the work they do into good. Through their fundraising platform, they offer charities a way to engage and work with small businesses, including founders, owners and sole traders who want to make an impact for charities through their sales. To find out more, please visit

We hope you enjoy this week’s episode.

Related episodes that you may be interested in:

E209 - Holisitic Development With Sarah Brook -

E205 - Philanthropy with Dr Ewan Kirk -

E204 - Humanitarian aid with Bharpur Singh Gill -


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