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12 Cornerstones
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Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones for Just & Sustainable Development

These principles, used for more than 60 years, light the way for people who are on the road to self-reliance.

Cornerstones stimulate group wisdom and personal insights, and they keep people's hearts, minds and actions balanced, focused and productive.
Together, they form the acronym PASSING ON THE GIFTS and echo the quintessential Cornerstone and trademark practice that makes Heifer unique and its projects sustainable.

Passing on the gift

Passing on the gift embodies Heifer's philosophy of practical sharing and caring. Every family who receives an animal signs a contract to pass on the first female offspring to another family in need, and also agrees to pass on to others the training and skills that they have acquired. Many groups also choose to "pass back" an additional animal, or else a portion of sales income, to support their project.


The group defines their own needs, sets goals, and plans an appropriate strategy to achieve their goals. Heifer provides guidelines for planning the project (including the pass-on process), screening recipients, monitoring farmers" progress and conducting self evaluations. The groups are responsible for submitting to Heifer monitoring reports.


 Sharing and Caring

Heifer believes that global problems can be solved if all people are committed to sharing what they have and caring about others. Though not easily measurable, this spiritual aspect of our work is one of our most important cornerstones. Sharing and caring also reflect our commitment to humane treatment of the animals in HPI projects, and our shared vision of justice for all people.


 Sustainability and Self-reliance

Heifer funds projects for a limited time. The project groups must plan to eventually support themselves by member donations, fund raising, or other productive activities. Heifer has found that self-reliance is most easily achieved when a group has varied activities and finds support from several sources.


 Improved Animal Management

Feed, water, shelter, reproductive efficiency, and health care are the essential ingredients in successful livestock management. These must be available so that the livestock provided by Heifer can be kept healthy and productive. The animals should be a vital part of the farm activities without causing an extra burden on family members or the farm resources in general. The species and breed chosen must be appropriate for the area.


 Nutrition and Income

Livestock contribute directly to human nutrition and well-being by providing high quality protein and fiber, and indirectly through draft power for crops and transportation as well as manure for soil improvement and increased farm production. The livestock should have potential for profitability to provide long-term economic security for education, health care, and housing, while serving as a living savings account for emergencies.


 Gender and Family Focus

Gender refers to the socially defined roles of men and women in each culture. Heifer's gender program encourages women and men to share in decision-making, ownership of the Heifer animals, labor, and the benefits of projects. Priority for funding is given to projects in which the whole family participates. On-farm employment strengthens rural families and communities by decreasing the need for migration to urban areas in search of employment. In addition to the gender program, Heifer's WILD (Women in Livestock Development) program supports women's projects. WiLD (Women in Livestock Development) is a program within Heifer that identifies and addresses gender and family participates and is strenghthened by this participation. Husband and wife usually share ownership of the animal, and benefits are shared by the whole family. On-farm employment strengthens the family and the rural communities by decreasing the need for migration to urban areas for employment.


 Genuine Needs and Justice

Heifer is a partner to people who truly need an opportunity to improve the quality of their lives, and who can benefit from a modest level of support. Group members develop criteria to determine who will receive animals and related inputs. The poorest in the community should be included in the group membership and receive priority for assistance. Families are eligible regardless of creed or ethnic heritage. Priority is given to groups that have traditionally been neglected.

 Improving the environment

The introduction of the Heifer livestock should improve the environment by having a positive impact on one or more of the following: soil erosion, soil fertility, sanitation, forestation, biodiversity, pollution, wildlife, and watershed conditions. In addition, the livestock should not cause or worsen any environmental problems.


 Full participation

Heifer works with grassroots groups or intermediary organizations representing grassroots groups. A truly effective group has strong leadership and organization and is committed to involving all members in decision making. Members of the group "own" the project, and the groups have control over all key decisions.

 Training, Education and Training

The group decides on their own training needs and local people are involved as trainers. Training includes formal sessions as well as informal (farm visits, demonstration, model or lead farmers) and is "hands-on" more than academic. In addition to training in livestock husbandry and care of the environment, groups have requested training in diverse topics such as food processing, marketing, group formation and human nutrition.



Spirituality is common to all people and groups, regardless of their religion or beliefs. Spirituality is expressed in common values, common beliefs about the value and meaning of life, a sense of connectedness to the earth, and a shared vision of the future. It often creates a strong bond among group members and gives them faith, hope and a sense of responsibility to work together for a better future.

12 Cornerstones
Story of the 12 Cornerstones (01/07/11)
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