Melvin J. Ballard

Melvin J. Ballard, namesake of the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance, was an innovator in promotoing and implementing self-reliance initiatives during the Great Depression.

The Problem

When Wall Street crashed in 1929, the nation began its downward spiral into economic desperation and the Great Depression. Nationally, unemployment reached a peak of almost 25 percent; however, the state of Utah was one of the hardest-hit states in the country with unemployment reaching 35 percent in 1932. 

The Solution

In the April 1936 General Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ First Presidency launched the Church Welfare Plan under the direction of President Heber J. Grant. “The aim of the church is to help the people help themselves,” said Grant at the conference. “Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our church membership.”

A powerful leader was needed to put into effect the proposed welfare plan. The First Presidency called Elder Melvin J. Ballard, then a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to chair the first General Church Welfare Committee.

Ballard had to find a way to get people out of their impoverished state and maintain their dignity in the process—a tall order in a period of time when many well-meaning government and civic programs were failing to make their mark.

Undeterred, Ballard and his team created a system whereby these lofty goals could be accomplished. Dividing the church into thirteen welfare regions, each region was given a storehouse and the resources needed to produce food and other commodities. Bishops would work with members to determine their needs for food, clothing, and household goods. Members were then given assignments to work at the storehouse in various capacities, receiving the resources they needed in exchange for their work. The program was intended to be temporary in the lives of the individuals it helped, giving people skills and support until they could get work on their own. Through this system the people earned what they received, allowing them to maintain their dignity and remain self-reliant.

Well ahead of his time, Melvin J. Ballard employed innovative ideas and approaches to solve a pressing social issue. His work still benefits thousands today.

The Impact

During the first summer of the plan:

  • 15,000 members transferred from government to church relief
  • 1,000 members placed in jobs

By 1938:

  • 22,000 members taken off federal relief roll
  • 30,000 other members received aid
  • 2,400 additional members obtained private employment

Melvin J. Ballard was a social innovator. Whether or not he realized it at the time, he was improving a societal system that had proved to be insufficient for meeting widespread needs. His ideas created a way for people to learn to help themselves. It is in his honor that the Ballard Center is named, reminding each of us that anyone can improve society. Some innovators create entirely new systems. Others revitalize and mend existing organizations. No matter how the social innovation comes into being, the result is a better world for all of us.

Get Involved

Join us as we carry on the legacy of innovators like Melvin J. Ballard. Sign up for a one-on-one advisement session with the Ballard Center. Let us help you discover how you can Do Good Better.