Most of the content presented on this blog is about the opportunities available to improve our lives. In the United States, even during these shaky economic times, we have opportunity that is virtually unlimited. Any person of sufficient effort and talent can become a millionaire. Even our poor and disenfranchised are considered wealthy by global standards. We are fortunate beyond any just measure.
In case you aren’t familiar with Blog Action Day, it is an annual non-profit event that unites the world’s bloggers to focus on a single topic, in the hope of raising awareness. For 2008, the focus is on poverty and the ways in which the world can help. Poverty is not a topic that I can write on from direct experience. But, I often think about the plight of the poor and what everyone can do to help.
My Experiences with Poverty
I often think of myself as having been poor during my childhood. I often talk about growing up “In the Hood” and all of the tough times we had. The truth is quite the opposite. We grew up in a nice house and we attended Catholic school. We always had something to eat and we always had a safe place to sleep. My parents were amazing in their ability to provide a good living from very limited resources.
I think the reason I felt poor was because of the constant pressure my parents were under to provide for us. And, even though they shielded us from any harsh realities, their struggle was obvious to me, even as a young child. I had no idea how fortunate we were.
As a young adult, I faced many of the same economic challenges faced by my parents. I struggled to provide a safe and healthy existence for my family. I had to provide for their immediate needs, while planning and working towards a brighter future. This is where I learned the struggle was a benefit and not a curse. It’s also how I came to know that providing for your family is the goal and not the accumulation of material things.
People without Opportunity
I have never directly experienced the desperate poverty that exists in the world. I have visited poor countries and I have seen many poor people, both here and abroad. But, I have never had to walk in their shoes. I have never lived among the poor and I have never been subjected to extreme hunger or complete lack of opportunity. But, I feel deep compassion for others trapped in poverty and that’s why I have written a series of posts that deal with poverty.
The Failure to Lift Others from Poverty
I could write an entire book on the failure to help the impoverished, but that is the subject of a future post. In my opinion, there are two glaring examples of this global failure and many others that I will spare from scrutiny. It is difficult to criticize organizations that help in any way, but hypocrisy cannot be tolerated in a fight against poverty. We need to demand more from these organizations.
The World Bank – The charter of the World Bank is “for providing finance and advice to countries for the purposes of economic development and eliminating poverty”. The reality is that up to 20% of the money lent from the World Bank may be lost to corruption. Taxpayers in these poor countries are required to pay back these loans, which creates a tremendous burden on them. And, 40 years of loans from the World Bank have provided no improvement for impoverished nations. We need a better plan.
The United Nations – Nothing infuriates me more than the arrogance and corruption of the United Nations. The UN’s staff openly criticized member nations for being cheap during the tsunami crisis in Indonesia. Yet, much of that aid may have disappeared before getting to the victims. They have done virtually nothing to aid the continent of Africa, during a series of disasters and genocides. Most important, they will provide no accountability for the billions of dollars that are entrusted to them. Nor will they sanction their corrupt members. At a time when the world desperately needs assistance from the UN, they are helping themselves instead of others.
How Can We Help?
Fighting global poverty is an extremely complex problem. Everyone has some capacity to help. You and I have some capacity to help. But, as individuals we couldn’t make very much of an impact. Where we can make an impact is by joining forces to fund programs that can create change. Private sector funds will likely play a much bigger factor in reducing poverty than government sponsored programs.
My opinion is that we require new approaches to fighting poverty, since most of the existing ones haven’t worked. The failure of past attempts is likely based in their entitlement nature, which creates dependence. I think the Gates Foundation may employ one of the most innovative and effective models. By focusing on health, agriculture and opportunity, they provide a method of self-reliance for the impoverished. This not only offers economic opportunity, but it empowers the people.
“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
Mahatma Gandhi – Indian Philosopher
This post was featured on the Carnival of Personal Finance. There are lots of great articles from many top-notch PF bloggers. If you have some spare time, you may want to check it out.