Despite halving the number of those living on less than $1 per day, there are still 1.2 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty. Due to this overwhelming atrocity, there is a natural and well-meaning tendency to treat it like an epidemic, be strategic, and deliver an antidote. However, poverty is generational, cyclical, and deep rooted. It is often forgotten that behind each number is a human being - a human who is a potential partner and very much capable of helping themselves just as much (or better than) we can. In order to eradicate poverty and sustain any progress made, we cannot utilize quick fixes or Band-Aids. We need to get on the human level.
Lifting people and communities out of poverty invites a sensitive dynamic and relationship. To do so effectively requires a ton of empathy, and the ultimate goal should be independence for the impoverished. Therefore, rather than strive to “help” communities out of poverty, we should empower them to elevate themselves our of poverty.
Aid and relief can often enable recipients as they are short-term focused and invite people to depend on the support. With this may come a host of psychological effects including feeling enabled, a lack of purpose or fulfillment, and anxiety over losing the current resource. Withdraw the aid and you withdraw a lifeline. Additionally, if context is not assessed correctly, aid may do more harm than good as it may breakdown a community’s current market or even lead people to resort to unsafe strategies to meet their needs.
The key is to build upon the capabilities of each person and of each community. For example, The Women’s Refugee Commission researches and develops guidance on livelihoods, the capabilities, assets, and strategies that people use to make a living. An effective focus on empowering people to build productive livelihoods is a sustainable solution for social, emotional, and economic well-being.
PovertyCure also gets it. Instead of questioning what causes poverty, the organizating is asking what causes wealth. They urge other groups to be person-centered, foster opportunity, and unleash the entrepreneurial spirit. They are building upon assets and looking to people and communities as partners. You can learn more about their call for a shift “from aid to enterprise” in the video below.
By reframing the way we address poverty, we can help the world’s most vulnerable build meaningful lives. By getting on the human level and empowering people and communities, we will bring more sustainable action to reaching our Millennium Development Goals and ending poverty.