It is difficult for all of humanity to flourish at its fullest potential when millions struggle to survive every day. When poverty is such a widespread issue, it seems like we must first look toward its eradication before we can solve any other global problems. Poverty is a societal matter, and so as a society, whether or not we live in poverty ourselves, we are responsible for working against it. As our interconnectedness increases, global issues become individual issues and individual issues become global issues. The implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal No. 1 set by the United Nations requires everyone’s participation — no exception. Poverty is man-made, and so it is up to us to find the solution for it.
Fortunately, the global rate of extreme poverty has been cut by more than half since 1990, an amazing achievement by any standard. Yet there is a lot more work to be done to “eliminate poverty in all its forms everywhere,” as set by U.N.’s commendable goal. A total of 836 million people, or about one in eight people, all over the world, still live in extreme poverty. Their population is concentrated in some of the most economically fragile regions of the globe — with extreme climates and severe political unrest.
At the same time, certain individuals and countries are procuring massive wealth at an incredible speed. The gap between the rich and the poor is more obvious now than ever. Consider that the three wealthiest individuals in the world have assets that are worth more than those of the poorest 10 percent globally. The United States alone happens to be the richest, but simultaneously one of the most economically unequal, nations in the world.
And yet, some calculations predict that global poverty could be eliminated if the richest nations in the world were to invest only 1 percent of their combined wealth. The imbalance is clear. Providing aid to the poorest society is not only helpful, but necessary. However, money is only part of the solution. Official aid, remittances, foreign direct investment, donations, and other forms of economic assistance must come with our collective moral responsibility to ensure the elimination of poverty.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development calculates that donors have provided over $4.27 trillion in official development assistance between 1960 and 2013. Nevertheless, as studies by economists such as professor William Easterly of New York University have consistently shown, foreign aid rarely generates sustained prosperity, and if it does achieve short-term success, it does so at a high price because it can distort the economies of recipient nations. In some cases, it can weaken that country’s institutions and even contribute to government corruption. Most would argue that the same goes for remittances or direct donations.
As professors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson stressed in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” a developing country needs fundamental change in behavior and a solid societal willingness to truly climb out of poverty. Economist Wayne Grudem and theologian Barry Asmus also emphasize in their book “The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution,” that the achievement of fundamental changes in attitude and philosophy must in turn rest on a foundation of core cultural values.
The debate is not so much about giving or receiving anymore. Perhaps a more relevant discussion should be on our mindset and where we go from there. A study carried out by the Center for the Study of Living Standards using several sources of international data on labor productivity, poverty, and income inequality, found that across the developing countries for which data are available, productivity growth plays a substantial role in reducing poverty — a more important role than the more commonly used economic growth indicator. It is therefore paramount to help citizens realize their worth, to help them become agents of change in the society they live in.
Productivity is needed in every nation and for every individual. When we receive help, we can’t limit ourselves to spending. We can develop a gratitude that moves us into action. Putting the help we receive straight to use creates new value. We can all play an important role in that process, whether we are in the receiving-end or the giving-end. As donors, we can work on holding beneficiaries accountable, and as beneficiaries we can work on our ownership and responsibility.
The world is filled with good examples of this proactive and productive mindset, such as the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account program, which applies objective criteria to determine which countries will receive funding — their performance in governing justly, investing in their citizens, and encouraging economic freedom. Participation in MCA programs requires recipient governments to take high-level ownership of the projects funded and commit to reducing corruption as well as improving transparency and accountability.
The microfinance model can also be considered a good example of this mindset. With low interest rates, recipients of the loans are expected to be productive shortly after receiving the loans. Microfinance has proven to work much better toward poverty alleviation for the long term if entrepreneurs are not only provided financial assistance but also proactively work on developing their skills and building their capacities to manage loans and enhance their productivity. At the same time, we see too many examples on the opposite end of the spectrum, with trillions of dollars invested and poverty still perpetuating, or even worsening.
On January 18, 2017, IBREA Foundation — a nonprofit organization having consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council — held a conference on the subject. By offering brain-based holistic education, IBREA aims to raise awareness among individuals and communities in countries around the world, of their great human value and dignity, and of their deep longing for solving the world’s problems — including the eradication of poverty. Based on the most recent scientific discoveries about the human brain — such as our brain’s innate tendency toward empathy, or our brain’s great capacity for endurance, perseverance, and creativity — IBREA’s curriculum helps individuals understand that their brain and body are naturally built to create prosperity and equality. We just have to unleash our potential.
Through our educational projects in different countries, we have seen young girls and boys grow out of poverty. In Liberia, we have witnessed our students go from extreme poverty and almost dropping out of school to gradually developing their confidence and willpower to create an enterprise of their own. In El Salvador, we have seen our students, some of whom were teenage single mothers struggling to bring food to their children, grow their strength to find a job, make it to university, and bring stability to their households. This is the power of the human mind that we have experienced in different countries. Even if resources are scarce, when individuals work on their inner capacity, they can find the way to gather support and at the same time be productive.
Poverty eradication starts with each one of us and all our nations, with our own choices. When it comes to poverty eradication, if we couple the support of official aid, and other types of economic assistance, with a mindset for productivity, this can gradually lead to structural changes and ultimately, the eradication of poverty. Save, spend mindfully, waste less, and create wealth.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Brain World Magazine.