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The team here at the Global Poverty Project are thrilled to announce that the World Bank has just released an update to their figures on the numbers of extreme poor in the world.
As of 2010, the world had 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, or 20.63% of the world's population.
That's a roughly 200 million person fall since 2005 - driven by effective aid, increased trade from the world's poorest countries, and improvements in governance and transparency.
This means that the world has definitely succeeded on the headline goal in the Millennium Development Goals of halving extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015, as back in 1990, 41% of the world lived in extreme poverty. This success sets us - as global citizens - to contribute towards ending extreme poverty in the next 20 to 30 years. With the Sustainable Development Goals - the successors to the Millennium Development Goals - under consideration at the moment, this news gives credibilty to their efforts to develop a framework that will help us get to the end of extreme poverty forever.
The figures though, aren't all rosy. Although there's been a reduction in the percentage of the population in extreme poverty in all areas, Sub-Saharan Africa still lags far behind - with 48.47% of citizens living in extreme poverty. This is a big fall from high the 58.78% recorded back in 1996, but it indicated that there's much work still to be done, especially when we factor in population growth. According to the data released today, there are now 413.73 million sub-Saharan Africans in extreme poverty - up from the 388.38 million reported as of 2005.
It's going to take a generation's work from all of us as global citizens to create this world without extreme poverty, and as the figures above attest, it's going to be a long and tough journey. The boom in world trade and the growth of China and India have done much to lift hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty in the last twenty years, but their successes aren't enough to lift everyone out of extreme poverty. As we look to the next 20 years, the big gains are only going to be made when we ensure that our aid is targeted and effective, when citizens all over the world can hold their governments and businesses to account for how money is spent, taxes are paid, and policies are made for the good of the poor, not to their detriment.
This is the story we tell in our 1.4 Billion Reasons live presentation, which after the release of today's figures, we'll be needing to give an update to, including the name - something that our team have already excitedly begun work on, and which we look forward to sharing with you in the coming weeks. For once, we're thrilled that a brand name - 1.4 Billion Reasons - is outdated and irrelevant. For the 165,000 people who've seen the presentation in the last few years, we've got a great story to tell about how some of what we said is now wrong, even down the title.
In the meantime, we hope you join us in celebrating this day, and that you continue to be committed to the long journey to the end of extreme poverty.
What makes people do the right thing? What motivates people to buy Fairtrade, volunteer their time or help the homeless person on the street? Much more research has been devoted to the psychology of what drives us to buy certain products, than a close look at the incentives and mindset of philanthropy, altruism and positive social engagement. The resulting deficit has left us with a widening gap between the increasingly sophisticated appeal of global brands and the hackneyed approaches from non-profit organizations who often still lead with the starving child crudely pasted to the rattling cup.
As Global Poverty Project rolls out its Global Citizen engagement platform, some in the development sector are suspicious of the idea of offering rewards for signing petitions and sharing YouTube clips with friends. They see the idea of T-shirts and concert tickets as the equivalent of offering children sweets for good behaviour. Critics see it as the latest brand of ‘clicktivsim’ or just feeding the rampant consumerism that underpins some of the global imbalance. Buying ethical products or telling friends about water issues in Nairobi should not need to be incentivized, so they say, as it’s the right thing to do. According to these naysayers, people should do the right thing, because it’s the right thing, end of story. Eat your broccoli and no complaints.
But to this soup of metaphors and old adages, allow me to add one more; the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. The development sector has been showing us the image of the starving child for over 40 years. It’s been an effective motivator for a small percentage of the population as a prick to their conscience and a tug on their heartstrings to drop a few coins in the cup and assuage the guilt the image deliberately stirs.
We should all applaud the efforts of these organizations who have helped millions of people with limited funding in impossible circumstances. Through their tireless and underpaid efforts, they have fed, clothed, healed and educated generations of people around the world. Certainly there are signs of progress as the Millennium Development Goals encourage more targeted, better development, and the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved since 1983.
Despite this progress in the methods and strategies for poverty eradication in the developing world, the fundamental relationship between the average citizen in London or New York to the problems of the world remain frozen in the transactional and simplistic paradigm of “GIVE MONEY, SAVE KIDS”.
For a dramatic expansion of the efforts to end extreme poverty, what’s needed is a game-changing shift in this predictable dynamic. The critics of innovation or change to this status quo are afraid of rocking the boat for fear of diminishing the ‘anti-poverty brand’ by making it ‘rewards’ focused.
The efforts of these organizations are funded by the same percentage of bleeding hearts who continue to dig into their pockets when they see an appeal. What’s needed is not a new way of tapping those loyal supporters, but a dramatic and engaging way of expanding the number of supporters. Not only that, but the development sector needs a way to redefine the word ‘supporter’ from the person who writes a cheque, to the person who’s inspired by the stories of innovation and resilience and leads others to focus their unique skills to helping the world’s poor.
Global Citizen has the potential to be the innovation the sector desperately needs. It encourages people to learn more about the issues, creates a structure for discussing and sharing relevant content and takes people on a journey to better understand the policies, institutions and actions that will lead us to a more just and sustainable world.
As people get started on this journey, sometimes the first step is the hardest one to take. Global Citizen does dangle rewards as the ‘carrot’ to get started. The rewards platform plays to the human impulse that asks, “What’s in it for me?” but hopes that by going a mile or two down the road of global citizenry, the answers, definitions and even the questions themselves will change.
Teenagers might just watch a few films about extreme poverty to earn concert tickets. No one expects that to change the world, but it does plant seeds that may grow to great things. For some of those teenagers, the films might be the start of a lifelong commitment to social justice. For others it might be the inspiration that goes on to spark unimagined innovation. Global Citizen might awaken the Nelson Mandelas and Martin Luther King Jr.s of the future. In addition to reporting the world as it is, Global Citizen implicitly invites us all to imagine the world as it should be.
Global Citizen has partnered with the Development and Aid World News Service (DAWNS) to provide two (2) $1,000 humanitarian reporting and storytelling grants.
Now, we need your help to select our grantees.
Global Citizen and DAWNS are community-powered organizations committed to telling stories about issues related to global poverty. The 12 finalists you see below each have a compelling humanitarian story to tell.
Click on their names to read, learn about and support their independent projects. Log onto Global Citizen and you can vote for your favorite to win by clicking on the petition button at the bottom of the page.
My project encompasses combating present violence against women as well as reconciling and healing from the wounds of conflict primarily focused in Liberia. Women were systematically raped during Liberia's 14 years of civil war. Today, rape is among the highest crimes in the country. I have a fantastic opportunity to shoot and interview four female Nobel Peace Prize winners who are traveling to Liberia this January to work to empower people on the ground seeking solutions to violence against women.
Poverty in Gambia is said to have a gendered face, with women forming the majority of the poor in both rural and urban households. Data obtained from government sources (SPA II 1998), indicate that 64 percent of those in agriculture are either extremely poor (47 percent), or poor (17 percent).
‘know herStory’ is a 3 to 6 months project to narrate 15 personal and unique stories of grassroots women leaders involved in community mobilization, HIV/AIDs, peace building, social justice, and human rights advocacy.
My Africa Is - an interactive documentary series that identifies innovations on the African continent from the youth. The series will follow unexpected developments in the humanitarian, music, fashion, film, arts, and business sectors of the continent, using each African city as a backdrop to showcase the diversity of each city and country.
‘Through the Fire’ is a documentary film project that shows a side of Somalia beyond the all-too-familiar news reports of piracy, war, and famine. It gives an intimate portrait of the life and work of three exceptional Somali women, who, in the midst of two decades of bitter civil war, have risen up to rebuild their shattered nation.
My project documents the lives of sex workers and their children in Falkland Road, one of the largest red light districts in Mumbai, India. The purpose of the project is to listen to and record the daily challenges these women and children face without sensationalizing or victimizing them. I intend to spend time with them in the brothels where they live and work, talking about the issues that matter most to them.
Whilst volunteering in Kenya three years ago I encountered a group of IDPs, Kenyans displaced by the post election violence of 2007-08. After returning to the UK I wrote a book about the community I had been living with but remained haunted by the stories I heard from the IDPs who'd been forced from their houses, some of whom enduring unspeakable violence.
More than 5000 farmers in Doho Rice scheme, Uganda, have spent more than a year waiting to restart farming their paddys after they were stopped from cultivation due to a construction of a dam over the river that supplies their gardens with water. Uganda's largest community Rice scheme have started seeing thuggery, theft, robbery and murders as people struggle to survive amidst no harvest. The farmers and their families and relatives are now suffering and this is also being felt in local schools as parents fail to send their children back for studies for luck of money for school fees.
In Hindu culture, boys represent a status symbol. Many regard girls as a financial drain because parents face the pressure to provide a dowry to marry her off. The low status of women results not only in the abortion of female fetuses, but also the abandonment of baby girls, neglect of girl children, the abuse of women in “dowry deaths,” “honour killings” of women, and even burning widows to death in a ritual called sati.
The project I intend to work on is based on water shortages and challenges being experienced by villagers. The story should be told because water is vital and a basic human right . It would be very important to find out how the people in these villages are getting by without water. Areas are remaining underdeveloped because teachers and nurses are refusing to be deployed to the area because of water problems. Schools and health institutions run without water.
Eighteen-year-old Maheshwari comes from a family of quarry workers in rural India, none of whom completed schooling past the eighth grade. For the first four years of Maheshwari's life, it seemed she would follow a similar path: Waking at 5 a.m. to start the household chores, marrying young, bearing children, and bringing in money through odd jobs wherever she could. Instead, she was selected by the Shanti Bhavan Children's Project to attend their boarding school, a brush with fate that would change the trajectory of her entire life.
"Birth is a dream" I named my photography project which aims to document and raise awareness about the maternity crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. I started documenting the maternal health crisis in Malawi in 2011, and in DRC, Uganda in 2012.
At the beginning of a new year, we take time to remember why we are taking action to end extreme poverty.
1.4 billion people in our world currently live in extreme poverty.
These 1,400,000,000 individuals live on less than what you can buy in the US for $1.25 per day. You might think this buys more in a poor country than it does here, but actually, it’s a figure that’s been adjusted for purchasing power, which means that anywhere in the world, the $1.25 a day measure buys little more than enough basic food, clean water and cooking fuel to make two simple meals.
In the last 30 years, the proportion of the world’s population that live below this line has halved – from 52% in 1980, to 25% today. That’s a decline from 1.9 billion people down to 1.4 billion people.
At the Global Poverty Project we’re passionate about communicating these amazing achievements, and highlighting the opportunity we have to bring this number down to zero - within a generation.
This post summarizes how we can each play a part in realizing this opportunity – moving a world without extreme poverty from its current status of ‘improbable possibility’, to ‘likely reality’. This list is designed to introduce you to the key themes and issues related to ending extreme poverty.
How we think about extreme poverty
We know ending extreme poverty is a big and complex challenge. It has many causes, and there’s certainly no silver bullet or single solution, but we don't think that this complexity means the challenge cannot be overcome. There are a huge number of smart and talented people all over the world in charities, business, academia, evaluation organisations, government and think-tanks who are building an evidence base of things that work, things that don’t and why.
The big three issues
To see an end to extreme poverty, there are three big issues that we need to see action on – governance, aid and trade. We know that we have the resources (economic, social, political and environmental) to see an end to extreme poverty. But, right now, the world works in a way that keeps some people poor, which is what we all need to focus on to see an end to extreme poverty.
Improving governance structures can ensure that decision-making works in favour of the world’s poorest people. At present, most discussions about governance are framed in terms of corruption. Rather than treating the problem of corruption as an excuse to stop investing in development efforts, we need to get behind those working in communities to counter corruption: by holding local leaders to account, increasing transparency, and ensuring that laws are applied. Corruption is not only a problem that needs to be tackled in poor countries. In rich countries we need to hold governments and businesses to account for any complicity in the process of corruption, or for unethically undermining poverty reduction through actions like avoiding tax or utilising vulture funds to recover illegitimate debts. We’ve psoted more about corruption here, including an interview with leading experts here, or you can see the work being done by corruption-fighting organisations like Global Witness and Transparency International.
Next, we need to make sure that aid that’s given – whether through donations to charities or taxes to government – is spent on programs that really work. Foreign aid won’t end poverty - but it’s a vital ingredient that can be used to make investments in things like health, education and infrastructure – resources needed for countries and communities to lift themselves out of poverty and prevent dependence on aid in the future. We’ve written more about good aid here, here and here.
Ultimately, extreme poverty ends when local communities can trade their way to a better future. The amazing poverty alleviation that we’ve seen in the past generation has been led by countries who have joined global markets: in China 400 million citizens have been lifted out of poverty since 1980, South Korea has moved from aid recipient to aid donor by building industry and creating world-renowned brands, and Botswana has grown faster than any other country in Africa by wisely investing proceeds from its diamond mines. Currently, the potential of trade is limited by the rules which work against poor countries, and will need to be reformed before we will see an end to extreme poverty.
The Elephants in the Room
Beyond these three issues, climate change and resource limitations are the elephants in the room, threatening the potential end to extreme poverty. The impact of these issues can be seen in the Pakistan floods, and in the record food prices which will mean that 1 billion people go to bed hungry tonight. On both of these issues our challenge is distribution, not scarcity. We aren’t running out of food - there’s more than enough food on our planet to feed everyone. The problem is that the world’s poorest people can’t afford to buy enough of it. In order to realize the potential of developing populations, rich countries have to increase their efficiency in resource use, and support clean development.
All of the opportunities and challenges of fighting extreme poverty outlined above are technically possible and eminently affordable. Our role is to make them politically viable and increasingly probable.
Beyond that, we can help others realise that it is possible to end extreme poverty, that we are already making significant progress, and that practical steps can be taken to overcome the challenges that remain.
From there, it’s about using your voice as a citizen to join the campaigns and initiatives of organisations fighting hard in your local community to change the rules and systems that keep people poor: ensuring that corruption is reduced, that aid is given in appropriate quantities in the right way to the right things, and changing trade rules to give the world’s poorest a fair chance to lift themselves out of poverty.
Most importantly, it’s about recognizing that the movement to end extreme poverty is led by people in poverty themselves. As we reflect on the changes of the last generation, we can look forward a generation and see a real prospect of extreme poverty not existing. Our role is to get behind the world’s poor, give voice to their aspirations, and work as citizens and consumers to make the end of extreme poverty the legacy that our generation leaves on this world.
Want to help realise a generation's potential? Register as a Global Citizen and take action to help end extreme poverty.
This blog was originally published on the GPP website in September 2010.
We thought that we’d share some videos that have caused some discussion in the GPP office over the past year:
We posted about the campaign to end the #FirstWorldProblems epidemic in November and it is still a topic of discussion. Some say that the hashtag is harmless and just a bit of fun. Others say that there is a serious point behind it, and we really need to take it seriously. Either way, the video has sparked off crucial discussion.
This next fun filled video, sponsored by the government of Norway, is a poignant way to highlight the realities of developing countries. ‘Africa’ is not helpless, and its citizens are no 'less' than anyone else in the world. This one is definitely worth watching.