You can sense a certain tension. I see it, feel it and hear it in conversations. A generation of compassionaries and activists who are angered by extreme poverty and injustice are coming to the same conclusions: changing the world is really hard work.
So many deeply complex issues to face and yet, easy answers are hard to come by. We desperately need innovation, creativity and more data, so we can see deep progress and solve key problems.
We all wish it was easier. So, the real question is this: will we relent or will we do the hard work that is necessary?
Some good news: We are Making Progress
Don’t get me wrong — in the last few years, we’re seeing key data points to support the fact that extreme poverty is actually being eradicated. Even in the midst of one of the largest global recessions the world has ever seen, we have made great progress.
- Child Mortality Deaths: UNICEF announced that this figure has been slashed again to 19,000 a day . We’ve seen a sliding scale: 40,000 to 28,000 to 19,000.
- According to this study, the child sponsorship model is working.
- In the last 20 years, over two billion people have gained access to clean water.
This is all tremendous news and should give us hope and energy to push forward and make progress.
Yet, when it is all said and done, we know that changing the world is hard. I’ve spent five years learning what it takes to make a long-term sustainable difference, spending many sleepless nights and restless days asking the question, “How can I help make the world a better place?”
Here are four steps that will get you started
- It starts with relationships.
You have to listen and learn from real people who are facing the challenge of extreme poverty. These are the people who will spearhead grassroots change within their community.
They have what you and I (outsiders) will never have — respect, trust and influence. They are the linchpins and they will drive change.
When an outsider comes in to their communities with new, innovative models, he or she will be met with resistance if the community does not first trust the outsider. That trust is created through genuine relationships.
It’s vital that we understand the culture and rhythms of the community. Do you know their stories, their history, do you understand the challenges they face and the ramifications of failed innovation?
2. Fine wine is better.
Our organization has recently rescued over 20 + children in Ferrier, Haiti, from homelessness and trafficking. This is the result of two years of conversations and planning. We took it slow, because we wanted the local community to lead and innovate. We wanted them to own the project — not an outside NGO.
It was hard. Some of our investors were worried that we were taking too long. Some folks probably were tired of hearing about “Ferrier Village.”
I know I worried and started to feel restless.
Poverty alleviation is a long-term approach. You can’t innovate without indigenous leadership owning the the vision. Those aspects takes time and let’s face it, most NGO’s in the West hate taking time to do quality, slow work, because we act more like corporations who sell widgets rather than organizations who work with humanity.
It’s hard to look good on paper when you are investing in deep relationship. But, long term, the biggest impact will be made due to the slow approach. We want to take out the cork and open the wine, but the reality is this: the wine is not ready. The longer we wait, the better it gets.
3. Generosity matters.
Aid has become a bad word in the current “how to end poverty” conversations. I think that is a slippery slope, because money well spent will move the mission forward.
Aid must be connected to long term, locally-sustained development work. Aid can and should be a launching pad to something more beautiful. So, when we take time to innovate and get to know the local community, aid will bridge the gap and allow us space to care for people today, while we try and solve future problems so the people can care for themselves.
4. Your intelligence is very important.
While I think it’s vital that we all share our resources, that is not what is most important. (And, this is where poverty alleviation can get really exciting!)
What if you (yes, you!) reading this article right now … what if you gave away your intelligence to fight poverty and solve problems? You have a gift, a passion, a toolkit and a network of people who can make a difference.
- Are you an educator? We need your help.
- Are you a business person? We need your help.
- Are you a healthcare provider? We need your help.
- Are you a techie? We need your help.
- Are you a storyteller? We need your help.
We could go on and on.
When you combine your passion and generosity with an organization that is processing the big picture and a local leader who will lead the charge on the ground, action can move forward and problems can be solved. Together, we can see the desired outcomes for which we all hope.
We need your intelligence as much — if not more — than we need your money.
Moving the Needle Forward
I’m thoroughly convinced that we can end extreme poverty if we make these simple, yet powerful changes.
- Build a relationship
- Go slow and be patient.
- Be generous.
- Use your talents and passion to create innovative solutions that will solve problems and make a tangible difference.
I was recently reading On Writing, by Stephen King. He mentioned that “[his generation] had a chance to change the world and opted for the Home Shopping Network instead.”
Let’s learn from previous generations. Let’s not miss our opportunity to make the world a better place.