Answer: Extreme poverty, while it seems so vast and sometimes hopeless, can actually be broken down into several key problems and, in turn, these problems can actually be worked on if we do it one step at a time.
If I were in charge of a considerable amount of resources to address extreme poverty, the first question I would ask is linked to what Joy Anderson (Founder of Criterion, Visiting Professor at Wesleyan University) said in video lecture 5.3 (Education & Risk Taking): What do people affected by extreme poverty need the most? In Joy’s example, a social entrepreneur decided that what Indian women in a certain depressed area needed were sanitary napkins because not having any was hindering women from participation in social and economic activities of the village. It was a good thing that she went around the village interviewing the women. It turned out that what they wanted was a blender / food processor because cutting vegetables ate up too much of their time. Good things come out of listening to people who need the aid. Many times, where aid goes is determined by the giver or by the organization that is organizing the aid without listening to the beneficiary.
|Banerjee & Duflo book. Image from makewealthhistory.og|
My second question is linked to methodology or what the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) is doing (randomized evaluations as cited in the paper by Jessica Cohen and William Easterly, Thinking Big versus Thinking Small): What is the most effective and measurable way to deliver the solution? There are many ways to increase school attendance but which one is the best way, the most effective way? In the account by Esther Duflo of JPAL in her TED talk, Social Experiments to Fight Poverty, traditional ways of increasing school attendance were providing extra teachers, providing school meals or providing scholarships. However, when JPAL did a test that included other interventions like providing iron supplements and deworming to the mix, it turned out that deworming had the highest impact to prolonging school attendance. And now, this experiment has already guided policy for education.
My third question is related to sustainability and Jeffrey Sachs’ Common Wealth, Economics for a Crowded Planet: How can we put structures in place so that extreme poverty no longer becomes an issue in the future? Short-term interventions can only go so far. Long-term sustainability is required so that gains on extreme poverty will remain. This has to do, now, with the way a society is structured, how its government is structured, and how equal citizens are within that society. In Sachs’ example, Nordic countries where citizens have a high degree of equality and where social safety nets are in place, overall wellbeing for these countries are high. I believe, if we change the way we measure “progress,” across the globe, from GDP to human wellbeing, we will make great strides in not just alleviating extreme poverty but also in protecting and nurturing our environment.
To address extreme poverty, three questions to ask are: 1) What do people affected by extreme poverty need the most?, 2) What is is the most effective and measurable way we can deliver the solution?, and 3) How can we put structures in place so that extreme poverty no longer becomes an issue in the future?
Note: I am currently taking up a course boldly called How To Change The World offered by Wesleyan University (offered for free through Coursera.org) and taught by Wesleyan University President, Michael S. Roth. It tackles major issues facing humanity and it is based on discussions brought up during the 2013 Social Good Summit in NY. I am putting up all my assignments on my blog as well.