At the end of the international year of co-operatives, I went to the Manchester GMEX on Thursday 1st November to hear the 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation from Bonnie Wright, Harry Potter actress and Global Poverty Project Ambassador. The message the presentation aims to bring to global audiences is one to understand and get involved in the movement to end extreme poverty.
What is poverty
"Poverty is taking your children to the hospital and spending the whole day waiting with no one even taking your name and then coming back the next day, and the next, until they finally get around to you." [Janice Bradshaw]. Demoralising, time consuming, agonising, tiring, ignored.
Much of Bonnie's experience with poverty is derived from her recent trip to Senegal with Oxfam where the remoteness of the villages reveals the true remoteness of poverty itself. In the developed world, we have the resources to share and there are, here in the UK and globally, the resources to spare. It's about how we share those resources, within the UK and across the world.
What does extreme poverty mean?
There are myriad factors that contribute to the effect of extreme poverty that range from a lacking of food, or water, healthcare, education and the ability to earn a living and a livelihood. In relative terms, we can look at the figure of $1.25 a day as the benchmark of extreme poverty. It's a number that leaves impossible choices, cripplingly difficult decisions standing at forks in the road for many people living on and under one and a quarter dollars each day. Faced with providing food for your family or using what money is available to pay for a doctor to see a sick family
member, you're presented with almost nightmarish conflictions.
When we look at the figure of 52% of the world's population in extreme poverty in 1981 to the 25% it is today, it has to be celebrated and then further considered how this can be driven down to zero.
The presentation points to a variety of measures that, addressed effectively, would go a long way to eradicating extreme poverty and these range from prudent monetary policies, investment in social services, democracies and diversification of exports to the sustainable management of the environment. However, an overriding theme is one of female empowerment as a key to the development of economic productivity in the developing world.
"There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole - women and men alike - than the one which involves women as central players." [Kofi Annan]
"When you educate a woman, you educate the whole family", an African proverb.
With the Manchester Oxfam group I am working on a big exhibition around the issue of maternal mortality and the campaigning and work that has, and is, being done to tackle it from Manchester to Malawi. It will be on display at the people's history museum in Manchester from 19th January - April 2013, do come and take a look.
There are barriers to progress.
Corruption is one of the worst offenders and Bonnies offered law, adequate pay, information and education, community voices, values and accountability as the important elements that, uniformly applied properly, can remove this particular barricade to eliminating extreme poverty.
A second example is one of trade. The more access people have to trade, the greater the chances for them to be lifted out of poverty, and this has been evidenced in China, South Korea, India and Botswana. Clearly it works and the dismantling of this hindrance allows for prosperity.
Why should we care? Well, why should anybody, in 2012 and future years, be living in extreme poverty?
Looking back at the life of abolitionist William Wilberforce, the presentation shows how ending poverty is the abolitionist issue of our time. It affects us all.
We can see in the worldwide spread of disease, such as swine flu, that is in our interest here in the UK to combat, and defeat, global and extreme poverty. Additional and continued funding is needed to end diseases such as Polio. Where we have seen the eradication of Smallpox, there is still work to be done and further progress to be made in tackling disease. Polio and Diphtheria have been reduced by 99 and 93 percent respectively, but these, like the 25% figure of those currently living in extreme poverty throughout the world, are numbers that should no longer be statistics that are
impacting on peoples' lives.
What we can do about it….There are clear actions we can take. We can learn about the issues, we can talk about it with friends, family, colleagues, we can share these issues online via social media, we can volunteer, donate, shout and even buy ethically. None of this requires a magic wand and all of it contributes to the movement and the ultimate effect of obliterating global, extreme poverty.
As Ban Ki-moon has said,
"Many say our world is at a tipping point. If we do not act together, if we do not act responsibly, if we do not act now, we risk slipping into a cycle of poverty, degradation, and despair."
I took part in tough mudder over the weekend, and decided to ask people to donate action rather than money to show their support. Check it out here and why not donate an action to help to overcome poverty?
Together we can see an end to poverty in our lifetime.
1. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About by Paul Collier [Oxford University Press 2007]
2. Half the sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
4. Global poverty programme - follow on Twitter: @The GPP