GUEST COLUMN: Relief & the rest of time
By Amanda Bishop
Political science and history student at
“The best anti-poverty program is a job,” President Obama stated during a discussion on poverty at Georgetown University this spring. He’s not the first to observe this in the United States.
But what about abroad? Could it be that the jobs created by businesses are the antidote to extreme poverty?
In 2011, Yale and the Brookings Institution teamed up in a study of global poverty. The results were exciting: from 1981 to 2011 extreme poverty dropped from being the reality for most people (52%), to less than an eighth (15%) of the global population.
What caused this great success? The Yale study found national growth in businesses was central. According to the study, “The poor countries that display the greatest success today are those that are… pursuing sensible and strategic economic policies to spur investment, trade and job creation.”
As is pointed out by the international investors at Norfund, “There are no examples of countries that have achieved lasting improvements of living conditions without economic growth.” In fact, business investment is essential for “economic growth and long term, sustainable poverty alleviation.”
Economic growth through businesses is a key component of lifting people out of poverty. Yet charitable organizations often take a different tack: Donate your cash, outdated cell phone, and gently used clothing. Buy our product and we’ll give a poor kid in Africa shoes. Allocate part of the national budget to government-to-government aid.
If business and job creation are at the core of eradicating extreme poverty, why do we continue to champion secondary means of addressing the issue?
I think we are misdiagnosing the problem. We try to ‘fix’ chronic poverty with temporary relief.
Relief is a useful, even critical, tool for immediate needs following a crisis. If my heart stops suddenly, I need the relief provided by a defibrillator. But once the immediate crisis has passed it’s fatal to continue jolting me with electricity. I need to switch to a longer term solution, perhaps eating cheerios and other heart healthy foods. Similarly, relief is not suited to the longterm work of development and when used as such, often does more harm than good.
Sometimes when we encounter extreme poverty we see it as if it were a defibrillator situation. “People don’t have shoes. We must get shoes to them right away!” We flood the needy area with free shoes from a non-profit, driving the local shoemaker out of business. But once the charitably donated shoes wear out, the problem resurfaces. We’ve misdiagnosed the problem and thus offered the wrong remedy.
We can better respond to chronic poverty with sustainable development. Organizations like HOPE International and Kiva fight for sustainable solutions by providing financial services for people in poverty. They are empowering businessmen and women who create jobs and wealth in communities.
To that end, here are some questions to ask before giving to a charity:
1. What kind of help is needed here, relief or development?
2. Does the relief/development provided match the need? (You wouldn’t send blankets to people suffering from a drought.)
3. Is this organization trustworthy? Check it’s www.charitynavigator.org rating.
It’s time to put away the defibrillators and switch to a sustainable development diet, for the long term health of our world.
Amanda Bishop is a senior at Biola University double-majoring in political science and history. A La Habra local. She studied international development through a program in Washington, D.C. last semester. She is currently interning for the micro-enterprise non-profit HOPE International.