As the first in our series of responses to reader questions, Andy Farrell emailed us to ask:
“As someone who was around for Band Aid, then Live Aid, took part in the Race Against Time and wears their Make Poverty History wristband every day can I ask how long projects will continue before extreme poverty is actually ended please?”
In the 25 years since Band Aid took place, we’ve seen extreme poverty more than halved, from 52% to 25% of the world’s population according to World Bank data. However, the collected data masks the more challenging fact that much of that progress was made in China and South-East Asia. Today there are more people in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa than there were a generation ago.
The optimistic view, which we share at the Global Poverty Project, is that we have the resources - economic, political, social and technological - to see an end to extreme poverty within the next generation. But, to make this happen, there’s a huge amount that needs to be done - which is what we talk about all the time, and is summarized in our post, The End of Extreme Poverty within a Generation.
Right now, we’d call this scenario an improbable possibility. Our role is to make this a probable reality, through our everyday actions.
As a follow up to this, Andy also asked us a second question:
“I watch and take part in shows like Comic Relief, sponsor kids and donate in other ways but feel that while some progress is made for the length of time there has been, not just to create significant awareness of the fight to end poverty but also generate huge amounts of money to be put in to it that little is being achieved.
My concern is that there have been a staggering amount of organisations and projects set up with an aim to end extreme poverty but the effort put in to create these organisations could have been better utilized to deal with the issue. Are these organisations doing what is needed to achieve the goal?”
This question really goes to the heart of asking what actions we need to take to make the end of extreme poverty a probably reality.
The uncomfortable truth for some here is that it’s not going to be led or done by those of us in the world’s richest countries. It’s going be driven by the citizens, governments and companies of the world’s poorest countries.
But, along the way, there’s a vital role that we have to play in making it possible for these people and organisations to succeed.
Donating - and giving aid more generally - is an important first step by saving and transforming lives around the world. It makes a huge difference at a community level, and gives people the chance to lift themselves out of poverty. But, aid and aid agencies alone won’t end poverty.
To really see an end to extreme poverty, we need to change the rules and systems that keep people poor. We need to see that our purchases matter as much as our donations, and that trade is ultimately the best route out of poverty - which is why we talk about fairtrade and ethical purchasing so often. We need to see that international trade rules are made fairer for poor countries so they have the chance to compete, and that laws in rich countries ensure that poor countries aren’t ripped off by corruption, tax evasion and unethical behaviour.
So, to answer the question directly - no, these organisations aren’t doing what is needed to achieve the goal. As a sector, aid agencies are too focused on chasing donations and keeping donors happy by directing as much of your money as possible to the beneficiaries.
It would be easy to see this as their failure, that aid agencies and charities “aren’t effective”. But it’s not. It’s our failure as donors to these organisations to ask the right questions about what’s making real change. Instead of focusing like Andy does on outcomes and reducing poverty, we ask about administration costs. The result is a sector that focuses on delivering change at an individual and community level at the expense of changing the rules that keep people in poverty.
At the Global Poverty Project, we’re committed to providing you the tools to take more and better action that will really see an end to extreme poverty, starting with the ability to ask tough questions like this. If you’d like to ask a question for future blogs, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, ask us on our Facebook discussion page or tweet at us using the hashtag #askGPP.