Today, our team at the Global Poverty Project announced our biggest ever event and campaign – the Global Festival.
It culminates with a 60,000 person music concert on the Great Lawn at Central Park, an iconic location for what we hope will be an iconic event, taking place at the end of the first week of the UN General Assembly.
There’s a huge amount of time, energy and money that goes into an event like this, so we spent a lot of time thinking about whether a concert is really the best way to work towards our vision of a world without extreme poverty.
And, given the world that we’re in right now, we believe that the answer is yes.
Over the last 18 months, our team in the USA have relentlessly toured the country, talking to more than 160 community groups, colleges and schools about extreme poverty. We’ve shared 1.4 Billion Reasons, our interactive presentation with 24,000 people, and along the way, we’ve learnt a lot about the knowledge, interests, assumptions and views of the American public.
We’ve seen how generous Americans are, but also how misconceptions about aid lead people to think that poverty’s getting worse, and that we can’t make a difference.
It’s something I’ve seen first hand – from talking about our complicity in corruption in the Hollywood Hills, to being asked about sending clothes to Africa whilst in New Jersey, or debating the merits of agricultural subsidies in North Carolina.
Coming out of all of these conversations, we were struck by an urgent need to cut through the noisy media market, and change the story that the public are hearing and telling about extreme poverty. We wanted to share the amazing progress that’s being made fighting extreme poverty, and show how the American public are playing their part in making this happen.
We wanted to show how fighting poverty is going to take more than just our donations, it’s going to take our voices, calling on our governments and businesses to do their bit for the world’s poor. And, in the lead up to an election, we wanted to start a conversation about the role that America should play in the world.
We wanted to create a space for Americans to hear the voices of the world’s poor, and see their stories first hand – which we’ll increasingly be doing as we release content on Global Citizen.
We wanted to share our conviction that we can be global citizens as well as American citizens, and that we stand united in the belief that by giving every child a chance to thrive, our generation can end extreme poverty.
As we spoke with our partners, advisors and supporters, we decided that to do all of these things, we needed to create a moment that could unite people who shared our vision, and that would create a platform to leverage new commitments for the world’s poor.
The Global Festival is that moment – a time for tens of thousands of global citizens to come together, having earned their tickets for the actions they’ve taken. A platform for our diverse range of NGO partners to make new commitments to help in the fight against extreme poverty – hopefully hundreds of millions of dollars worth of them. And, we hope, a moment to focus the American public and media on their role in fighting extreme poverty.
As we launch the Global Festival, we’re conscious that the movement to end extreme poverty is a broad one – bringing together a people from rich and poor countries alike, secular and faith groups, businesses and governments, individuals and charities. Our NGO partners – Earth Institute, World Food Program USA, Pencils of Promise, Global Partnership for Education, Half the Sky, Rotary International, World Vision, Malaria No More, Rainforest Foundation and US Fund for UNICEF – represent a small slice of this diversity, encompassing a range of approaches, sizes, focus issues and worldviews. But, what binds them together, and what binds us together, is a commitment to doing all that we can to bring about a world without extreme poverty in a generation.
Because we believe that extreme poverty is unfair, unnecessary and unjust. The world’s poor are working hard to lift themselves out of poverty, and they’re having great success at it. But, all too often, it’s the actions and assumptions of people like us that trap others in extreme poverty.
It’s our aim with the Global Festival to challenge those actions and assumptions, to share the progress that has been made fighting poverty, to prove that things can get better, and that we can play a small role in making them better.
From Melbourne to Manchester, Cardiff to Calabasas, and Aberdeen to Auckland, I've delivered 1.4 Billion Reasons in a lot of different places to a lot of different audiences. Add in all of our wonderful other presenters, and we've spoken to just under 125,000 people face to face in the last few years, sharing our perspective on how to end extreme poverty, and answering questions from the public.
Along the way, I've noticed some common and strongly held - but false - assumptions about extreme poverty and about our world. So, when I was asked recently to speak at the TEDxWarwick conference to 1200 people, I was thrilled to be able to put together some new content that sought to dispel these myths.
Entitled Africa is Poor and 5 Other Myths, in the talk I laid out 6 of the most common misconceptions about extreme poverty, and offered some facts, figures and stories that we should use to replace them. In order, I tackled, "Africa is poor," “Poverty is getting worse / Nothing ever changes," “They’re poor because they have too many children,” “There’s not enough food to feed everyone ... so what does it matter if some poor people die," “I’ll help by volunteering overseas,” and “Charity overheads are too high”.
Let us know what you think - and if there are any other misconceptions that you think we should be busting.
Both are men I deeply respect, and they’ve just been having a fascinating discussion here with the audience about Bill’s Annual Letter – you can read the letter and see the discussion at www.globalpovertyproject.com/pages/launch
Released earlier today, the Annual Letter is an open letter that Bill Gates writes once a year about what he and his Foundation will do to fight extreme poverty in the year ahead. Focusing on innovation this year, he sets out a bold and challenging vision of how even in tough economic times, we can make huge progress in the fight against extreme poverty.
Agriculture is a central theme of the letter, and Gates urges governments to focus on agricultural innovation to ensure food security. He picks up on some of the themes we’ve been writing about in our series on the Never Again famine charter, and includes the challenging graph you see below around disparity in how much the extreme poor spend on food.
His proposed solution, and the area into which his Foundation are putting billions of dollars is scientific research to increase productivity, through things like improved seeds.
On global health, Gates focuses on vaccines and polio. He reminds us that polio eradication is the Foundation’s top priority – a commitment we’re proud to hear given our campaigning on The End of Polio. And, he congratulates donors and vaccine manufacturers for their efforts, calling the success of the GAVI pledging conference in June 2011 an “historic day for global health equity.”
On the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, Bill Gates is positive about progress that has been made.
At the same time, he expresses strong concern about donors falling short of their commitments. In his words, “Every $300 that’s not forthcoming will represent a person taken off treatment. That’s a very clear choice. I believe that if people understood the choice, they would ask their government to save more lives.” It’s a sentiment that we share at the Global Poverty Project, and is one of the reasons our UK team are working with Malaria No More to call on the government to Fund the Fund.
In closing, Gates recounts why it is that he remains so optimistic about our ability to fight extreme poverty:
“Whether it’s fighting plant disease, treating people with AIDS, or getting a measles vaccine to a child in a remote area—modest investments in the poorest make a huge difference.
Unfortunately, many people believe the opposite—that money spent on development is wasted, or that it doesn’t get lasting results. Melinda and I will spend a lot of time in the coming year explaining why they’re mistaken. The relatively small amount of money invested in development has changed the future prospects of billions of people—and it can do the same for billions more—if we make the choice to continue investing in innovation.“
Tell us what you think about Bill Gates’ Annual Letter by joining the conversation on Twitter with the #billsletter hashtag.
We’ve written recently about the global population ticking over 7 billion this year. Forecast to reach 9 billion by mid-century, our team at the Global Poverty Project are often asked, “How is the world going to cope with having so many people? Won’t having fewer poor people damage the environment?”
Mark Lynas picks up these questions in his challenging new book, The God Species. Starting with the idea that humans have altered our planet so fundamentally so as to create a new geological era – the Anthropocene – Lynas outlines nine planetary boundaries which we must respect if we’re to ensure that humanity can continue to flourish.
At first glance, this is an environmental book, not one about extreme poverty. But at its core, it’s about how humanity, and in particular the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us, will survive and thrive over the next century.
Taking a couple of the boundaries as an example, it’s clear to see how these issues connect back to extreme poverty:
• Climate Change Boundary. We’ve written before about how climate change is already hitting the world’s poorest first and hardest, even though they did the least to cause it. They live in the most vulnerable locations – arid areas increasingly prone to droughts, low-lying areas prone to floods, and the world’s poor often lack the capital and infrastructure to respond as the climate changes.
• Nitrogen Boundary. Nitrogen has fueled the green revolution and the world’s ability to feed itself, and as the world adds 2 billion people (many of whom will be eating more meat) in the next 40 years, managing its use will become increasing important. Lynas takes a swipe at the organic farming movement, and those opposed to GM-foods, citing increased efficiency in industrial farming methods as perhaps the best way to safely feed the world’s population.
• Freshwater Boundary. Balancing the needs of human populations – for drinking, agriculture, industry - and the environment for fresh water is pondered at length. Lynas argues that technological innovation and effectively managed markets hold the answers to overcoming the challenge that is 850 million people currently lacking access to clean drinking water, and the increasing need for food production in coming years.
• Aerosols Boundary. Lynas outlines how emissions from dirty fuels not only contribute to climate change, but damage the health of millions. And, many of these emissions are caused by the cooking habits of the world’s poorest – “Indoor smoke pollution from old-style stoves or open fires burning wood, dung or coal kills 1.6 million people a year due to respiratory infections worsened by smoke inhalation; India alone suffers as many as half a million premature deaths.”
For a book about complex scientific issues, The God Species is highly readable, and unlike many books of its genre, it eschews the temptation to scream that we’re all going to die. Instead, it offers some sober and optimist ideas on what can be done to ensure that all humans, both present and future, can live safely and happily on our planet.
It's a welcome sight to see such a positively framed story on the cover of one of the world's magazines, and the accompanying article is well worth a read.
The answer, it turns out, is no - we won't be able to eradicate the disease until we have a vaccine, and even then, as a chronic syndrome, it will take a generation to stop.
But, that doesn't detract from the amazing story of how the world has responded to the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Inside the magazine, and online, it contains a truly impressive graph, reproduced below.
It shows how AIDS deaths peaked in 2005, and how thanks to the miracle of anti-retro viral drugs, lives are being saved. It's estimated that 5 million lives have been saved so far, and as the Global Fund and others scale up their work, there's even more scope for progress.
Contracting HIV/AIDS as a person in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s was akin to a death sentence, as far too many of my South African friends have witnessed first hand. Today, it's still a life-changing disease, but millions have access to drugs that can transform lives, as the below clip shows.
As the public and politicians ask increasingly blunt questions about the effectiveness of aid, it's to results like these that we need to point.
Aid, invested wisely, works.
Some of the world's poorest countries have no other way of funding the drugs needed to fight HIV/AIDS - or as world leaders ready to gather in London for the GAVI pledging conference, basic vaccines for disease that could save 4 million lives in the next 5 years.
That's why we're committed at the Global Poverty Project to working with others to ensure that our aid budget is spent on things that really work, and which really make a difference in the lives of the world's poor.