To begin a discussion about how to prevent poverty, we first must define what “poverty” really means. Jacqueline Novogratz discusses this definition in two of her TED talks, “Invest in Africa’s Own Solutions” and “An Escape from Poverty.” Here, she first provides the traditional definition of being poor: those people around the world that earn less than $4 a day. Novogratz then adds to this definition, stating that poverty is a social system in which the poor become entrapped. For example, the poor often must pay very high rates for renting items for their business, such as a cart to sell vegetables or a sewing machine to tailor clothing. Without a hand up, these people can never break out of this cycle because they are never able to save enough money to buy their own items. Even if a poor person can break out of this cycle, they still may be stuck due to other aspects related to poverty, such as social status.
In both of her talks, Ms. Novogratz’s main message is that we, as developed nations, must help poor communities help themselves. Donating items and money is not enough; We must instead build viable systems that operate locally to create more jobs, increase revenue circulating in the economy, and build the necessary infrastructure and systems to allow this positive cycle to continue.
Neo-liberalism, or the cutting of government spending on international aid, had huge effects on the poorest people of the world. In his article, “Own the Goals,” John McArthur describes the process of neo-liberalism. During the 1990s, institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) required countries to scale back their spending on social policies in order to receive their support. In the same respect, developed countries such as the United States reduced funding towards public and aid programs and became focused on issues within their own country.
During the 90’s, many of the poorest countries in Africa took a nosedive as a result of these funding changes. Poverty and child deaths grew, and life expectancy in these countries dropped considerably. Nearly 52% of people in the sub-Saharan Africa lived in extreme poverty in 1981; this number increased to 58% by 1999. People with critical diseases such as AIDs and malaria were unable to afford the treatment they desperately needed.
Recognizing these issues, the United Nations established 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the year 2000, with the goal of both assisting and decreasing the world’s population that lives in extreme poverty. The goals ranged from promoting primary education to improving health care and treatments. It was agreed that developed countries were responsible for supporting and providing aid to those countries that were struggling with extreme poverty. The MDGs were phased out in 2015, and a new set of goals, called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), were put into place, with the goal of building upon the progress made by the MDGs and addressing the next set of pertinent issues.
However, not everyone was onboard for the MDGs. McArthur specifically calls out the United States and the World Bank for acting as “players on the bench.” He is specifically using this term to refer to organizations and countries that participated in the UN but had not fully accepted or endorsed the MDGs. In the case of the US, the Bush administration and other government leaders did not support the MDGs – monetarily or verbally – because of so-called UN-dictated aid quotas and tension over the Iraq War. Ironically, the US did begin to expand its foreign aid, particularly in areas that the MDGs highlighted, but never publicly showed support for the MDGs. Eventually, the US did modify its position and came to support the MDGs.
Likewise, the World Bank has not worked towards facilitating MDG efforts outright. This resistance was also caused by some tension over “required” aid quotas, as well as a view point aimed more towards economic reform, rather than social reform. Eventually, the World Bank began to back the MDGs, likely due to a huge budget expansion for the International Development Association.
As aid to developing countries has increased in the last two decades, there has been some discussion about the best ways to promote economic growth and improved living conditions for the people who need it most. The essay “How to Help Poor Countries” investigates the issues at hand. The authors suggest that the problems lie less in access to external markets and aid and more in the administration of each developing country. To successfully improve citizens’ well-being, there must be a reliable and responsible government that will allocate aid money for programs that will improve living conditions for all of their citizens, like infrastructure and public welfare. Thus, developed nations can better help third world countries by removing corrupt leaders and assisting research and development into the medicines and products that are most needed by poor countries. As developed nations begin to learn these lessons, the specific actions taken to fulfill the SDGs can be altered and improved, and future development goals can be tailored to better utilize resources for the poor.