Imagine living on less than $2 per day, with no money for food, healthcare, education, shelter, or even a cup of coffee. This is reality for nearly half the world’s population living below the internationally defined poverty line of less than $2 per day.
Despite billions of dollars spent on development assistance, progress in raising living standards around the world remains very slow. Poverty is complicated. According to the World Bank, poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom. 1 It is a lack of access to services, exposure to unsafe environments, and exclusion. Poverty occurs in all countries and economic conditions: mass poverty in developing countries and pockets of poverty in developed countries. Economic recession, disaster and conflict result in losses of livelihood.
Poverty has social, psychological, as well as economic dimensions
At Community Empowerment Network, we believe that many projects are ineffective at making long-term, sustainable changes because they only focus on the material aspects of poverty, leaving out social and psychological considerations. The poor experience restrictions and limitations in three areas of their lives:
The economic aspects of poverty are the easiest to identify and include tangible assets such as capital, material, food, energy, roads and other infrastructure, and the skills to utilize them, are needed to solve many problems.
The unequal social status of the poor results in unequal access to power, equity and resources. Groups wishing to maintain their privileges subordinate those who have no power. Processes, systems, and structures perpetuate the system of inequality.
Psychological aspects are often underappreciated because they are less tangible than economic or social inequality. Living in poverty can sometimes cause a poor self-image, complete with the belief of being incapable of escaping poverty. With this mindset, it is impossible for impoverished individuals to take control over their lives and break the cycle of poverty and learned helplessness.
"(Sustainability) is important to donors, who don't want to see their money wasted. It's important to the groups that do the work: No project is successful unless it's taken over by local people to run. And it's most crucial to villagers themselves, who grow cynical about promises after they see project after project inaugurated only to fail."
The solution to poverty: empowerment
The empowerment of individuals and their communities is key to sustainably overcoming poverty and addressing economic development. All three aspects of poverty must be addressed before the impoverished have control over their lives. No amount of resources alone will sustain positive change until individuals and their communities are empowered to identify their own strengths, assets, skills and attributes that can then be channeled into activities that result in a self-sustaining livelihood. Even before being able to take advantage of material opportunities, you must:
- Realize that you can better your life through your own problem solving skills
- Have the skills, resources and opportunities to accomplish your goals, and
- Have freedom from external obstacles, which would prevent you from accomplishing your goals. Examples of obstacles include war, epidemics, adequate energy or transportation, access to electricity, limited access to capital and markets, and many others.
CEN's work is only one piece of the solution, but it is a crucial one. By empowering communities and their residents, we ensure that positive change will be self-sustaining. Read more about what we do...
1 Poverty. N.p., 2011. Web. 8 Mar 2012. <http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/ >.