We thought you’d enjoy this essay written recently by one of our founders.
We. They. Us. Them.
These are powerful pronouns, which is never more clear than when they’re used in discussions about global poverty.
Most Americans enjoy an income that ranks us among the top one percent of the world’s wealthy. We know poverty is bad, but if given the chance, most of us would do something about it. America is an altruistic nation, which is why efforts to address poverty through nonprofit donation, social activism, online portals, mega conferences, cause marketing, social entrepreneurship, and crowd-sourcing campaigns are at an all-time high. The business of “doing good” has never been better.
Unfortunately, our altruism is largely ineffective. Our best efforts at poverty alleviation have made only a small impact, and in many cases we have worsened the problem. Why? Most of the innovation aimed at fighting poverty occurs within a rigid paternalistic paradigm where those living in poverty receive and those fighting poverty give. People think “they” (the poor) will rise out of poverty if “we” (the wealthy) simply give them clean water, new shoes, or better eyeglasses. The result? We foster dependence both in the developing world and in our own low-income neighborhoods. Instead of bringing real change, we destroy initiative, damage dignity, and create a cycle that requires constant input.
Breaking this cycle demands the reeducation of both the givers and the recipients. Both groups must recognize that those living in poverty can pull themselves out of it if they have the chance. Both must recognize that those living in poverty are the solution, not the problem.
By living and working among the poor for the past 12 years, JoyCorps and its partner businesses have discovered immense, transformational power lying dormant in the hearts of impoverished people across the globe. Once they’re empowered to tap into it, amazing things happen. JoyCorps has helped local entrepreneurs establish businesses that employ hundreds of artisans in their own neighborhoods. Many have overcome abuse, disease, trafficking, addiction, or lives of begging.
How do we do this? We work to cultivate a capacity for innovation, arming people with the weapons they’ll need to fight poverty in their own communities—weapons like work, training, education, and micro loans. We also believe proximity is key. When we live among those in poverty, we learn to love them not as projects but as friends and neighbors. Proximity breaks down the us/them dichotomy; the word “we” begins to include our neighbors of all income levels, nationalities, and backgrounds.
What can you do? Support holistic businesses and organizations, those that equip people living in poverty with tools for long-term transformation. Choose to live in close proximity to the marginalized in your own community, so you know them as your neighbors and friends and better understand their needs—and your own. Finally, remember that we are all we. We inhabit this globe together, and it is only by working and living together that we will change inequality and chip away at poverty. Together, we are the solution.