Changing the Way Poverty is Fought
Changing the Way Poverty is Fought
The Aletta Foundation is a non profit organization carrying out poverty alleviation projects
among ethnic minority populations in Southwest China.
70 years of Failure
It has now been 70 years since Western countries first began delivering aid across the world in efforts to alleviate the suffering of people struggling in poverty. Yet today, over US$ 2 trillion later, poverty continues to persist.
An average of 1600 children died of diarrhea per day in 2013 resulting from lack of clean water (UNICEF).
The average household income in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013 was US$35 per month (World Bank).
In 2011 only 30% of girls over the age of 15 were able to read and write in Guinea (CIA World Fact Book).
The way things are done now is not working. And from 70 years’ experience, we also know where the problem is. It is in the relationship between planners and populations.
The stigma of dependency
There is an accepted tendency to treat the poor as if they were children, awaiting the guidance of our benevolent hand to lead the way.
When projects fail, we hear:
“The people are too narrow-minded/lazy/superstitious/stuck in their ways/uneducated/unreasonable…”
But from the perspective of the poor, most project planners fail to approach them as people with their own values, goals, ambitions. They are treated as numbers, statistics, and most degrading of all, the problem. In reality, more often than not, failure lies with the project planners themselves, stemming from;
· “narrow-mindedness” about the source of the problem they are addressing
· “lazy” efforts to realize the complexity of problems before proposing solutions, and
· “unreasonable” expectations regarding the communities they are attempting to help
Narrow solutions to complex problems
Have you ever sought help with a problem and ended up rolling your eyes at someone who unreasonably suggested “why don’t you just...?”
You know that the issue at hand is much more complex than a single solution can address. Your quibble with the secretary at work might involve power relations among various employees in the company, your choice of a Christmas gift for your parents may be tied up in a history of bad blood with your brother, a decision to purchase a gym membership may involve consideration of the economic needs of your entire family.
Many problems may seem incredibly simple to the outside observer, but this is often because they only see and understand the tip of the iceberg.
Unfortunately, the current approach taken poverty alleviation efforts is much the same. It is too often assumed that alleviating poverty is a simple matter of delivering a single item that people lack: money or resources or technology or education. Projects fail because of their narrowness of scope offering only one-dimensional solutions to complex problems.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, we are capable of doing things better!
“What we need is to shut up and listen.” –Ernesto Sirolli, Founder and CEO of The Sirolli Institute of Enterprise Facilitation
70 years of failure has taught us that we are approaching aid projects the wrong way. Traditionally, a generalized approach – a one-dimensional technological, economic or educational solution - has been applied across the board regardless of the fact that poverty is never the result of a single factor, and in every place that combination of factors is different. There is no silver bullet.
Luckily, we also know that finding solutions doesn’t require decades of research on local conditions to know how to help communities in need. All that is required is a willingness to let them tell us what they need, and the dedication to assist them in reaching those goals. As aid workers and project planners, we need to put people in the driver’s seat of their own development, and seek to facilitate them achieve their own goals by connecting them with the resources they need.
What We Do
The Aletta Foundation is a part of a movement that aims to change the way we think about and attempt to resolve poverty. Our goal is two-fold. The first is to carry out poverty alleviation projects that directly address the most urgent needs of the communities we serve. We do this by allowing community members to tell us how we can help and designing projects around those needs. Our second goal is to promote new understanding of poverty and its solutions among people who want to make a difference. This is done through our blog, which aims to bring together information about poverty and development from the perspectives of the poor themselves.
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