Ending Poverty Requires a Definition of Poverty–and money

At the beginning of her TED talk, Invest in Arica’s Own Solutions,: Jacqueline Novogratz shared a personal experience that I would like to share:

I want to start with a story, a la Seth Godin, from when I was 12 years old. My uncle Ed gave me a beautiful blue sweater — at least I thought it was beautiful. And it had fuzzy zebras walking across the stomach, and Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru were kind ofright across the chest, that were also fuzzy. And I wore it whenever I could, thinking it was the most fabulous thing I owned.

Until one day in ninth grade, when I was standing with a number of the football players. And my body had clearly changed, and Matt Mussolina, who was undeniably my nemesis in high school, said in a booming voice that we no longer had to go far away to go on ski trips,but we could all ski on Mount Novogratz. (Laughter) And I was so humiliated and mortifiedthat I immediately ran home to my mother and chastised her for ever letting me wear the hideous sweater. We drove to the Goodwill and we threw the sweater away somewhat ceremoniously, my idea being that I would never have to think about the sweater nor see it ever again.

Fast forward — 11 years later, I’m a 25-year-old kid. I’m working in Kigali, Rwanda, jogging through the steep slopes, when I see, 10 feet in front of me, a little boy — 11 years old —running toward me, wearing my sweater. And I’m thinking, no, this is not possible. But so, curious, I run up to the child — of course scaring the living bejesus out of him — grab him by the collar, turn it over, and there is my name written on the collar of this sweater.

I tell that story, because it has served and continues to serve as a metaphor to me about the level of connectedness that we all have on this Earth.


Novogratz used this story as an introduction to her thoughts on the definition of poverty today and her main message concerning “the poor” and how we can address poverty in a technological and media-scaped world. She stresses that to aid the poor, we first must understand who the poor is. Contrarily to what many believe today,being poor is not merely a circumstance of income. It is now a much more complex, cyclical set of circumstances and situations–concerning dignity, abilities, safety and health. These circumstances lead to Novogratz’s argument that poverty can only be alleviated by the poor themselves–with opportunities to change any particular set of said circumstances. This argument stems from Novogratz’s belief in Henry George’s early works on poverty, published in 1879. Georgism relied on the belief that a delivery of critical and affordable goods by means of self-sufficientcy is the golden ticket to remedying poverty.

However, a delivery of critical and affordable goods requires a means of these said goods. That is where NGO’s, MDG’s, non-profits, and charities come in. The aid given is described as an investment by the United Nations, whose Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), are described as such:

“The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.”

The development requires funding, however. And in today’s culture of neo-liberalism, this seems to be more possible than ever. With stresses on free trade, open markets, deregulation, privatization and economic liberation, a shared and more global market for aid is more of a possibility than in previous eras. Except when considering the actual possibility of access to the international markets–which impoverished nations have trouble with. Developing countries do not have access to the market opportunities unless the opportunities are created for them by more powerful nations–which is in complete disaccord with Novogratz’s theory that impoverished countries must be able to sustain themselves to rid their economies and people of poverty.


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