Every person on our planet deserves a chance to fulfill their human potential. Yet we live in a world where the futures of more than one billion people are confined in the box of extreme poverty. No matter what else we accomplish as a human society, humanity can never be considered truly moral and just, until all our members have access to the basic building blocks of human development.
Extreme poverty is not an intractable or impossible problem. Rather, we are at a unique moment in human history where it is logistically possible for every person to reach their full human potential. This brief website hopes to highlight the tangible, simple, and practical strategies that human society can deploy in the fight against global poverty.
This website is also an open call to action – all of us have a role to play, if we are willing. Many of us have time and careers to give. Still others have money. Particularly important are global philanthropists and world leaders who have the capacity and power to mobilize billions of dollars in resources. You are an inspiring and extraordinary group of people, and we need your Leadership, your Ambition, and your fearsome ability to Move Mountains in the real world. If you have a moment, please take five minutes to read this, and consider at the end a simple, one-hour action you can take as a next step.
Let’s start with one simple, values statement that we can all agree upon: every person on this planet deserves a chance to reach their full human potential. Today, we are falling short.
The most basic building block of child development. Lacking food and nutrition, currently more than one-in-three severely poor children will be permanently stunted physically or mentally, and lack of nutrition plays a role in half of child deaths.
Every person deserves access to a minimum level of health. Yet among severely poor children, one-in-ten die before they reach age five. In the vast majority of cases, these deaths could have been easily prevented. And for every death, there are dozens of cases of debilitating disease.
Imagine how many Einsteins and Darwins have failed to mature because of poverty. In the lowest-income areas of the world, less than one-quarter of children complete high school, for lack of school fees. Less than five percent access any form of higher education.
More than one century after the invention of electricity, nearly one in four human beings end their day when the sun goes down. And the majority of global deforestation is a direct consequence of demand for wood used for cooking and heating – more than ninety percent in Africa.
We live at an incredible moment in human history. In every area of human development, humanity is armed to the teeth with an arsenal of simple and cost-effective solutions to extreme poverty. For example:
Simple agricultural technologies such as hybrid seed, micro-dosed fertilizer, and good planting practice have tripled crop yields in every major region of the world, moving mass numbers of people out of poverty – except for Sub-Saharan Africa.
The top diseases that kill children all have incredibly simple remedies. A $4 mosquito net prevents malaria. Serious pneumonia is relatively simple to diagnose, refer, and treat with an inexpensive drug. Severely-dehydrating diarrhea is easily treated using salt water and zinc.
Improvements in technology have “de-skilled” the delivery of high-quality education. Individually-paced computer lessons, for example, improve learning outcomes, while reducing the level of skill and cost required to deliver high-quality education.
New solar lamps increase the level of light in the household by ten-fold, save money when compared to kerosene, and burn cleaner. Improved cook stoves use less than half of the wood to cook a meal, with ten times less smoke fumes.
In this century, the only reason people remain poor is that they are unable to access proven tools and knowledge. Therefore: wherever governments, companies, and non-profits deliver life-improving goods and services, extreme poverty is eradicated.
There is much to be optimistic about. For the first time in history, we have a vast amount of “human development infrastructure” – from governments, companies, and non-profit organizations. Vast delivery networks exist that physically reach nearly everyone.
Humanity is logistically capable of finishing the job, if we can find the willpower and leadership. Delivery of poverty-eradication goods and services is remarkably possible. Take the example of Sub-Saharan Africa, which owing to its large geographic size, is probably the most challenging delivery territory from a logistics perspective. Yet even in Sub-Saharan Africa, most of the lowest-income population lives in a remarkably small land area, equivalent to one-third the size of the continental United States. Our collective governments, companies, and non-profit organizations could be expanded to cover this area. Delivery is possible.
“Achievable Delivery Zone” (example of Sub-Saharan Africa): The majority of the lowest income population live in the shaded regions.
Scale comparison: United States. This area is equal to one-third the land area of America
If we are willing, every one of us has a role to play.
We firstly need more people to pursue careers in human development. For residents of developing nations, we need to see large increases in front-line health care workers, teachers, farmer-trainers, and sales agents for life-improving goods – the everyday heroes who dedicate their every action to improving the lives of others. Both nationally and internationally, we need more people to pursue their technical specialty within human development organizations – whether they be accountants, marketers, database administrators, or HR professionals. We need many more professionals to grow careers of meaning.
This also requires money. Private capital has a major role to play, especially when it is specifically directed at life-improving businesses. Realistically though, many of the world’s poorest are not attractive to business as profitable customers – some degree of philanthropy is required. thelifeyoucansave.org has a list of powerful anti-poverty organizations that ordinary people can support.
Perhaps most of all, we also need funding leadership at a global level, from both public leaders and private individuals.
In many cases, bilateral and multilateral aid has become increasingly complicated to administer – and they face diminishing budgets. Conversely, as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria has shown, performance-driven funding of proven solutions works. Developing nations coordinate the delivery proven solutions, these are reviewed by a technical review panel, funding is based on proven performance, and the results are carefully measured. We need more government leaders to simplify development aid, and focus more urgently on delivering a narrow menu of proven goods and services.
I have such genuine respect and admiration for the world’s wealthiest people. You completely inspire me. You are the super-individuals on our planet who have the ambition, intellect, and resources to lead global-scale change. What would happen if a few more of you entered this fight, utilizing simple strategies, but in a truly bold and ambitious way? How many millions of lives could you materially improve? Where would you lead humanity?
For funding leaders who want to maximize their sheer human impact per dollar given, I think there are some principles that are worthy of deeper consideration:
Pay for Delivery
Poverty-eradication tools exist – the world just needs more straight-forward funding for their delivery. New philanthropy could award a fixed amount for every unit of a delivered anti-poverty solution. (e.g., a $1,000 “standing grant” for every one hundred malaria nets delivered, which on average will prevent three hundred illness cases, and save one child life).
There is enormous simplifying value in only funding a limited menu of proven products and services that have rigorous evidence for highly cost-effective impact. And results should always be independently verified in the field, at real-scale conditions.
Vetted field implementers
There are plenty of global implementing organizations – companies, governments, and non-profits who could flex with additional funding. All implementers of grants should be thoroughly pre-vetted, and subjected to annual diligence.
Heavy field presence
Hands-on, practical giving should have a heavy field presence, with staff who embed deeply together with the implementing agencies.
Start slowly, build upon success
Boldness must be matched with realistic implementation.