Fighting poverty? Don’t make bad faith political choices | 

Whoa, it’s already Friday! Time for another podcast!

This week, East Coast correspondent Tom Murphy and I ramble and argue but mostly agree with each other about lots of things happening in the humanitarian sphere – you might even call it the Humanosphere. We cover USAID’s “fake Twitter” fiasco,” new developments in World Vision’s gay marriage “flip flop” fiasco, as well how much money there is in global health (spoiler: not enough!) and what it’s actually being used for (spoiler redux: it should bolster the public sector, not get funneled into one-off gadgets and gizmos). I’m sure there are other fiascos out there we didn’t have time for.

All of that may sound like bad news, but here’s the good news: Tom and I bring our humano-nerd powers to bear on sorting through it all, so you don’t have to! And you get to observe the interplay between my tendency to paint people of different political persuasions (World Vision donors who don’t believe in gay marriage, for example) with a broad, unflattering brush, and Tom’s level-headed attempts to contextualize and rationalize their beliefs.

Don’t worry, nerdliness isn’t contagious through headphones or speakers.

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End of extreme poverty by 2030? Not so fast | 

Big statements about ending extreme poverty by 2030 were tossed about last year.  It is a possible outcome, though far from certain.

Present estimates say that there are 1.2 billion people still experiencing extreme poverty. That means that they have, on average, less than $1.25 each day. That $1.25 is not the US dollar converted into a foreign currency. It is an equivalent to how much that $1.25 could buy in the US in 2005. Or something like this:


If the social, economic and cultural forces that keep people in poverty are not addressed soon, there could be as many as 1 billion people living in extreme poverty in 2030. That is the warning contained in The Chronic Poverty Report 2014-2015: The road to zero extreme poverty, a report from the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network, hosted by the London-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute.

To avoid this possibility, the authors recommend that the world invest in three things: social assistance, education and economic growth that reaches the world’s poorest.  Not doing so would represent a major slow down in anti-poverty progress that saw historic gains over the past two decades. According to the World Bank, 700 million fewer people live were living in extreme poverty in 2010 as compared to 1990.

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What’s In A Strawberry? Poverty and Racism | 

Michael Valiant/Flickr

There’s nothing like sitting down at the table with a bowl of fresh berries from the store. Rinse them, maybe sprinkle a bit of sugar on top, and enjoy. Sweet and healthy.

What’s not to like?

Seldom do we consider where the berries come from. That’s where medical anthropologist Seth Holmes comes in.

A doctor and Assistant Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Holmes spent months traveling and living with migrant farmworkers from Oaxaca, Mexico. He accompanied them across the desert border, all the way to farms in the Skagit Valley just an hour north of Seattle where they work bent over in the fields in harsh conditions – living in labor camp shacks, earning minimum wage or less, subject to racist taunts, and barred from promotions despite years of farm experience. His new book about all of this is called Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies.

And as we discuss in this conversation, the issues go full circle. While demand increases for organic food here at home, farmworkers are forced off their own farms in Mexico (which resemble the idyllic, nature-friendly farms we like to imagine) and migrate to the the United States because of our own economic policies, namely free trade agreements like NAFTA, which have flooded their country with subsidized American corn.

Do we, as a society, care about the people working speedily and skillfully to harvest our food – the very stuff that gives us life? The answer seems to be no. But with this book and other efforts to challenge the status quo, that all could be changing. Listen to learn how.

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Imaging poverty replacing celebrity as a pop culture fixture | 

A Toronto-based women’s shelter imagines a world where tabloids about celebrities are replaced by magazines telling of the struggles faced by the poor. A new campaign by the Woodgreen Community Centre, a place that helps educate, train and find employment for women, shows some of the possibilities by reworking the cover for People Magazine.

The campaign asks, “What if we cared about those living in poverty as much as we care about celebrities?”

It seems that the campaign is resonating with people, reports Fast Company.

HT Fast Co Exist

Things are not getting better for the extreme poor | 


Bill Gates rightly said that things are getting better around the world. It is the case for the majority, but not for the extreme poor.

Inequality has become a sort of international topic du jour. President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union, the Pope brought up the issue at the end of 2013 and Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is concerned by inequality.

Oxfam made the point by citing that the world’s 85 richest people have the same amount of money as the poorest ~3.5 billion in the world, in a recent report. It called for immediate action to halt the progress of inequality.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director for Oxfam International.

“We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.” Continue reading

Why 2035? The year Bill Gates predicted (almost) no more poor countries | 

Earlier this week, Bill Gates issued his annual letter and one of the main take-aways that got attention was his prediction that by the year 2035 the traditional distinction we make between rich and poor nations – developed vs. developing – will no longer be meaningful.

CNBC Bill Gates: There will be no poor countries by 2035

Independent No poor countries by 2035

NPR Almost no poor countries by 2035

Why pick the year 2035? And what exactly will happen to make nearly every nation rich or middle income? As we noted yesterday in our annual review of Bill’s annual letter, the overall wealth of a country is not necessarily the best measure of whether or not life is better for individuals. And Gates doesn’t exactly explain how all nation boats will rise on this tide. He just extrapolates from the trajectory of progress seen so far and says:

Almost all countries will be what we now call lower-middle income or richer. Countries will learn from their most productive neighbors and benefit from innovations like new vaccines, better seeds, and the digital revolution. Their labor forces, buoyed by expanded education, will attract new investments.

Technological improvements in health, agriculture, communications and more/better education are critical to ending poor nation states by 2035. Sounds a bit kitchen sinkish.

But earlier in the letter, Gates points to what the philanthropy has long believed is one of the most critical drivers of progress in Africa at least – health. Without the massive gains made on the health front in sub-Saharan Africa (especially in curbing the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS), it would be hard to imagine much progress achieved on other fronts.

Put simply, Gates believes improving health is one of the most powerful – maybe the most powerful – means of fighting poverty. And he’s backed up by data.

Dean Jamison
Dean Jamison

“People argue about how much, but there’s no question having healthier people contributes to economic growth,” said Dean Jamison, an economist at the University of Washington and co-author with Harvard’s Larry Summers of a ground-breaking new report entitled Global Health 2035: A World Converging Within a Generation.

The report, which was partly funded by the Gates Foundation, is stunning in both its economic analysis and its ambitious prescription for the future. Continue reading

Think things are bad? Here are 14 Reasons the World is Getting Better | 

Roughly 10% of the whole world lives in extreme poverty, the youngest nation is falling apart and inequality is rising just about everywhere. That is only a sliver of the terrible things happening around the world right now. Thinking about (and reporting on) such topics can get depressing and lead one to think that all is bad.

The fact is, the world is getting better across just about every measure. Extreme poverty is at an all time low, more girls are getting an education and fewer children are dying. There is a long way to go, but progress is being made.

In short: People are living longer, less hungry and better connected than 10 years ago. How awesome is that?

For those of you feeling a bit down, here are a fourteen reasons to be optimistic, according to vlogger and author John Green:

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Slum it for a night in a South African Shanty town! | 

shantytown4big_1258You might have heard of glamour camping (aka glamping), but the latest fad for rich people to tour poverty is the Shanty town. That’s right. Move over slum tourism, where you only temporary look at poor people. Now you can live like one!

If you are looking for a spa and team building experience while sleeping in a corrugated metal home, then go to the Emoya Estate in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Visitors can shun the traditional over-the-top luxurious stay so they can use ‘long-drop effect toilets’ and ‘electricity.’ There are showers and wifi too!

Zachary Levenson blogged about it for Africa is a Country on Monday. He points out that the cost for slumming it for a night is nearly the same as the median monthly income of a South African domestic worker. While visitors get to play poor for a night, the living conditions are not quaint for the people that live in them day in and day out. Levenson notes that the inhabitants of such ‘shantys’ are not doing it because it is fun.

Most offensive of course is the naturalization of informal settlements as some sort of indigenous habitat. No one wants to live in a shack, not a single damn person. This is a housing type and spatial form that emerges from necessity, precisely because there’s a worsening housing crisis in South African cities – not because this is how some select ethno-cultural group chooses to live.

The Tuesday episode of the Colbert Report rightly mocked the whole thing. Watch below:

The Colbert Report
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Some pictures from the website: Continue reading