What’s wrong with poverty alleviation?

Well, nothing really, since there are some one billion or more people below someone’s definition of poverty. Without a doubt, poverty is repugnant and abhorrent, just like starvation and hunger is. It invokes a visceral reaction. The trouble with “poverty alleviation talk” is that it sees the world as 1 billion problem cases, and it is our task to (rid ourselves of the associated shame and guilt of this by setting out to) resolutely solve these billion problems. But it is curious that the beauty industry (probably larger than the aid industry) does not go around promoting programs of “ugliness alleviation.” Surely there must be a billion or more of such to be found too! No, the beauty industry responds to their clients’ aspirations of who they would like to be! The beauty industry does not focus (its promotional efforts) on the deficiencies of their clients but rather appeals to their dreams (I have no view on whether these dreams are legitimate or not). Likewise, IDE’s major program was aptly named Rural Prosperity Initiative, not Rural Poverty Initiative. We did so because we wanted to work on the “hope” side of our clients’ livelihoods, not the problem case orientation. This is more than nuances or mere words. If you are a poor person and I come to you to alleviate your condition, I have immediately turned that relationship into a somewhat paternalistic one. On the other hand, if you are a poor person, and I come to you to offer an opportunity – a partnership which will honor your aspirations for a better life, it is a fundamentally different approach. So we would rather talk about creating (modest opportunities for) prosperity than poverty….and it is so much more gratifying for all concerned, too.


About Al Doerksen

I'm sort of a vocational tramp; my working career divides about evenly between non-profit and the business worlds. I have lived in Mexico, India, Germany and Canada, and now USA. I've had the good fortune to travel to 90 countries of which at least half are developing countries. The last 25 years of my "career" have involved significant (and enjoyable) international management challenges: travel industry, furniture manufacturing, food (aid) programming and ultraviolet water treatment among others. I'm now leading a development enterprise called IDE.
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One Response to What’s wrong with poverty alleviation?

  1. Pingback: Pumps, the problem with poverty alleviation, and more « borrowing bones

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