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Why I Think We Can End Extreme Poverty In My Lifetime

By Allison Kooser

It seems like a crazy dream: to end extreme poverty in my lifetime. But it’s a dream that has legs. One  that has thought and passion and possibility behind it – so much so that it’s moving from heads and  hearts into action.

Sure, I’m an idealist. Perhaps that makes it possible for me to imagine a world where kids go to school  instead of factories, where families eat dinner together instead of ignoring their hunger pains and where  wages are earned and paid and saved.

But I’m also a scholar – and I have seen evidence that suggests that we are on the right track. Since  1990, the percentage of people living below the extreme poverty line (defined as $1.25/day) has been  cut in half. Poverty is still an enormous problem for over a billion people worldwide, but 700 million  fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990. There is hope in this data. But  there is also a call to action.

There are people that love the hopefulness and progress in this data, and consequently think that the  work is done. They say, look the world is getting better! We have done our jobs toward eradicating  poverty. This attitude is full of optimism, but it runs the risk of mitigating action.

On the other hand, there are those that only see the enormous problem of poverty that still lies ahead  of us. They know that 1.2 billion people struggle to eat and provide for their families each day. And they  know that there is still so much to be done. But they can also lose sight of the progress – the hope – and f orget that things are moving and changing. Sure, this fight is a slow one, but the global poverty  situation is improving.

And so I’m choosing both. Hope and action. A recognition that we have made progress, while also  knowing that there is so much left to do. And with this view, I see three big things that will help us move  the needle even more.

1. Creativity and Innovation. We have to look forward and get creative. We have come up with  some great tools, but they can always be improved. We shouldn’t operate in a rut – and we  should be very wary of doing things the way they’ve always been done without first asking if  there might be a better way. And we should do a lot less dictating and a lot more listening –  because innovation can come from anywhere.

2. Effort, dedication and consistency. Sustainable development takes work. It takes constant,  unwavering attention and focus. It’s not going to be easy. We can’t invest in communities and  run away. We can’t ignore problems when they appear insurmountable. And we can’t get burnt out.

3. Mass participation. Despite what some people might say, there is no one organization or person  or theory that has “the answer” to extreme poverty. There are a lot of great concepts that  together create sustainable impact. So to truly eliminate extreme poverty, we need everyone to  get involved. This means individuals and organizations and governments and agencies. It means  water causes partnering with health care programs partnering with local governments  partnering with banks. It means people with economic power contributing their skills and  resources, and people living in economic poverty providing their talent and effort. It means a  global solution to a global problem.

In order to end extreme poverty in our lifetime, we must be consistent and cutting-edge. Dependable  and daring. Steady and thoughtful and outlandish and risky. And above all else, we must be together. No  one person or organization or cause is going to solve extreme poverty. It’s going to take teamwork and  coordination – and it will necessarily require each of us to draw on and contribute our strengths to the  cause.

At Opportunity International, we are proud to be a part of the poverty eradication puzzle. Economic  empowerment is one critical element of sustainable development, and we have been discovering how to  best create impact for over 40 years. Yet we are constantly learning and relearning these three lessons.  We strive to innovate by making use of new technologies and responding to the needs identified by our  clients. We embody our commitment and dedication by building permanent infrastructure on the  ground in the countries in which we work. And we seek out partners – supporters, technicians, staff,  volunteers and organizations – who help us do our work more effectively.

We can end extreme poverty in our lifetime. It won’t be easy and it won’t be immediate, but it is  possible. We have come a long way, but there is still work to be done – so let’s get to it.

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