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Guest Post: Poverty: What It Is and What We’re Doing To End It


Poverty is an international concern. It affects every country in the world, even countries that are considered “developed” experience poverty. Many people have plans to reduce or end poverty. There are a lot of good people working on a lot of good plans. Perhaps one single plan will not fix all the problems but combined it can enact real change.

What is Poverty?

Poverty is difficult to define.

Usually, poverty is defined as a family with an income that fails to meet a federally established threshold. This number can be different based on their country of origin. If you use an international standard introduced by the World Bank, those who live in extreme poverty live on less than 1.9 international dollars a day. Another way of defining poverty is by the terms of absolute poverty and relative poverty.

Absolute poverty defines poverty by the amount of money a person needs to meet their basic needs. This definition does not include issues of quality of life, or whether an individual is poor in relation to other people in the same society. Ideas of social or cultural disparities are not relevant to this definition. Rather, it focuses on whether a person has clean water, shelter, basic health care, clothing, and food.

Relative poverty looks at the way an individual or family income is compared to other members of the same society. In this definition, a person is poor when they make far less than the average income of their greater societal context.

Other people define poverty in terms that include things beyond just economic standards.

Looking at poverty this way includes a much broader explanation than simply the annual income of a family. While economics is definitely a part of it, some social scientists believe that definition lacks depth. These people seek to understand the reasons for poverty. They explore things like cultural influence, social structure, government involvement, and other things that are not in the control of the individual who is in poverty.

People who study poverty this way are often looking for solutions to help people overcome extremely difficult circumstances, and seek to change the systems that keep them locked in a cycle of poverty.

Poverty is Declining – Depending on Where You Look in the World

The poverty problem can be very bleak and disheartening. It can be overwhelming to even comprehend, and it can feel impossible to change. The good news is while there are still 583,861,5500 (give or take) people currently living in extreme poverty in the world, those numbers are falling. In fact, it’s estimated that someone escapes extreme poverty every 1.2 seconds. According to the Economist, “Absolute poverty rates have dropped faster in the past thirty years than any other time on record.” Bill Gates, a big advocate for ending world poverty, explained that extreme poverty has dropped from 36% of the world in 1990 to 9% in 2013. In fact, that number has actually dropped to 7.7% in 2019.

Big Changes in China and India

This impressive change in poverty can be traced back to two major countries: China and India. In the 1980s, the majority of Indian and Chinese citizens were living in extreme poverty. Today 21% of India’s citizens and only 2% of China’s citizens are living in extreme poverty. This is a major improvement. Bill Gates explained that a big part of the change that happened in China and India is an investment in human capital.

In China, there has been increased productivity in farms and there was a mass migration from poor rural areas to cities that offered jobs and better wages. The decline of poverty and the growth of industry in India has been slower, but it has followed a similar path to China. India has worked hard to create smarter more efficient systems to produce food and other commodities. Another thing China did was focus more on education. In 1990, about 1 in 3 children were chronically malnourished both physically and mentally. The typical Chinese youth did not even attend high school. Today, almost all graduate from high school and almost half attend college.

Bill Gates explains, “You just look at those cities in China and you see something miraculous came out of those human capital investments.”

Major Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa Expected to Grow

Today, the poorest area in the world exists in Sub-Saharan Africa. While poverty has also declined in this area from 54% in 1990 to 41% in 2013, the population has increased exponentially over the past few years. Due to this, the number of extremely poor people has risen from 276 million to almost 400 million. This number is predicted to reach 2 billion by 2050. So while the percentage may have dropped, the actual number of people in extreme poverty has risen.

These African countries are urbanizing quickly, but unlike in China, the growth in population and migration to the city is not leading to decreased poverty. Instead of improving conditions, the population boom has put a strain on their limited resources. Many people live well below the $1.90 a day income margin. Part of the reason the area is not seeing greater success is because they’re also experiencing violence, poor sanitation, clean water shortages, insufficient food supplies, and a lack of opportunity and stability. Many of their governments are not providing health care or education at a basic level. Most people living in these harsh conditions spend their time attempting to find enough food to survive. This doesn’t leave much time or resources for innovation, productivity, or education. The majority of people in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially women, have very little to no formal education. Even informal education is limited due to time and energy constraints.

Bill Gates urges the world to invest in the people in these areas and to help overcome extreme poverty.

Next, let’s take a look at some organizations who are already successfully contributing.

What Are Some Organizations that are Dedicated to Putting an End to Poverty?

Thankfully, many people and organizations around the world recognize the issue with extreme poverty. These issues don’t just affect one area in the world, they are present globally. Not only that, but as humans on the same planet, we can’t turn away from massive areas of pain and suffering. There are solutions to these issues and ways to majorly improve circumstances. Here are some organizations that have come up with innovative and essential solutions to these difficult problems.

Connect For Water

Connect for Water is a non-profit whose mission is to provide a clear path to clean, safe water to those in need. Their goal includes how to sustainably, responsibly distribute water filters in countries around the world, in ways that won’t hurt the local economies. They recently began the Sponsor Water program, which encourages people to give $5 per month, and after one year of giving they will have impacted 5 people with clean, safe water for the next 5 years. While it may not seem that providing clean water directly combats poverty, the truth is that the less time people spend looking to provide for their basic needs, the more time they can spend at school and at work. For every dollar invested in clean water, there is $8 return on investment in the local economy. Connect for Water also provides assistance through their Angel Alliance Fund, which provides small, strategically targeted micro-loans to emerging businesses in the global south. The money they loan out goes toward providing entrepeneurs with the initial stock from which they can sell, profit, and grow their business from the ground up.

Partners Worldwide

Partners Worldwide is a Christian global network that helps people thrive by teaching them to grow their own businesses. They offer loans, hands-on training, mentoring, and advocacy. They believe that unlocking a person’s potential and teaching them how to run their own businesses is a key component in ending poverty. They currently partner with over 70 partners in over 30 countries around the world. Through these partnerships, they serve thousands of people who strive to be entrepreneurs. They also partner with volunteer Business Affiliates which are people that serve their own communities and others. They explain their approach in this way, “Around the world, we partner with locally-led organizations to support business growth and job creation so that people may be equipped to lift themselves—and their families and communities—out of poverty for good.”


PovertyCure is an initiative that aims to reduce and end poverty globally. Like Partners Worldwide, they hope to help people locally and internationally achieve independence through entrepreneurship. They emphasize the need to love and seek to offer relief to those suffering from poverty, but also to provide a way out of their poverty. They explain, “Charity and almsgiving play an indispensable role in our efforts to help the poor, and yet the goal for charitable organizations should be to help the poor move beyond dependency.” A system of dependency is not sustainable. It is temporary and requires ongoing support without hope of a better tomorrow. Their goal is to shift the responsibility of international organizations to individuals living in poverty. They seek to make it easier for individuals to maintain businesses and network freely. They also want to make it possible for businesses and entrepreneurs to flourish in positive climates free from fear of theft or oppression. Ultimately, they want to give people in poverty the ability and opportunity to better their circumstances through business, entrepreneurship, and development. They write, “The economy is not a fixed pie or zero-sum game where people can only get richer if they take from someone else. History and economics teaches that economies can grow and one person’s wealth does not mean another’s impoverishment.”

Growing Home

While Sub-Saharan Africa and other underdeveloped areas in the world experience extreme poverty, poverty is still present in countries like the United States. Teva Sienicki is president and CEO of a non-profit called Growing Home. This organization hopes to improve areas and decrease poverty in the United States. In a Tedx talk, Sienicki told a story of working at her own homeless shelter. One day, she saw a young woman carrying a baby and walking beside a toddler. At first, she did not recognize the young woman, but soon she found out that she did, in fact, know her. The same young lady had been to Sienicki’s shelter when she was a girl. Now she was back with her own children, living in the same circumstances she had been living in as a child. Teva Sienicki was devastated. She realized that while her shelter offered temporary relief, it was not ending cyclical intergenerational poverty. She knew that she had to think differently. She had to instill changes in Growing Home that actually changed people’s circumstances. They changed the model of their non-profit. Rather than helping families here and there, they sought to transform the entire neighborhood. Growing Home started out by going door to door in a community and asking people what they thought of the community the lived in, and what help they needed there. Sienicki explains, “…when you reach out to members of the community and you invite them to be a part of the process, it stops being about doing things for people and it starts being about doing things with people.” Their plan sought to include people in the community as sources of change, not just changing things for them.

Their mission page explains, “Growing Home works to create community by supporting neighborhood leaders as they learn to leverage their collective power to improve conditions for themselves and their neighbors. Growing Home combines high-quality direct service strategies with efforts to advance systems change as we work toward equality of opportunity for all.” They go on to say, “We envision our community working together so that all children and their families have a place to call home, food on the table, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

The End of Poverty

The end of extreme or relative poverty may not come in a single lifetime, but there are a lot of things that can be done to help alleviate the pain and suffering related to poverty. Though there are many different beliefs on the best way to eradicate poverty, many scholars, humanitarians, and organizations agree on one important idea. The best way to help end poverty is to invest in people. By offering people opportunity, resources, education, and involvement in the process, there is a much higher chance of success. Looking at countries like China and India, great victories against poverty may come faster than we could imagine.

Source: This article has been reprinted with permission from

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VinceSummers wrote on June 25, 2019, 9:50 PM

I remember as the U.S. economy started taking a downturn about 2008, how not too long afterward, it was claimed things were getting better. Strange how it didn't seem so. Is it the same with poverty?

MegL wrote on June 26, 2019, 7:34 AM

It could well be. The UK government keeps telling us how much they are spending but it doesn't answer the question. Expenditure goes up each year but does it keep inline with inflation or below it. And that banking crisis from 2007 / 2008 was used as the excuse for a huge amount of austerity. The bankers remained rich. The poor were clobbered, as always. The only country that punished the bankers was Iceland and they are now, as far as I understand, out of austerity measures.