If you believe, like we do at Concern, that we can end poverty, then the next question is: How? There’s no one simple process for achieving this goal, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Here are seven solutions to poverty that guide our work in 24 countries around the world.
1. Eliminating poverty through equity
One of the main causes of poverty is inequality. The systemic barriers that lead to groups of people going without representation in their communities leaves them further behind in terms of resources and opportunity. In order for a community, or even a country, to alleviate poverty, all groups and identities must be involved in creating solutions.
One of the biggest inequalities we need to address is gender inequality. According to the UN’s High-Level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment, women’s unpaid labor adds up to $10 trillion per year — 13% of the global GDP. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, women own less than 20% of agricultural land in parts of Africa and Asia, yet make up 60% of the agricultural workforce. As former FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in 2016:
“Women are the backbone of our work in agriculture… when women have opportunities, the yields on their farms increase – also their incomes. Natural resources are better managed. Nutrition is improved. And livelihoods are more secured.”
One other important thing to note: By equality, we mean that every person must have an equality of results versus equality of resources. This may mean additional resources for the furthest behind, in order to ensure that they have all they need to succeed.
2. Reducing poverty with resilience
Poverty happens when a high amount of inequality meets a high amount of risk.
For instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo has suffered ongoing conflict since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960. This has left millions of Congolese vulnerable, either living in conflict zones or in displacement camps (or both). When another crisis hits, like the DRC’s 2019 Ebola epidemic or 2021’s Mount Nyiragongo eruption, people are much less able to cope because their resources have already been worn thin.
To offset this, we need to ensure that the most vulnerable people and communities are able to build resilience. While the meaning of that phrase has changed in recent years, it means something very concrete in humanitarian aid and development. Resilience for us means working with communities to prepare for disasters — whether manmade or natural — in advance. It also means adapting to long-term changes (such as fighting climate change with Climate Smart Agriculture or creating programs to support the education, safety, and livelihoods of refugees or IDPs). These solutions to poverty help to offset the level of vulnerability communities may have in the face of risks — or even reduce the level of risk.
3. Commit to climate change solutions and climate justice
Resilience against climate change is especially important and deserves its own mention. According to the World Bank, climate change could force an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty over the next decade without any urgent action taken.
Concern maintains overall climate responses (such as Disaster Risk Reduction), as well as specific programs (like Paribartan in India and Bangladesh, BRCiS in Somalia, and RAPID in Pakistan). But one of the solutions to poverty that goes beyond any humanitarian mandate is a governmental commitment to climate justice, particularly on the parts of high-income countries whose carbon emissions are higher than those of the low-income countries hit hardest by climate change.
4. Eradicating poverty through education
According to UNESCO, if all students in low-income countries had just basic reading and writing skills (nothing else), an estimated 171 million people could escape extreme poverty. If all adults completed secondary education, we could cut the global poverty rate by more than half. Education develops skills and abilities, corrects some of the imbalances that come out of marginalization, and decreases both risk and vulnerability.
Some of the key areas of focus for making sure that education is truly for all involve breaking down the barriers to education: creating access to school in remote areas, supporting teachers in their work to deliver quality education, and making sure that education is available to children living in fragile contexts.
5. Halting poverty by ending hunger (and thirst)
Simply eating three meals a day and getting a healthy amount of calories and nutrients can go a long way to breaking the cycle of poverty. When a person doesn’t have enough to eat, they lack the strength and energy needed to work. Contaminated water can lead to debilitating illnesses.
What’s more, improving access to clean water can mean that those who live in rural communities. If you go back to our first point on inequality, you might be able to guess that water is a women’s issue. Current estimates suggest that women and girls collectively spend 200 million hours every day walking long distances to fetch water.
Adequate healthcare options for all goes hand-in-hand with this solution, and represents a larger need for governments to offer the basic social protections and services to keep their citizens healthy, and give them affordable treatment options when they aren’t.
6. Poverty alleviation through peace
Ending all war — while ambitious — means that budgets allocated to cover the cost of conflict can be used to deliver public services. It also reduces risks faced by the most vulnerable communities, and ensures that goals towards equality and inclusion can be maintained.
We’ve seen this play out time and again: While estimates around data for the country vary, Syria‘s poverty rate following the start of the Syrian crisis increased from approximately 12% in 2007 to 83% in 2019. Conversely, in Nepal, a decade-long civil war came to a close in 2006. This correlated with a sharp increase in gross national income (GNI) and gross domestic product (GDP) year-over-year.
Likewise, the establishment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Cambodia in 1992 (following a deadly civil war and war with Vietnam) helped to forge stability within the country and grow its middle class: The country’s poverty rate dropped from 47.8% in 2007 to 13.5% by 2014.
7. Cash solves poverty
It may seem like the simplest of answers, but cash and microfinance are two of the best solutions to poverty.
One of the ways Cambodia’s transition from wartime to peace (including the repatriation of over 300,000 Cambodian refugees) was so smooth was thanks to the idea of buying on credit. Such an influx of returnees could place a strain on resources and create financial dire straits, microfinancing models introduced into the country helped to establish village savings and loans, insurance, and cash transfer services in communities that need them the most, allowing people to purchase the tools and services they need in order to become self-sufficient. Between 1998 and 2018, Cambodia’s economy grew by an average of 8% each year, and its middle class began to flourish.
While the traditional image of humanitarian aid may be crates of supplies like food, water, and tents, distributing cash has become more common. It’s cheaper and faster to get into a country (and can even be distributed by phone now). It also gives recipients the autonomy to make their own purchasing decisions, and supports local and national economies.
Sometimes, a small startup grant (even as small as $100) is all it takes to help a family living below the poverty line to launch a new business while keeping on top of their bills and keeping their children fed. The net effect is that they are able to lift themselves out of poverty in a sustainable manner, like Stawa James in Malawi.
It’s a small step — but one that promises a ripple effect of change.