Fight against global poverty is stalling – but what went wrong?

As we come to the end of the period originally set for the Millennium Development Goals (2015), commentators are starting to more closely analyse the effectiveness of current methods of poverty prevention. Author Mal Warwick has been taking part in a series on CSRWire, to explore the downfalls of the world’s attitude towards development.
According to Mal, there are six main problems facilitated by transnational corporations and the wider international community which are hindering development and poverty irradication.

The first point made, is that anti-poverty programmes, like most initiatives relating to the development of impoverished countries are made by people far from impoverished. There are plenty of arguments that justify this as the natural course of progression; education; awareness of global context; general supremacy etc. However no amount of education in the developed west can allow someone to fully appreciate the individual situation of the particular country which the program aims to save. Like the military who intervene in developing countries, diplomats formulating policy often do not speak the language, and do not have the local knowledge of present or historical events to act appropriately. Only the people that live there can know the biggest challenges and therefore should be a valuable part of any tangible solution proposal. Each country, district, city, town, village is different. Poverty stems from multiple causes and is not as black and white as free market cheerleaders sat in their suits and ties in air conditioned offices make out.

Because of the above, the second problem is that anti-poverty programs are always top town. That is, prescriptive and patronising. The original program formulated from the international community then, by default logistical necessity, has to filter down to reach the people. This means it has to go through a great degree of bureaucratic complexity and a number of corrupt governmental departments, before even touching those it set out to help. Ergo; all the good intentions set out at the beginning have been stripped, and what is left is an empty offering which is of little help to anyone at all. The grassroots have to be part of the process from the beginning, not just the ‘recipients’ at the end.

Thirdly, methods implied by the suits are often indirect. They seek to affect the infrastructure and the environment that surrounds the poor as opposed to the poor themselves; as that is where western interest lies. In the factories and business centres also require water and electricity. The World Bank champion infrastructure projects as its supporters are often businesses that will benefit from global expansion therefore widening the pot but not for the poor. Foreign aid is channelled to support government services to allow the country to export goods and services needed by the west, but of great irrelevance to the people producing them for less than $1 a day. The ‘trickle down’ rhetoric is a fallacy, and rarely does the poor benefit when resources are ploughed into the top section of society.

The forth reason is the philanthropical arm of the west’s efforts which breeds dependence. There needs to be a balance between donation based initiatives and hard free market mechanics – not two separate arms working separately. The initiative needs to be sustainable and therefore needs to be assisted development at the root, not prescriptive or simply hand-outs.

Fifthly, this philanthropy has never, and will never, be expansive enough to reach all the people it needs to reach. It also is more often than not a marketing exercise on behalf of those with the deep pockets to appear a little less pompous and self indulgent than people may think. Such actors in international development act the same as the rest of the international community; they ignore the long term, deep, underlying causes of poverty because it is easier that way.

The sixth problem, is the bottom line of the poverty fight that commentators from the left, right and everywhere in between agree upon; poor coordination. The lack of synergy and communication between the different arms of the anti-poverty movement mean that the resources available are spread thinly over a range of conflicting initiatives, instead of being coherently fed into the base issues that could then have a ripple effect on all the satellite problems. Unique issues and agendas from separate actors cloud the true purpose of the mission.

Mal believes that businesses can provide that balance, but at the end of the day it is businesses and big corporations that sustain underdevelopment at present and so until corporate culture changes world-wide, starting with the west, it is difficult to see how they will equalise the rest.


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