Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
As I began getting into each of the 17 SDGS, I found myself struggling with the sheer weight of some of the goals – particularly this very first one. So, I spoke with my team at ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates. Anita, President and Founder of AM&A, told me to be honest (as I was in the intro piece) – I should share my struggles, share my revelations, and don’t be afraid to admit when I just have no idea what to do. I found that this released me in a way, and allowed me to approach the goals in both naivety and an eagerness to learn and understand.
I suspect I am not the only one that looks at some of the SDGs and wonders “how can I, as one person, possibly make a difference?” Which is why, as we continue this journey together, I hope you’ll find patience in my own learning evolution, enabling you too to learn lessons from the supportive voices at AM&A.
goal 1: no poverty
The first goal of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is No Poverty. What a colossal goal to start our Living the SDGs journey. It being #1 is, however, not by chance. According to the United Nations, as of 2019 there are over 700 million people worldwide living in extreme poverty – that’s 1 out of 10 of us and 1 out of 5 children. How, in our ever-advancing world, can this be? And how do you even begin to make actionable changes to lift 700 million people out of poverty?
When I first began thinking about Goal 1, and what it instinctively means to me, I found that I clearly associated the word ‘poverty’ with someone who is ‘poor’. It’s an easy association to make, especially when you read that those living in extreme poverty survive on less than $1.90 a day. That’s less than $60 a month, about the same amount I spent at the grocery store yesterday for food – some we didn’t even need.
But, poverty isn’t as simple as a distinction between people who have money and people who don’t. Technically speaking, and according to The World Bank Group, it is described in this way:
“Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.”
Importantly, poverty can exist simply because you were born in a certain area of the world or because you don’t have access to clean water. Poverty can happen as a result of social or gender inequality or even a lack of healthcare access. Most of the families living in poverty are employed, and work arduously long hours, and still barely survive. It may surprise you that 8% of employed workers and their families live in extreme poverty. That means over 80% of people in this situation spend their every waking hour trying to get out of it – to no avail.
How do you measure poverty?
I read articles all the time about people in the US or UK who are living in poverty, and I’ve seen it first-hand in London, but the stories we read are still a far cry from those in developing countries where there is mass starvation, no access to education, no sanitation, ect. (Not saying one is more worthy than the other, poverty and the inequalities closer to home are still extremely important to address.) How is poverty measured?
In 1995, the United Nations adopted two definitions of poverty.
Absolute poverty is defined as : a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.
Absolute poverty often comes with starvation, suffering, and premature death and is an urgent call to action.
Overall poverty is defined more broadly: lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterised by lack of participation in decision making and in civil, social and cultural life. It occurs in all countries: as mass poverty in many developing countries, pockets of poverty amid wealth in developed countries, loss of livelihoods as a result of economic recession, sudden poverty as a result of disaster or conflict, the poverty of low-wage workers, and the utter destitution of people who fall outside family support systems, social institutions and safety nets.
Otherwise, those who are not living in the minimum acceptable standards within the society they live.
How would you eliminate poverty?
So, this brings back to my core question: how can I, as one person, help achieve SDG #1 – No Poverty?
I’ve been reaching out to my friends in the travel community, asking them a very simple question. If you were in charge and had the power to eliminate poverty, what steps would you take? What initiatives would you start? How would you make ‘no poverty’ a reality?
As you might expect, I had a variety of responses – from blank stares to laughter, but for some of those I asked – the question was heavy. I could see the cogs turning, the creative juices flowing, and these participants in my social survey came out with some truly inspiring ideas.
The truth is, it’s really a complicated question. You can’t just decide to lift up one group of people without considering the others. Many people responded with ‘provide women in poverty with skills and education’, which I find entirely logical. That was until a friend who lives in Morocco shared with me that women empowerment initiatives were gaining steam in her country, but nobody was working on encouraging the local boys to support them as well. When girls from the programs got married, they didn’t have the same support system in place that was being pushed elsewhere and the problem wasn’t being solved.
Not so simple after all.
Actionable Ways for Individuals to End Poverty
My social survey came up with some interesting ideas for eradicating poverty, some more far-fetched than others. Abolish all borders, provide equal access to education, buy local, add more libraries, create a course for any would-be travellers to help them understand that we are all the same – only our cultures and customs differ.
Some took it even further with suggestions such as simplifying setup of and reducing tariffs for local business registration. Making it easier, and encouraging, for locals to get involved with increased tourism. Or adding a tourism sustainability metric to websites like Tripadvisor, so tourists can make more informed travel decisions and make sure their purchases and travels support the local economies they visit. (A brilliant idea actually!)
While my q&a with my peers didn’t provide me with the secret answer to eliminating poverty to pass on to you, it did teach me a couple things:
First, so many more people care than you’d think. They may not even realise it themselves. Some of those I asked looked at me like I had asked how I could get to the moon on the city bus.This was almost always followed by careful consideration and a very thoughtful answer.
Secondly, we don’t often walk around asking big questions as conversation starters. But maybe we should. After the initial discomfort, I had some truly inspiring conversations with people. Others loved it from the word go, and were excited to stop the small talk and discuss global issues that matter – hypothetical or otherwise.
1. Let’s talk about poverty (and everything else!)
Have the ‘weird’ conversations. Don’t be afraid to ask people their opinions on topics that matter to you. They may have insight into something you had never considered, and you can take the opportunity to educate others.
The more I get into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the more I feel the stats heavy on my soul. I say that as lightly and honest as I can, but the truth is I take this project very seriously and that means taking on the responsibility of my words. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die EVERY DAY due to poverty. Just let that sink in for a minute. I can’t save 22,000 children from dying every single day on my own, trust me,I’ve mulled over the possibilities. But I can have the conversation.
I can hear you saying “poverty is not the best networking topic”, but why not? I’ve done the legwork for you – it works. Sure, not every person, particularly those you’ve never met before, will meet you half-way. Most will. If you don’t want to discuss global issues in a socially constrained scenario, talk to your friends and your family. Give others the benefit of the doubt, take the leap, most of us want the world to be a better place. Let’s bring our voices together. Let’s talk about diversity, accessibility, privilege, and using our travels to make a difference.
Every conversation plants a seed, and those seeds can grow into action.
2. Empower local communities when you travel
How many trips do you take a year? Working within the travel industry, I probably have a slightly skewed view of the average. But let’s say you take one trip abroad every year. How do make sure every dollar you spend supports locals in that economy?
We need to ask the questions:
- How do you ensure that those souvenirs at the market are supporting local craftsmen and were not imported from elsewhere?
- How do you know whether that village a tour group is taking you to is empowering the people or suffocating them?
These aren’t trick questions. As we become more and more conscious of travelling responsibly, we need to do our research. It can be done, and it can make a big difference.
Ensuring our holiday money supports those wages, especially as a collective group of global citizens on a mission for change, could be life-changing. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), a 10 per cent increase in a country’s average income will reduce the poverty rate by between 20 and 30 per cent.
Here are some easy tips for empowering local communities when we travel:
- Most big companies should have a responsible tourism policy. Look it up. If you can’t find it, ask before you book.
- Do your research. Take the time to read up on different cultures and activities in the region, particularly if you are visiting indigenous tribes or impoverished areas. Don’t wait until you’ve already paid and visited to realise you’ve made an unethical choice.
- Hire local guides and tour companies. Read reviews online, email ahead of time to ask how they use the money/support the communities you’ll be visiting.
- Purchasing souvenirs should be stimulating for the economy, respectful of locals and leave a neutral impact. (ie don’t buy rare collectibles important to the nation’s heritage, animal/natural products that shouldn’t leave.) Many destinations have local cooperatives or artisan workshops where you can buy directly from the person who made it. If you can’t find these, ask questions.
3. Don’t forget local poverty
When discussing global poverty, it is typically the ‘absolute poverty’ we imagine. Emotive charity advertising has ingrained imagery of starving children living in faraway places in the minds of anyone with a television. Those commercials are often our first exposure to poverty in the west. But consider these stats.
- 12.7% of Americans live in poverty, approximately 40.6 million people (The metrics for measuring poverty in this case are based on income.)
- More than 4 million people in the UK live in deep poverty, with an income level 50% or more below the poverty line threshold.
These families may attend the same schools as your children and live in the same community, but they are struggling.
I always find travelling in developing countries incredibly humbling. You quickly appreciate your ability to buy food just because you want to try it, to have hot running water in your hotel room every evening, and your freedom to go back to the ‘luxuries’ of home.
But, it’s important to remember that not everyone around you has the same access. The battle against poverty can be happening right next door, literally.
In London (I use this example as it’s my home), many families struggle to feed their children during the summer holidays. Typically children get free meals during school time and when they aren’t going to school, they aren’t getting food. Last year alone, the UK’s biggest food bank gave away 1.6 million packs of food supplies – a 19% annual increase from 2017. There are next to no affordable childcare provisions for children above nursery age, putting an even bigger strain on working parents. When there is no childcare available, parents are forced to leave their kids at home which can lead to gangs or crime, leaving early from education, and cyclical poverty over generations.
My point of all this is that we don’t need to travel in order to end poverty. There’s work we can do close to home as well. So, what action can we take?
- Don’t waste food. One-third of food produced around the world goes to waste. I am so guilty of this and it’s an area I need to work on. If you have food in your kitchen that you know you aren’t going to eat, there are dozens of food waste apps now that connect you with local people who want it. Also, food waste is also responsible for 6-10% of greenhouse gases. Be more mindful of the food you buy and consume it responsibly. For those who spent their day choosing between paying to keep the electricity on or buying breakfast for their family, every bite matters.
- Support local charities. Whether by volunteering your time or donating money, support the charities in your local community who work with those living in poverty. Programs that support education and training, provide after-school care, help with housing, or provide food are all great choices. Most organisations are overjoyed to have support in anyway that you can provide it.
- Freecycle your stuff. I’ve been trying to walk the walk in my own life, slowly making small changes that I hope will contribute the SDGs. A few weeks ago instead of selling off things one by one for pocket change, I gave away an almost-new crib, two years worth of baby clothes, and buckets of toys on a local Facebook group. It all went to a young mother who was almost due but had no means to buy the ‘extras’ for her child. It cost me nothing and was all items that I was no longer using. For her it was priceless and it gave her one less thing to worry about.
Is ending poverty too BIG?
There is hope. 36% of the world’s population lived in poverty in 1990. As of 2019, The United Nations estimates that it is now closer to 8.6%. That is undeniable progress, which happened through cooperation and action over the last few decades. (Read about the history of the SDGs here to understand the legacy.)
One child starving to death today is one too many. One woman forced to walk five miles for a clean bucket of water is too many.There are still too many people dying, too many people struggling, in a world of shocking inequality.
I’m under no illusion that I’ll solve poverty by wasting less food, travelling more responsibly, or talking about important global issues with my friends. But just as the SDGs cannot work alone, neither can we. If we all begin making these micro changes, amplifying our voices, and joining together in purpose – the poverty scale will begin to shift.
Ending poverty is big, but it isn’t too big. We are bigger. And we can do better. We outnumber poverty 9 to 1. It’s time to bring to life, and lives, the real difference just one person – you – can make.
Please comment below and share actionable ways that YOU think we can use to end poverty.
I’d like to invite you to take this journey with me, and AM&A, as I explore the 17 sustainable development goals. Each month we’ll focus on one goal and explore actionable ways that we as individuals can change the world.