The term poverty denotes malnutrition, scarcity and the developing world, particularly Africa. But these images that are evoked don’t do the term justice. Mirriam Webster defines poverty as the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. So when we are working to bring people out of poverty, what is the end goal and what are the priorities for development?
In the past, some have focused on top-down approaches, on investing in governments and then letting that trickle down into the citizenry. Some approaches focus on establishing democracy first and then focusing on economically empowering its citizens. Others focus on increasing incomes of citizens, establishing a solid middle class first and then democratizing and empowering. There are now new approaches that focus increasingly on the individual and bottom-up approaches to poverty.
The UN prioritized its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the turn of the century. It outlined eight poverty reduction goals that were to be reached by 2015 as agreed upon by all member states. These goals had very specific targets and indicators but it aimed to:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Develop a global partnership for development
The MDGs were the first worldwide embrace of development issues, but they were very much “don’t rock the boat”, concrete policies that ignore several issues including social health, people with disabilities, etc.
These differing policies and priorities beg the question: what is development and who is it for? There are several answers to this question, but here are a few:
- Increasing income/consumption
- Building human capabilities and skills
- Rectifying social exclusion
- Increasing participation/citizenship
The definition for poverty might indicate that the goal of development should be to focus exclusively on increasing income/consumption, but that’s not Best Foot Forward’s approach. We believe that poverty is not exclusively the absence of material possessions, but rather an absence of opportunity that limits a person in their relative position. We have adopted a bottom-to-top participatory approach that empowers people to participate in their own development. National economic growth is not enough; it is about lifting the poorest of the poor out of poverty through opportunity. By investing in our artisans we are helping people to help themselves.