When you think of design and systems you think of a basic system for example of a car. When Henry Ford designed the first engine and made the first car, he put together different parts of metals and ended up with a car.
When you design and bake a cake, you put together all the ingredients and how the cake should look like.
When the car drives smoothly without glitches, the design and implementation of a car is a success. When the cake comes out as intended, we say the design and implementation of the cake was a success.
When the car engine ceases or emits too much smoke, the engine is a design and implementation failure, when the cake gives people food poisoning, the cake is a design and implementation failure.
Poverty is the result of design failure of an economic and political system.
Poverty is not just real life but without money. Not if you define “real life” as the life you live right now.
The non-poverty life is about possibility. The possibility of connection, of leveling up, of a tomorrow that is significantly better than yesterday.
No, the thing that is possible does not always happen, not for most people, but living with hope is something we take for granted.
A life lived in poverty, though, is always about scrambling.
A life lived in poverty is about another kind of possibility, the very real possibility that there will be no food tomorrow, no shelter, no emergency health care for the children. It is always about scrambling, about the risk.
Day after day, week after week, year after year, a life lived in poverty corrodes the people who have to endure it. Poverty steals people of their self-worth. It erases hope, self-respect and even fleeting moments of peace of mind.
You always feel like a burden when your fate is always at the mercy of people’s handouts.
Cursed with poverty, people (not simply people, they are our relatives, our distant cousins, friends of friends, people just a few handshakes away in the global network in which we are all connected) waste opportunities because they cannot see them.
Poverty is an iron ceiling, a ceiling four feet off the ground, a ceiling that forces those who live with poverty to spend their days hunched over, on the edge of fear and humiliation.
People are poor not because they were stupid or lazy. They work all day long, doing complex physical tasks. They are poor because the financial institution in the country does not help them widen their economic base.
Poverty is often part of a system, not an event.
A catastrophe can introduce poverty to a village or a family. But too often, poverty is generational, systemic and amplified by some of the very forces designed to eradicate it.
Try spending one day without shoes.
Those in poverty are likely to raise children prepared to live in poverty as well. It is no surprise when parents are unable to educate, to breathe and to hope for much, they often create a cycle inherited by their children.
Worse, the system of poverty isolates people from markets. When there is no access to productivity, to education, to efficiency, the poverty gets worse.
If all the stores you frequent disappeared, you would quickly become poorer because everything you need to do your job would disappear. Your food would get more expensive. And you would waste days and days of your life traveling to obtain the things you need.
Anytime someone engages with a market, both sides benefit. If you freely choose to buy a bag of rice for a R100, you are doing it because you’ would rather have the rice than the R100, you can’t eat the R100 note. Not only does the farmer benefit, but so do you. As markets get competitive, efficiencies can arise and more interactions can happen.
Once the market takes hold, the systems that enforce poverty begin to break down. Jobs need to be done. Workers need to be educated. Most of all, free markets thrive on hope, and forces begin to arise to push certain forms of corruption aside.
Poverty is a chronic disease, one as long-term and horrible as many diseases that we have managed to eradicate over the years.
Poverty is man-made, it is a design failure. Like all other diseases, poverty can be eliminated.
The cure for this disease, though, is the action it takes to bring access, hope and dignity to the people who need it.
I always believed that poverty can be totally conquered in our own lifetimes if the right approach is adopted.
I based my belief on the inherent ability of the poor that can be unleashed once they are given the opportunity to help themselves.
I believe that we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social systems that we have designed for ourselves, the institutions and concepts that make up that system, the policies that we pursue.
Organisations such as the Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank is a classic example of how we can overcome poverty. Acumen Fund is another example. TOMS Shoes is another amazing initiative where shoes are donated to poor kids every time someone buys a pair of TOMS shoes. Gift of the Givers are doing amazing work in helping those who are hit by crisis or catastrophes. There are many other unknown charity organisations doing amazing work to deal with poverty.
Charity and social responsibility initiatives have gone a long way to reduce poverty.
But I would like a system that makes the need for charity non-essential. An economic system that takes care of everyone, off-course there will be millioneers and those without millions but it is possible for the elimination of poverty.
When we want to help the poor, we usually offer them charity. Most often we use charity to avoid recognising the problem and finding the solution for it. Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility. But charity is no solution to poverty. Charity only perpetuates poverty by taking the initiative away from the poor. Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about the lives of the poor. Charity appeases our consciences.
There is so much to take care of everyone in the world. The way the system is designed it makes it impossible to for everyone to be taken care off.
In the long run people don’t want donations, they don’t want to live on hand-outs, they want to be at the mercy of other people, they want a system that will empower everyone as long as the playing field is designed to benefit everyone, not a few at the expense of the majority.
The current economic and political system is broken.
“Once poverty is gone, we will need to build museums to display its horrors to future generations. They will wonder why poverty continued so long in human society, how a few people could live in luxury while billions dwelt in misery, deprivation and despair.” ― Muhammad Yunus
Poverty belongs in museums.
In my TEDxJohannesburg talk, I share my thoughts on how we can eliminate poverty using innovation: