When I think of the biggest problems we face as humans, I break the population into two groups.
The first group focuses most of its energy on finding ways to provide for the basic necessities.
Nearly 5 Billion people out of the 7.95 Billion people on this planet fall into this bucket. They live on less than ten dollars per day.
Of this group, around billion started this decade living on less than two dollars per day and are classified as people living in “extreme poverty.”
It is important to start with a broad strokes understanding of the realities that the global population faces.
Most people on the planet [~60%-70%] live in poverty. And, yet, it is likely very few, if any, of the people you are related to are likely to fall in this bucket. So, underestimating the grip of poverty on the global population is completely understandable.
We just are not exposed to it often enough to comprehend it. The middle class has built a life that is insulated away from being exposed to poverty.
Those with the resources to see it [Sawubona] and bring change are often far removed from poverty, physically and psychologically to worry about it. Out of sight, out of mind syndrome.
The second group is the group we, and most people we call relatives or friends, fall into.
We, as a group, are blessed with the privilege that accompanies either being born in a wealthy, by global standards or to parents with healthy genes.
In most cases, our privilege is likely a combination of both. So the second group is middle class people who can buy data and read blogs like this one.
As a result, we have the luxury to spend our time worrying about problems that do not involve finding ways to provide shelter or food for those we love.
Again, it matters that we internalise the impact of this privilege simply because we spend very little time talking or reading about it.
To a girl born in the slums of Kibera in Kenya, Alexandra in Johannesburg or Mumbai in India, the odds of breaking out of poverty are near zero.
No amount of mental fortitude or ingenuity will compensate for the lack of privilege.
Of course, I exaggerate when I say “no amount.” But, not by much. The odds of making it out of poverty [never mind “extreme poverty”] are near zero.
Yes there are people who breakout of extreme poverty, but often those are the exceptions and not the rule.
By the end of 2030, current estimates are that we will end up with around 500 million people in “extreme poverty.”
While significantly lower than three decades prior, we will still be ways off eradicating extreme poverty.
While I would love for us as a race to be focused on eradicating extreme poverty, I think the odds of that happening are, again, near zero.
That is because the second group [the upper middle class] is going to be drawn into the many problems created by three realities:
- Climate Change
The first is that the climate, different from the weather, on planet Earth is moving toward a state of emergency.
In the next decade, as part of meeting the SDG goals [Sustainable Development Goals] we are going to see this discussion continue to pick up momentum.
Along the way, we are going to hear inaccurate facts, fake news, conspiracies, and resistance. It will not matter if we are on the right, left, centre or whichever other political leaning I have not mentioned. As long as we are affected by the earth’s gravitational field, we will be impacted by the consequences.
Today, even though 97% of scientists working on the climate agree on the problem, we are not close to mainstream adoption.
But, it will follow. The moment is slowing gaining traction.
It took between twenty and thirty years for scientific consensus around nicotine to become common knowledge. But, that was before the internet.
Even accounting for the easy spread of falsehood, I expect consensus on the climate emergency to take shape toward the end of the next decade.
2. Automation and Work
The second fight we will be wrestling with will be the complicated relationship between us, our work, and money. The industrial economy was built on drawing a clear connection between labor and money.
That happy relationship led to a growing middle class and prosperous times for large portions of the developed world.
However, that relationship has broken. As we saw over and over again in the past decade, a few lines of coding can generate more economic value than millions of hours of labor.
And, as machine learning became mainstream, we learnt that these lines of code can help reduce the amount of human labor required to produce everything we need for our consumption.
As this relationship between us, our labor, and the money we earn has broken, we have seen unhappiness and dissatisfaction soar in the richest places on the planet.
According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, new institutions will be needed to redefine, redistribute, and re-employ gains brought by the 4IR. Without institutional transformation, economic elites will move further away from the rest of humanity, putting world social structure in danger of collapse.
If not properly addressed, the benefits brought by the 4th industrial revolution may increase the inequality gaps.
When human beings are unhappy, we behave in predictable ways. We turn against people who are different from us, resist change, and elect people who promise to deal with the “others” and promise to make things like they were in the good old days.
3. COVID-19 Pandemic
The third fight is the continue fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. With most countries experiencing the second wave, it looks like 2021 will be more of the same, more of things like lockdowns, social distancing, masks and sanitizing.
Poverty levels have soured under the COVID-19 pandemic. People lost their lives, food prices have increased, unemployment increased and the health sector stretched to the limit.
According to the World Bank , The COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to push 150 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, depending on the severity of the economic contraction.
Resources that could have been used to fight poverty and create prosperous communities, are now, used to fight the pandemic. You have to keep people alive in order to move them from poverty to prosperity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the fight against extreme poverty 10 steps backwards.
There is no reversing the tide.
Add an inevitable economic downturn into the mix and we are heading into a difficult decade.
What does this mean for us?
As is the case with humanity, there are reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic.
I choose the former as optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the face of all this, my recommended approach tends to be rooted in simplicity and focused on change from the inside out.
That means being the change we wish to see.
That starts with committing to thinking better, working hard on meaningful problems [problems that truly matter] with optimists who are focused on learning and challenging our assumptions.
More than every before, the need for social entrepreneurs is critical in poor and developing countries. There is a dire need for social entrepreneurs who are going to develop financially sustainable business models that see [Sawubona] and addresses of challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
If you are full time employed, consider investing in a social enterprise startup. Invest your resources [time, expertise, contacts, etc] to startups that are addressing social challenges.
Start living as sustainably as possible, voting when we can, getting actively involved in projects that matters and not falling into the trap of thinking the problems we see around us are a result of “them.”
In the end, all we have and will have is each other.
We need to live with the hope that today will be better than yesterday and that tomorrow will be better than today.