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Eradicating Poverty

The eradication of poverty. That was the vision of the United Nations at the turn of the millennium. As if that wasn't ambitious enough, it added seven more development objectives, ranging from universal primary education to environmental sustainability. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to be achieved by 2015, were subsequently adopted by all 192 member countries.

With only five years left to go, are we on course to achieve them? The UN recently held a summit to address this question. Delegates took stock of the devastating impact of the global economic crisis, while cautiously noting areas of progress. The one goal about which they were overwhelmingly optimistic was the first one – to halve by 2015 the proportion of people who in 1990 had an income of less than $1 per day.

Good news like this can prompt odes to the effectiveness of international aid. But we need to note the key reason this target may be met: the economic growth of China and India. When such growth is looked at from the bottom up, the real change makers in overcoming poverty turn out to be commercial entrepreneurs, even though the infrastructural improvements of aid programmes can be crucial to their success.

This Sunday the date is 10-10-10. Development organizations around the world are marking the day by stepping up their advocacy for greater economic justice. Spearheading the campaign is a global coalition of activists called Micah Challenge, which is mobilizing millions of people around the world to take action to help the poor.

The key action Micah Challenge is calling for on Sunday is prayer. But surely that’s no strategy for change, as its effectiveness can’t be measured! True enough, but today’s generation of believers has prayed against fierce injustices that have eventually crumbled before their eyes, the tyrannies of fascism, communism and apartheid included. No causal link can ever be proven, of course, and historians are right to document the range of observable factors involved.

Likewise, many agents will be involved in eliminating poverty. But it is time to acknowledge the leading role that will be played by those most often overlooked - the world’s entrepreneurs. Without them, there are few prospects for a life of dignity for the millions trapped in poverty. Even if we regard their release more as a matter of aid, rather than of enterprise, there is no aid without the wealth creators. Perhaps they deserve a mention in prayers for the poor.

Peter Heslam


the rise of China and India could mean the halving of absolute poverty
entrepreneurs will play a leading role in releasing the poverty trap