For most of us who can read this, we would know of poverty as a concept which means being poor. However most of us would find it hard to internalise, as we have not really experienced it. Poverty is not a mere lack of food or comfort.
Poverty is simply having nothing at all. No land, no home, no food, no clothes apart from the clothes on one’s back.
Close your eyes. Remove every material possession you have. Remove the TV, the computer, phone, refrigerator, shoes, lip gloss, books, soap, and everything else in between. When you have nothing else to remove consciously from your physical world, imagine that you do not have any money, no job, and no idea when your next meal would be. Imagine you have no idea when your family’s next meal would be. Imagine walking around scouring for bits and pieces of food; scouring around for some form of work that may give your child something to eat.
Your first feeling might have been one of being free, since you have nothing to worry about – because you have nothing. Next comes the overwhelming feeling of fear: concern for one’s family, one’s children, the future.Of course, you would not have been to school. You would not know how to read or write. You would have no special skills. Digging, lifting things and any physical work would be your only capability. You might have a small hut, or none at all. You would worry about your wife and daughter being molested and raped. You would feel the helplessness of having no security.
Poverty as a concept, and being poor are very different things.Why do we have poverty in a world where there is plenty? There is more than enough food and space on the planet for everyone to live comfortably. Yet, a very large proportion of mankind live in abject or partial poverty, where hundreds of deaths occur every day due to malnutrition and hunger. Why don’t we all care about so many poor people on our planet? Perhaps, the problem is too big in our minds. It is not something we feel each of us can resolve, it is not something that any one of us can do anything about. It is too huge a problem, and we feel that only the UN and governments can deal with it, and should. We, the ones who can make a difference to this massive problem rationalize that we have very little relationship with those who have that problem. If you are poor, illiterate and completely ignorant, how would you be able to conceive of a way to transform poverty for yourself and your brethren? Those who are poor are in a quagmire that is fairly eternal.
What is the problem in its simple terms?To sum up the problem again in my own words, for a poor illiterate or semi-literate villager:
- No Work – He or she has no work skills other than those that enable him to survive – physical work, digging, farming etc. which would provide him perhaps $ 1-2 per day. But even then, physical work is limited in the rural village that he/she hails from.
- No Awareness – She has no knowledge of other work that could be done remotely – like data entry, diamond cutting, making local things which have value.
- No Skills – Even if she or he knew of such high-value ($ 10 per day = high value) work, he or she does not possess those skills to get that work.
What is a possible solution?That we simplify the enabling of people to be work-ready, using very smart training techniques, especially those persons who belong to the most vulnerable, most poor parts of our world. Then, we find creative, scalable ways (typically by way of being profitable ways) to get work as close to the people as possible, so that the local village economies develop and flourish. Transformative events have happened in our time that would enable change of this situation:
- With the advent of standardisation, size of companies increasing globally, using standardized business processes have become the norm. These business processes are really similar pieces of work, and when broken down well, are simply things to do with rules on how to do that task.
- The Internet reaching the remotest of villages in India through newer technologies, and the Internet being the “means” to pass on electronic work.
- More people work from home, more than ever before. More and more work is becoming electronic and disconnected.
- The pervasive force of the Internet. Most of education is based on knowledge. Knowledge is passé today. Knowing how to find information is key. Earlier, knowledge was power. Today, that power is minimal.
- Realizing that to enable people to do work, that they did not need 15 years of formal education. All they need are the skills to do that work – to read, write and speak in business English, have business skills, use computers.
- Some breakthrough methodologies that we created to enable a miraculous learning of all of the above for a totally illiterate person in 6 months.
- The Tipping Point, a book that showed us that if we impacted a small percentage – 1-2% – of the population, that could be a tipping point to transform the entire target population of 400 million very poor villagers in India.