Who is poor? Am I poor? Are you poor? Is the man who owns the small fruit stand down the road poor? Is the man talking on his cell phone and wearing sunglasses poor? What about the man begging on the street corner?

p2012354-3

Is this shoemaker in Merkato market poor?

To answer this question, you will probably ask: How much money does each person have? 

Poverty is commonly defined by a lack of money. Paul Polak, founder of IDE, uses this definition. Money is often considered the primary motivating factor for disseminating technologies in developing countries. IDE focuses on income-generating technologies for farmers. When it comes down to it, everything is about money. In order to lift oneself up in society and be free from the chains of poverty, one needs more money. While I agree with many of IDE’s philosophies regarding development work, I do not agree with this definition. 

Life is not only about money. And poverty is not only about money. Sure, it plays a role, but focusing on a lack of income as the sole reason for poverty is like crossing a busy street with blinders on both sides of your head. I prefer economist Amartya Sen’s view that poverty is defined by a lack of opportunities, and thus has a much broader scope of contributors. A man in a broken wheelchair on the street corner may have family wealth, but his physical disability is limiting and makes him a social outcast. A rural community may have the most fruitful farmers in the surrounding area, but they have little access to education and health care. A mother may have a profitable job, but it keeps her and her child in front of a smokey fire all day. More money might help these people out of poverty, but so will other things. An appropriately designed wheelchair; community cohesiveness and development; a school; a local health clinic and ambulance; cleaner fuel. Simple income generation does not always lift one out of poverty when so many other barriers to opportunities exist. 

The kids on the street here often come up to me and demand, “Money! Money! Money!” They believe that because I am white, I have money, and if they also have money, then they will be able to lead a good life. Money will free them from poverty. IDE’s incoming-generating technologies go along with this belief of money as the solution. I, however, think I would prefer to focus on opportunity-generating technologies. This type of technology can tackle poverty from a broader perspective, but moreso shows that, contrary to popular belief, money is not the solution to all of life’s problems.

Advertisements