Breakout

Fighting poverty: We've been doing it all wrong

Breakout

According to the UN’s Millennium Project close to half the planet lives on less than $2 dollars a day. Here at home more than 46 million people (or about 15% of the U.S. population) live below the poverty line.

For generations kind hearts and well-meaning groups have thrown money at the problem. It turns out we may have been doing it all wrong.

Father Robert Sirico is the founder of the Acton Institute, a group that, among other things, marries ideas of capitalism with religion. One of the institutes key projects is PovertyCure, “an international coalition of organizations and individuals committed to entrepreneurial solutions to poverty that challenge the status quo and champion the creative potential of the human person.” In short, Fr. Sirico and his group are trying to change the way we battle poverty. “What is better for people in developing countries? Is it trade or is it aide,” Sirico asks. “Right now the paradigm is heavy on giving money to governments that give money to organizations...and this has failed so many times, it empowers the wrong people.” So instead the Acton Institute and PovertyCure work to empower entrepreneurs in poor areas to help grow local economies and provide jobs. “It’s not really aid that we need,” he says, “what we need is markets that are open and just trade with people.”

PovertyCure documents a lot of these stories, producing short films to highlight their work and the needs of those they work with. “You see people in Haiti who need rice,” Sirico says by way of example. “So you ship all of this rice down there. We bring the cameras in and talk to people who have lived through that and say ‘you know we ran rice farms and now we can’t run them anymore because we can’t compete against USAid money that’s coming in.’”

Big business and free markets are often vilified for failing to help fight poverty but Sirico’s group would rather focus on what makes them valuable to the cause. “It’s not a failure of the market, it’s the failure of governments intervening into the market and inhibiting the market to do what it can do...We need to drop our prejudices about business to see business as having a positive effect."

Instead of criticizing and playing politics Sirico would rather educate those in need to the true advantages of the marketplace. Who knows, it could even help those that already use it effectively for, as he points out, Mother Teresa said “the rich can save the poor and the poor can save the rich.”

Interested in helping out? Check out PovertyCure here.

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