Why?

Over on his “Dare Mighty Things” blog, tech and social entrepreneur Ryan Allis writes, “As I sit on the 28th floor of a hotel in San Francisco I am angry, yet hopeful. I wonder why in a world with as much wealth as we see, as much luxury that we experience, should 40% of the human species live on under $2 per day?”

Ryan’s uncharacteristically outraged.

Always passionate, there’s a ring of clarity and urgency. This from a guy who, not even 20, founded a successful technology company and today spends alot of time inspiring others. Ryan’s young, smart, successful – he’s supposed to be optimistic about the human species and our capacity to shape the world for the better, right? So what gives?

He goes on to explain:

2.56 billion human beings, people just like you and I, live on under $2 per day. On average, 24,900 children under 5 die each and every day from preventable diseases and starvation. 24,900 children under 5. Check out the sources below. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Ryan closes by asking a simple question: “Why does no one talk about this?”

It is my belief that, more than ever before, people are talking about it. Its one of the hallmarks of our age: talk. On television, on the radio, in newspapers, magazines, across the internet, in our bookstores, and in popular culture we’re talking about ending, eradicating, mitigating, reversing, stamping out, and in other ways looking up to the elimination of extreme poverty.

The conversation is there.

What I believe we need is something more elusive. We need consensus. We need shared agreement that extreme poverty in a world that boasts perhaps a thousand billionaires who control over somewhere close to $4 trillion in assets is an outrage (not an outrage directed personally, but outrage that, from a system perspective, this is an optimal outcome). From outrage we need an impassioned corps of leaders who rethink and reshape the wealth distribution pyramid. These leaders need to define solutions that involve us – the do gooders, the wage earners, the individual donors and the pension fund holders (and dare I say it, the consumers) – and empower us to coordinate, not scatter, our actions to eradicate poverty.

Here’s what I wrote to Ryan in response:

Ryan, thank you for sharing your passion/compassion. I believe you are right, we need more constructive discussion around this topic. I think individuals like Paul Polak over at D-Rev (http://www.d-rev.com) , the UKs Department of foreign and International Development (http://www.developments.org.uk) and many others are trying to popularize the discussion.

The challenge – what I hear in your, “Why isn’t anyone talking about this” outrage – is to bump this work to the level of lifestyle impact and rethinking aid.

Bringing people “out of poverty” is intensely personal work. People like Muhammad Yunus have demonstrated, in my opinion, the need for long term solutions that are managed by a ‘boots on the ground’ presence that really knows its base.

How do people in luxury-intensive societies contribute? Not by Kiva alone. But by making choices that free up choices for others. This is an unpopular position perhaps, because no one thinks of development as a lose-win dynamic. Its supposed to be win-win, right?

Climate change, globalization and returning shareholder “value” as defined by fund managers fundamentally re-write the equation.

The place to begin is outrage perhaps – and then we can translate that into passion in the boardroom.

Thank you for your ongoing leadership. Next time you’re in Boston, I hope you’ll come by and meet the students at Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development (http://web.mit.edu/seid/) – they’re working in exactly that space.

——-Sources——-

1 – 2008 World Development Indicators: Poverty Data Supplement, World Bank

From p. 10: “…the number of people living on less than $2.00 a day has remained nearly constant at 2.5 billion. From Table 3: “People living on less than 2005 PPP $2.00 a day (millions), 2005 – 2.564″

2 – UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2009

From p. 121, Statistical Tables, Table 1 Basic Indicators, Summary Indicators, Developing Countries “Annual Number of Under 5 Deaths (Thousands), 2007 – 9109″ To arrive at 24,956 deaths of children under five per day I took 9,109,000 total deaths per year for children under 5 in developing countries and divided by 365.

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