What is Poverty?

What is Poverty?

Written By

Rahel Kassahun, Ph.D.

Why are some countries rich while others are poor? What are the critical factors that determine how well we live our lives? For those of us who are interested in development issues and ways to alleviate poverty, it is important that we continually explore and work to develop a deeper understanding of these issues.

The standard method used to identify poverty is based on income or consumption levels. A person or household is considered to be poor if their consumption or income level falls below a certain level necessary to meet their basic needs. Thinking about poverty simply in terms of levels of income and/or consumption, however, gives us only a limited understanding of a very complex issue. In order to address poverty and human suffering effectively, we need to delve deeper and examine the root causes and various manifestations of poverty.

In "Ideas, Not Money, Alleviate Poverty," Philip Emeagwali asserts that poverty is, rather than an absence of money, an absence of knowledge and ideas. He argues that, "the potential for progress and poverty alleviation in Africa relies on capital generated from the power within our minds." Emeagwali reminds us that, in order to alleviate poverty, Africans must develop their creative and intellectual abilities to increase the value of raw materials exported to the rest of the world and compete in the global market. As he puts it, "Africa needs innovators, producers of knowledge, and wise men and women who can discover, propose, and then implement progressive ideas."

As Mr. Emeagwali notes, knowledge and innovation are major drivers of economic growth, and with its substantial educated workforce and entrepreneurs both in the continent as well as in the Diaspora, Africa has the capacity to produce for the global market and compete with China, India, and the rest of the world. A major problem, however, is the restrictive investment climate in Africa, including inadequate infrastructure for transport, power, telecommunication and Internet; high tax rates; and trade and customs regulations. Of all the impediments to investment, however, corruption is the most serious problem.

Corruption stems from an "I’m going to get mine" mentality that is trapped in a belief system of limits. In the January 2006 issue of Forbes Magazine, Rich Karlgaard writes about the world’s worst disease and states "it is not cancer or AIDS or avian flu; it's a monstrously flawed idea," that is based on the belief that "wealth is a zero-sum distribution game." It is this erroneous and very prevalent view of the world, where one person's gain is seen as another’s loss that hinders growth and development.

In "Physical Poverty vs. Spiritual Poverty: Lifting the Veil of Ignorance," Dr. Michael Beckwith points out to us that greed and corruption are symptoms of spiritual poverty and a lack of awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence on one another. He says, "We can, as a global family, end poverty by a shift in consciousness that recognizes that we are indeed one community." This idea of oneness that he promotes becomes clearer to us when we realize that, at the most fundamental level, we are energy beings living in a universe of energy and, since energy is not divisible, we are all connected to the One Life. Therefore, what we do for each other or to one another has a real impact on the wellbeing of the collective. As Dr. Beckwith emphasizes, "What it takes [to end poverty] is for egocentric points of view by nations and individuals to give way to world-centric points of view, to a more expanded mind-set beyond 'me and mine.'"

When individuals, leaders as well as ordinary citizens, break out of a zero-sum view of the world and realize that we, human beings, have infinite potential to be creative and build wealth, we will support one another in our efforts to innovate, start businesses, establish organizations, etc. and ultimately break the cycle of poverty one person at a time. More aid is not the answer; the eradication of poverty is an internal process that each one of us must engage in. It has to do with our view of the world and what we believe about our selves and the universe that we live. Borrowing a tag-line of Citibank's, I say may we 'live richly'!

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Latest Comments

Ajayi Olutayo

Ajayi Olutayo

11. October, 2012 |

People like you are needed on this continent to take us to where we should be. Keep it up man!

Marcus Edibogi Akor

Marcus Edibogi Akor

11. October, 2012 |

Thanks for this powerful article. I am very glad I read it. Keep up your great work and remain Blessed Law!

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