Global Poverty: What can we do?

Kris Gulati (@krisgulati) discusses one way to help reduce Global Poverty.

Global Poverty is a massive issue. Nearly half of the world’s population – in excess of 3 billion people – lives on less than $2.50 a day. Many deaths occur from preventable diseases, such as diarrhoea, which take the lives of approximately 2 million people a year. These statistics often compel people to try and make a change. However, it often feels as if the issue is so large it is hard to know where to begin.

People often ponder upon questions such as: How can I give back? What are the best ways of giving back? If I do give, what’s the best way to give to charity?

There is a way to help. Before explaining it, it is useful to ponder upon a compelling thought-experiment that Peter Singer (a fascinating moral philosopher) devised:

Imagine you are walking to university. Your walk generally involves you strolling past a shallow pond. One morning, you see a child fall in the pond and they’re drowning. If you help, you will save the child’s life. However, you will also get late to university and your clothes and (expensive) shoes will also become dirty and ruined.

What do you do?

Once I tell this thought-experiment to most people, they question why you are even asking this question. Of course everyone believes that it they have a moral imperative to intervene to save the child’s life. Getting your clothes wet is no reason to let someone die.

The next question. Does it make a difference that other people can also save the child but they’re just walking past?

Once again most people react the same. Of course not, we should still intervene despite other people’s inaction.

Now add some uncertainty to the picture. You still know that by attempting to help, you will not come to any harm, however you don’t know for certain your action will save the drowning child.

Again, the reaction is generally one of consensus. Everyone generally agrees that this shouldn’t make a difference.

So how then is it any different for children living in other countries? Just because we don’t see the child, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are millions of ‘drowning children’ in the world today.

Let’s revisit the statistics. Approximately 5.9 million children died under the age of 5 in 2015, and more than half of these deaths are preventable diseases, which could be treated with simple and cheap interventions. So how then are children in the developing world any different to those in our hypothetical example?

Rebecca Jackson / Creative Commons License

Rebecca Jackson / Creative Commons License


Many contest that it is not as easy as just giving. I agree the debate isn’t as simple as this. There are many factors that I have neglected to include, such as effectiveness of aid, aid-dependency, long-term effectiveness etc.

However, recent research has been conducted to find charities that are the most efficient in terms of per-dollar lives saved. If that is still not compelling, new evidence conducted by the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers published their report late last year. It highlights the effectiveness of simply giving cash directly to those in need.

This is why I advocate taking “The Pledge”. The pledge is underpinned by something I have touched on before when I reviewed “More than Good intentions”. This is the fact that when we give money we should demand the utmost value for money. With limited resources, we need to know that the money we are giving is efficiently and effectively used. Yes not everything can be quantified, but “Giving What We Can” tries to allocate its resources to charities that they believe have a proven and large impact.

Many people commit to a 10% pledge, which seems a lot at first but is possible. An often neglected Economist Thorstein Veblen, produced a fascinating book “The Theory of the Leisure Class” [(1899) free PDF available here]. One of the key concepts is the idea of conspicuous consumption. That is we convey power and authority by brandishing clothes, jewellery, and fast cars. Indeed, this is not to say that these aren’t valid aspirations. However, cuts can be made in expenditure in order to save lives. Many of our consumption bundles can be changed, in order to help those in the developing world.

Taking the pledge has a number of advantages:

  • It helps you stay committed. It may seem like a lot initially but eventually it will get easier.
  • You are in a community where you can share tips and advice.
  • You join a community. Research suggests that this may encourage others to join also.

Perhaps even for those who are especially keen may wish to devote their careers to one in international development. In which case a recent book by Maia Gedde (2015) “Working in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance: A Career Guide” is especially useful, and shows that people from a wide variety of backgrounds and skills can pursue a fulfilling career in International Development.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.