The Make Poverty History Campaign- Did It Create a Generation of Global Citizens?

You may remember the Make Poverty History campaign largely as a result of the iconic white band, a representation of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty.

This month saw the 10 year anniversary of the mass campaign against extreme poverty, which called for urgent action to deliver more and better aid, debt cancellation and trade justice. One of the main motivating factors behind the campaign was the widening economic gap between the world’s rich and the poor. According to the campaign manifesto, “Its man-made factors like a glaringly unjust global trade system, a debt burden so great that it suffocates any chance of recovery and insufficient and ineffective aid.”

This campaign was driven by people power and became a pivotal campaign for those of us who were children or teenagers in the UK at the time it started. Now, after 10 years and halfway to 2030, the year by which the aim is to eradicate extreme poverty, Lorraine Patch explores to what extent the campaign has played a role in creating a generation of global citizens by engaging students in UK schools.

Outcomes and People Power

Progress in general has been slow, it was after all only in March this year that it was confirmed UK would meet its 40 year old promise to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid. However, this progress does still reflect the impact of this particular campaign and the influence it had over decision makers. It is arguably the best example of a long running campaign which has stood the test of time.

This worldwide support, driven by people power put pressure on G8 leaders to take action at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005. G8 leaders responded by committing to cancel debts owed to the World Bank, IMF, and African Development Bank and to increase annual aid to poor countries by US$50 billion by 2010.

The Make Poverty History campaign demonstrated that people can, in certain situations, play an instrumental role in influencing leaders to demand action on extreme poverty.

A Campaign for the Future

One of the unique features was that it was directed at, and for, for young people. As well as the main campaign, 2005 also saw a surge in affiliated campaigns all relating to the aim of making poverty history.

Schools around the country engaged with campaigns which were helping to raise awareness of poverty. One of these campaigns was Send My Friend to School, with 7,000 schools in the UK taking part. Five million hand made ‘buddies’, each representing one of the 100 million children out of school were sent to world leaders. At such a pivotal age for those engaging in the campaign, arguably this influence and awareness that these campaigns contributed to may have been instrumental in increasing international awareness about the challenges danced by those in extreme poverty, and the number of ‘global citizens’ amongst young adults today.

As well as influencing those who were to be the future policy makers and agenda-setters in the task of ending extreme poverty, the campaign was also a fantastic example of collaboration; encompassing some of the world’s biggest NGOs working together, much like the trend set by the Millennium Development Goals.

©Make Poverty History Australia/Creative Commons License

©Make Poverty History Australia/Creative Commons License

Are we on track to Make Poverty History?

In a pivotal year where Sustainable Development Goals are set to be discussed and new targets to be set, the ten year anniversary of the campaign and its progress is a good indicator of where progress is lacking.

Although the UK has pledged to raise its aid level, this has not been the case across the European Union, and the target to double aid has not been met. In the EU it has increased by 48% which works out at just 0.41% of their collective national income.  This is a long way from the agreed target of 0.7% of national income and would need to go up another 52% to meet their promise.

On the other hand, progress concerning the eradication of diseases such as Malaria and Polio have been far more positive. In fact, Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988. With the next generation of decision makers within international development having grown up with this campaign, and its impact in schools in the UK, it is likely that Make Poverty History will long have an influence in the fight against poverty.

The extent to which education in schools can impact the interest in international development was discussed in a report carried out at the Institute of Education University of London, Development Education Research Centre. The report discussed focus-group research carried out on behalf of the International Broadcasting Trust (IBT), concluding “young people felt that school played a key role in contributing to their knowledge of development issues, both from a curriculum and broader ‘community focused’ perspective.” The report also cited the period of 1997 to 2010 as a particularly important time for raising awareness of development and global issues in schools. The report suggests this progress used “curriculum changes, resources and educational agendas, which together can be seen as a move towards a more enabling environment for the development of a broader global dimension in schools and teaching and learning about a range of global issues.”

Young people were part of a pivotal generation in terms of global awareness, and bringing extreme poverty to an end is our generations’ biggest challenge. Although still a long way to go to meet some of the targets set out to defeat poverty, reflecting on campaigns such as Make Poverty History only 10 years on definitely indicates hope for the future.


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

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