extreme poverty

No Poverty, Sustainable Development Goal 1

Sustainable Development Goal 1 is to end poverty in all its forms, everywhere.

Disrupt Poverty from Tony Loyd on Vimeo.

On the podcast Social Entrepreneur, you meet changemakers who are ending poverty in all its forms, everywhere. These social entrepreneurs are facing difficult circumstances. And yet, they’re having a massive impact. In January, we will be highlighting some of these changemakers.

To set the context, here are a few facts about poverty:

  • The international poverty line is defined at $1.90 or less per person per day.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia account for about 80% of the extremely poor.
  • Poverty is relative to one’s context. Because the cost of living is different from country to country, the line below which a person is considered poor can vary. For example, in the US, the Federal Poverty Line for a single person is $11,770/year or a little more than $32/day.
  • We have made progress towards eliminating poverty. From 2002 to 2012, the proportion of the world’s population living below the poverty line dropped by half, from 26% to 13%. That is good news. But keep in mind that, with the world population at more than 7.3 billion, and if 13% are still living in extreme poverty, that’s more than 950 million people.
  • Millions of the poor have jobs, own businesses or are smallholder farmers. And yet, they are the “working poor.” Young people are especially likely to be among the working poor: 16% of all employed youth aged 15 to 24 are working poor, compared to 9% of adults.
  • Children are most at risk from the effects of extreme poverty. Globally, 18,000 children die each day from poverty-related causes.

Numbers like these can be overwhelming, can’t they? How do you keep your heart and mind open when considering the death, today, of 18,000 children? It can be tempting to avoid thinking about extreme poverty.

January Focus: No Poverty

In January, you’ll meet social entrepreneurs who are working to end poverty in all its forms, everywhere, starting with Gayathri Vasudevan of LabourNet. LabourNet is a social enterprise that enables sustainable livelihoods by bridging the gap between education, employment and entrepreneurship. They work primarily in India with informal sector workers. LabourNet is the largest social enterprise working in the vocational space in India. The challenge, as Gayathri sees it, is that “There are a lot of people in India who do not complete education.” This keeps many stuck in poverty.  “Most people get a job, but are underemployed,” Gayathri explains. You’ll hear Gayathri on Episode 146 of Social Entrepreneur.

Also in January, you’ll hear Okocha Nkem of Mamamoni. Mamamoni empowers poor women with free vocational skills training and mobile loans.

You’ll meet Kwami Williams of MoringaConnect who aims to serve the 120 million smallholder farmers of Africa who live on uncultivated land and earn less than two dollars per day.

Sara Leedom of African Entrepreneur Collective will be here. African Entrepreneur Collective works in Rwanda and Tanzania. They identify young entrepreneurs and give them the tools and resources needed to grow their businesses. In doing so, they create jobs for young people across the continent.

In January, you’ll also meet Ken Oloo of Filamujuani. Filamujuani provides earned income opportunities to young people in the Nairobi slums by teaching them how to use video and photography to change their own stories.

Finally, on February 1, Thane Kreiner will stop by to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship accelerates the growth of social enterprises who serve the poor and protect the planet.

More Social Entrepreneurs who are Working to End Poverty

All the way back in Episode 9 of Social Entrepreneur, we met David Gluckman of Lumkani. Lumkani manufactures low-cost fire detectors for the urban poor, starting in the urban slums of South Africa. Once a fire starts in one informal home, it quickly spreads, wiping out the meager belongings of the urban poor. Fires in these communities displace tens of thousands of residents each year, further trapping them in a cycle of poverty. Lumkani’s device alarms in a home. If the fire is not put out, the device sends a radio signal to all the other homes within 40 meters. It also sends a text message to the home owner. This allows residents to react quickly, preventing the spread of fire.

You might also recall the conversation with Ana Pantelic of Fundación Capital. Fundación Capital is working in 14 countries across Latin America and Africa. Fundación Capital is an international organization working to expand inclusion, partnering and innovating to help millions of families define their own paths out of poverty. By using participatory design, the team at Fundación Capital learned about financial inequality. Yes, the poor need financial inclusion, but the needs do not stop there. The team realized that, once the poor have access to banking services, barriers remain. Therefore, Fundación Capital’s services go far beyond mere banking services. They provide the tools and training that allows the poor to lift themselves out of poverty.

You might also recall our conversation with Kathleen Colson of The BOMA Project. The BOMA Project helps women in the arid regions of Africa, primarily Northern Kenya, set up small businesses. This lifts them and their families out of extreme poverty. The BOMA Projects’ flagship program is called Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP). REAP helps women to graduate from extreme poverty through for-profit entrepreneurship. Instead of giving women aid, they give them opportunity. BOMA measures the progress of these women to see if they have graduated from extreme poverty. So far, they are averaging a 94% success rate.

You can see a list of other social entrepreneurs who are taking on extreme poverty here.

Looking Ahead

For the next several months, you’ll meet social entrepreneurs who are achieving other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

No Poverty, Sustainable Development Goal 1

130, Kathleen Colson, The BOMA Project | Poverty Graduation through For-Profit Entrepreneurship

Kathleen Colson is using a poverty graduation process to end extreme poverty in the face of climate change.

Over 40% of the African continent is arid land. The people who live in these regions are particularly susceptible to changes in the climate. They depend solely on livestock for their nutrition and livelihood. With climate change, sustained, severe droughts are becoming more common.

Kathleen Colson attended St. Lawrence University as a scholarship student. Her scholarship allowed her to participate in the Kenya Semester Program at the University of Nairobi. That experience deeply impacted Kathleen. After graduating, she tried working in the corporate world, but Africa kept calling to her. She returned to Africa where she started a safari company, primarily touring in East Africa. She also worked with African refugee groups in London.

She told me, “The catalyst for what I’m doing now happened in 2005 when I was invited by a friend to visit Northern Kenya, in the midst of a terrible drought. Being witness to that suffering, and seeing the impacts of a drought where 95% of the livestock are dead, the only solution is food aid, tremendous suffering and the disease that comes with it, was the catalyst that said, we’ve got to come up with better solutions.”

Before she started offering solutions, Kathleen spent two years driving around the region in long, extended visits. She listened to the women and the elders of the region to hear about their problems and the potential solutions. She tried several solutions, some of which she described as “spectacular failures.” For example, she started a livestock program and, after another severe drought, all of the livestock died.

After several failed attempts that did not have the kind of long-term impact she was hoping to have, she had an insightful conversation with an elder. He told her, “We’re spending all of this money…to send children to school, but then they’re back in the village, because there’s no jobs.”

Kathleen described her journey this way “The first part, when I was all about moral outrage, I was witness to a problem and couldn’t believe there weren’t better solutions.” Next, she “went into a place where I had to find the moral courage to tackle that problem when everyone else said it cannot be solved.” She invites others to share with her the “moral imagination to believe that we can end extreme poverty in my lifetime.” And finally, because the world is filled with hard problems that need to be solved, she believes that entrepreneurs need find “a strong moral compass” to constantly remind them of the one big problem that they are out to solve.

The BOMA Project helps women set up small businesses. This lifts them and their families out of extreme poverty. The BOMA Projects’ flagship program is called Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP). REAP helps women to graduate from extreme poverty through for-profit entrepreneurship. Instead of giving women aid, they give them opportunity. They begin by targeting the most vulnerable women. They give these women a cash grant that they use to start a business with two other women. BOMA provides training and a local business mentor to help them to develop their business ideas. BOMA also introduces a savings program. BOMA provides ongoing training and support around topics such as family planning. At the two-year mark, BOMA measures the progress of these women to see if they have graduated from extreme poverty. So far, they are averaging a 94% success rate.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Kathleen Colson

“Women and children are the ones who suffer the most when there are droughts”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We’re helping women start a small business and accumulate savings.’ Kathleen Colson, @BOMAProject”]

“We have seven criteria in four different areas and right now we’re graduating 94% of the women out of extreme poverty.”

“For many of these very rural, semi-nomadic villages, there’s never been any businesses before.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We want this whole thing to be self-directed.’ Kathleen Colson, @BOMAProject“]

“I got to fly on a plane for the first time, and that flight was to Africa.”

“I was fortunate to have original, founding board members that let me try a lot of things.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Ending poverty is about when somebody can earn an income.’ Kathleen Colson, @BOMAProject“]

“Digging wells and building schools are really good things, but they don’t end poverty.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘You take it back to the local people and ask them what they think. Kathleen Colson, @BOMAProject“]

“We’re working with seven different ethnic groups, five different languages.”

“The translation of ‘what is a good idea’ to ‘what is effective’ happens on the ground.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I think it takes a tremendous amount of grit and determination.’ Kathleen Colson, @BOMAProject“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘You have to be optimistic in the face of a lot of obstacles.’ Kathleen Colson, @BOMAProject“]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

032, Liz Forkin Bohannon, Sseko Designs | Fashion that Educates Young Women

Liz Forkin Bohannon, Sseko Designs

Liz Forkin Bohannon, Sseko Designs

Liz Forkin Bohannon grew up in the Midwest. She attended the University of Missouri and studied journalism. There, she began to develop a passion for supporting women and girls living in extreme poverty, especially those living in conflict and post-conflict zones. After graduation, she worked for a couple of months in a large communications firm. One day, while working in a cubicle, she made a decision that would change the course of her life. She purchased a one-way ticket to Uganda.

Once in Uganda, here’s what she found. There is a 9-month gap between high school and university. Because Uganda is a cash-based economy, it is expected that the student will go to their village, find meaningful employment, and save the money for college. Unfortunately, there are not always jobs to be found. This is especially true for young women. So, many women do not advance beyond high school.

After trying a few other ideas (even a chicken farm!), Liz remembered a pair of funky sandals she had cobbled together as a college student. Though, at the time she was not a fan of fashion, Liz tried an experiment. She started a company that made sandals in Uganda.

Until now, Uganda has not been known for footwear, so Liz had to invent everything from the ground up, literally. Her first factory was a patch of grass with foot-pumped sewing machines. She also had to build the market to buy the sandals.

Today, Sseko Designs is an ethical fashion brand that is based in east Africa making much more than sandals. They use fashion and design to provide economic and educational opportunities to women and girls.

Key quotes from the interview:

“I realized, growing up in middle class, Midwestern America, I didn’t have a ton of experience of working with women living in extreme poverty or in conflict zones. So I bought a one-way plane ticket to Uganda.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”When I went to school, ‘social enterprise’ was not a thing. @lizbohannon”]

“I knew that I was a mission-driven kind of person and if I was going to give my life to something, it needed to be something that I could stand back and say that I am actively participating in building the world that I want to live in.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”You can imagine, there were people in my life who did not think that was the most prudent decision. @lizbohannon”]

“My first thought, being a white, pretty well resourced American, in Africa for the first time, was, like, no-brainer! We’re going to start a charity.”

“One of the biggest benefits I had was, I didn’t go to Uganda to start anything. I went to Uganda to be a journalist.”

“When I was in college, I had no interest in fashion.”

“I thought that if you were into fashion, that very distinctly meant in my college brain that you were either shallow or materialistic and so I was not interested in you or what you cared about…which makes me a huge brat. Now my whole life is eating humble pie.”

“We recognized really quickly that I can sell a certain number of sandals based on the story..but if I really want Sseko to be scalable and sustainable, and more than a glorified charity that happens to have a product attached to it, that I had to start thinking about this as I would if there were no story attached.”

“I see way too many social entrepreneurs rely far too heavily on their impact, instead of their product and instead of their brand.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”Last year, the president of Uganda showed up at our workshop. @lizbohannon”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”Poverty is complex…and sometimes that does not translate into a great marketing message. @lizbohannon”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”I’ve become increasingly aware of how toxic the concept of the silver bullet is. @lizbohannon”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”We’re looking for 3,000 women who want to be the CEO of Sseko in their community. @lizbohannon”]


032, Liz Forkin Bohannon, Sseko Designs | Fashion that Educates Young Women

024, Tanyella Evans, Library For All | Feeding Great Minds in Low-Income Countries

Tanyella Evans grew up in the highlands of Scotland, which she describes as “the middle of nowhere.” At age 16 she received a scholarship to study at a United World College in Vancouver, BC, Canada. There she learned alongside two hundred students from eighty eight countries. At age 17, the United World College sponsored her on a one-year trip to Uganda as a volunteer teacher. There she saw the difference that an education can make to an eager mind.

Globally, five of the six billion mobile phone subscribers live in the developing world. At the same time, 250 million children cannot read and write. Library for All is building a digital library to take advantage of mobile devices in order to overcome global illiteracy. They are currently working in Haiti, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cambodia.

Tanyella’s story is a story of serendipity, but also putting yourself in a serendipity-rich environment. It’s about community, but it’s also about building the community. It’s about moving developing countries along the path of development, but using technology to speed change while making the changes sustainable over time.


Also Mentioned in this Episode:

024, Tanyella Evans, Library For All | Feeding Great Minds in Low-Income Countries