Do We Really Want to End Poverty?

Do We Really Want to End Poverty?

October 04, 2017

“The reason there will be no change is because the people who stand to lose from change have all the power. And the people who stand to gain from change have none of the power.” -Machiavelli

Do we really want to end worldwide poverty? That sounds like a stupid question, but the more you study the current Global Aid System, the question seems a lot less irrelevant.

The current aid system in general has a tendency to carry a not-so-helpful paradigm. You see the images of “those poor people,” you know, the ones in Africa who are being exploited. I mean, they NEED us, right? Look how “desolate” and “useless” they are. These images have a tendency to lead us to assumptions and when it comes down to it, they give poor people a poor image. Don’t misunderstand, it comes from a good place and a good heart (and raising awareness is important), but that thought process alone eventually leads to paternalism and colonization (and the Savior Complex) if we’re not careful. In the words of writer and retired prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple- ”Compassion is not simply a vehement expression of an opinion. A compassionate person has to consider the practical effect of what he is proposing.” Take TOMS, for instance. They operate on a one for one aid model. Buy one, they give one. While it was innovative within a social entrepreneur context, it still operated within the same broken framework of the global aid system. It was competing with local shoemakers in the towns where they were giving and the deliveries were inconsistent. So it ended up negatively affecting the people it was designed to help. Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, listened to the feedback and ended up moving their factories to those locations in order to provide jobs and mitigate the impact it had made on the economies to whom they were donating to. In contrast, shoe brand Oliberte operates in the trade model explained below:

(images via

This is not to say aid is useless, because it’s not. Aid is important. In times of disaster and emergency, it is vital. With that said, as effective and absolutely necessary as it is, when countries start living permanently on what was intended as a temporary solution, will the poverty cycle ever end? Before the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, there were many rice farmers who played big role in their economy. After the earthquake, the rice donations flooded in from countless NGO’s, non-profits and governmental aids. The issue is, the donations never stopped. Rice flooded their markets and left Haitian rice farmers useless, because who’s going to pay for something when they’re getting it for free? Another example is from a small community in Rwanda. After the Rwandan genocide in 1994, a church in Atlanta decided they were going to donate eggs to a small community. What the church didn’t realize was that there was actually a local egg business that started a few years before and had just started to gain traction. Again though, who’s going to buy when it’s given for free? So it put the local guy out of business. The following year, the same church decided to relocate their efforts elsewhere in the world and left that small community eggless. The initial decision to donate eggs was made with very good intention, but it left a long term negative impact. These are only just a couple of examples. There are countless cases.

I think when it comes to Trade vs. Aid (in a permanent sense), it starts as an issue of mentality. Do we see “those poor people” as exactly that, or do we see them as capable human beings? Are we willing to change the aid game into one where the countries we’re “helping” actually get to win? There’s a concept called a “social fact” termed by French sociologist Émile Durkheim. A social fact is a broad tapestry of norms, assumptions and social and economic institutions that transcend any one individual or organization. As the documentary Poverty, Inc. points out- “At its core, the social fact situates the poor as “the other,” as objects of charity. Rather than as the subjects, the active protagonists, in their own story of development.” Trade allows them to be that protagonist. That doesn’t mean we stop helping. It just means maybe we should reconsider the way we help. As it’s said “don’t just give a man a fish, give a man a rod and teach him how to fish.”


House of Hope - if you’re local to Florence, this is a great organization truly helping those in poverty. They have a special benefit movie screening you can check out at Swamp Fox on October 18th for $15.

Poverty, Inc. documentary - This is a game changer. If you haven’t seen it, it will change the way you think about aid, trade and poverty.

100KJobsHaiti.Org - This website encourages a trade way to help Haiti. It also gives a list of some local Haitian businesses that you can purchase from for mission trips instead of bringing donations. That way you’re contributing to their economy instead of directly competing.

ApparentProject.Org - An organization in Haiti effectively contributing and aiding in poverty relief. Offers great insight into what effective relief looks like. - Their business model is a great example. And this interview they did with GOOD gives more insight to the Trade vs. Aid models.


By Hayley Childress

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