Whether it’s in the United States or the developing world, the war on poverty is not an easy battle. What war is? Fighting poverty means more than occasionally sending money and food to the impoverished. Those are temporary, if necessary, measures that only address the symptoms, not the causes.
Fighting poverty means educating and empowering people. Increasingly, entrepreneurs have taken center stage in the fight to improve the conditions of not only individuals, but entire communities. Here’s why it works.
Entrepreneurship Inspires Creative Solutions
According to Syga Thomas, founder of the Thomas Foundation, transformative change comes by providing individuals with leadership tools through education, the arts and health initiatives. By empowering individuals to think about and act on solutions to problems within their own communities, true change begins.
International organizations, such as the Thomas Foundation, support those who demonstrate inventiveness and a passion for change but lack a support system. When the lack of financial backing and resources breaks down, entrepreneurs have the power to improve not only their own lives, but the lives of others in the region and beyond.
One Woman’s Journey: From Poverty to Business Owner
Mary Ogwang, her husband and 11 children lived in a one room house in Kampala, Uganda. Mary’s husband was a police officer with a steady income, but $2 a day doesn’t go far, even in Uganda.
Mary’s life changed dramatically the day she heard about BeadforLife, a nonprofit organization that trains women to make beads and earn an income. Through her hard work, Mary earned enough to purchase a sewing machine and her road out of poverty truly began.
Mary used her sewing skills to make and sell children’s sweaters to those in her community. She earned enough money to build a new home for the family with a separate bedroom for herself and her husband.
Her story doesn’t end there. Mary now runs a second business powering mobile phones with solar panels. Mary Ogwang is an example of what happens when people are given the resources they need to succeed.
Meeting the Challenges Head On
When it comes to empowering those in poverty, the challenges are numerous and often unexpected. A certified Fair Trade social enterprise in Haiti, Caribbean Craft, employs artists to create beautiful papier-mâché pieces out of recycled material. A surprising development occurred after the first payroll.
Founder Magalie Dresse discovered employees could not be paid through the usual method of direct deposit because no one on the staff had a bank account. Even more surprising was the reason no one had a bank account — none of the employees could read.
Dresse decided to invest in her workers and improve their lives. She and her partners went to work to develop training programs that allowed employees to earn money working as they learned to read and further develop their artistic skills.
Dresse not only improved the lives of her staff, their families and the community in which she operates, but Caribbean Craft has increased productivity, efficiency and capacity.
Is entrepreneurship the cure for poverty? No. Education, the removal of financial barriers, increasing resources and building community are multi-faceted solutions to a multi-faceted problem. But, entrepreneurship can be one of the key strategies to fighting the war.