When you look at complex societal issues like poverty, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing we can do to put an end to poverty on a meaningful scale. However, in reality, we are already halfway there, and I mean that quite literally. In 2002, the United Nations launched the Millennium Campaign, and set the Millennium Development Goals in several key areas, including poverty. Since then, the target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half has been met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. Bill Gates (with the help of Bill Nye and presumably some other people who are probably not all named Bill) gave a pretty good explanation of how foreign aid has had a tremendous impact on global poverty, and has the potential to do even more good. Now, how can we amplify this effect and reduce the income inequality that is plaguing our own country and others around the world? Here’s a step-by-step for people looking to have an impact:
1. Look at your own resources. You don’t have to be a billionaire to have a meaningful impact toward ending poverty – there are lots of different ways that you can give back, and you can use your own resources in all different combinations. Do you have a large social media network? Do you have some free time in which you can volunteer? Do you have a few bucks to spare? Figuring out what resources you can leverage is the first step.
2. Choose an angle. There are three primary ways that organizations tend to tackle poverty issues: a) helping people meet their basic needs for survival (ie. access to food, health care, etc.), b) support programs that improve economic mobility (such as education and job training), and c) advocating on behalf of people in need (usually to create systemic changes in areas such as government policy). Most organizations fighting poverty concentrate in one of these key areas, while some are even more specific. Also, some of these directions are more politicized that others, so take a careful look at how these align with your personal views.
3. Do your research. Once you have a good sense of your own resources and how you’d like to get involved, find other people and organizations you’d like to get involved with. Are you interested in volunteering to provide food for people in need? Search for soup kitchens in your neighborhood and see who is advertising for volunteers, or just reach out! Do you have a few hours a week free after school, and a desire to mentor or tutor children in low-income families? Whatever your angle, there are likely a lot of organizations in your community looking for precisely that. One key thing to look for when you’re deciding what organizations or groups to get involved with is to take a look at the impact that they are having. Most nonprofits will (and should) publish information about the number of people who are helped by the work that they do, what types of services they have provided, and the measurable results. If you’re concerned about a charity’s financial management, their financial documents should be publicly available on guidestar.org, or you can look them up on give.org (run by the Better Business Bureau). Do not fall prey to the Overhead Myth – the false conception that financial ratios should be the sole measure of nonprofit performance.
4. Take action! Now that you have a good understanding of the issue of poverty and how you would like to be a part of the solution, it’s time to make it happen! Reach out and/or donate to organizations in your community that you feel are making a difference, and don’t be afraid to use multiple approaches. Making a small donation has a meaningful impact, and that impact can be amplified when you are helping to spread the word about the organization in your community and on social media. If you had a good experience volunteering with an organization, don’t forget to tell your friends.