End poverty? It’s not as pie-in-the-sky as you may think

There are proven ways to end poverty. We just have to give people a chance.

Five years ago, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, set a goal to end extreme poverty around the world by 2030. You may be thinking that’s nice, but not doable. But maybe it is possible.

I’m not saying that it will happen, but that it is within the world’s power to make it happen. The number of people living in extreme poverty, for instance, is half what it was in 1990. It’s certainly within the power of this country to give most of our citizens a reasonable shot at a secure life.

We are going to have the poor with us always, unless we start seeing poverty as a result of societal, economic and policy choices that support inequality. If we changed how we see poverty, those of us who aren’t poor might move on from either feeling sorry for people in poverty, or blaming them entirely for their circumstance.

We’d be more effective at solving a problem whose impact is always present.

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What’s on the agenda this election season in fast-growing, wealthy Seattle? Homelessness, income inequality, unequal opportunities for education, housing affordability.

Yes, some people will make poor choices. Yes, some people lack initiative. But those individual failings don’t explain poverty or growing inequality on a large scale.

Give people a chance to improve their circumstances and most will do just that.

I was inspired by a presentation I attended in July about poverty that included a discussion of BRAC, a Bangladesh-based organization that fights poverty in several countries. BRAC was founded by Sir Fazle Abed, who achieved success by breaking many of the rules established by governments and by older nonprofit organizations. Kim and Abed spoke together at the annual conference of the anti-poverty group RESULTS in Washington, D.C., in July.

BRAC started in the early 1970s working with the poorest of villagers and using trial and error to find what helped them improve their lives.

The organization targeted women, believing they’d do the most for their families. It gave them money, or sometimes a cow or other investment to help them start producing income. It also gave them a small stipend so they could meet their basic needs while they developed a business.

It added some training to the mix. Later, it saw how families were set back by illness. Many were set back by…

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