Using an iPhone in downtown New York, or typing at a keyboard in suburban Houston, you’re a long way, physically and emotionally, from the more than one billion people on our planet who live on less than $1.50 each day.
The world’s extreme poor — concentrated largely in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia — are out of sight and out of mind, except for the occasional pang of guilt we feel when glimpsing their lives on TV.
Increasingly though, these barriers are breaking down, and the world’s poor are becoming visible in our lives. Technology is changing the way we interact with people on the other side of the world who, though we may never meet, are impacted every day by our actions.
From the bananas we buy in the supermarkets, to the clothes we pick up at the mall, or the investments that grow our pension funds, the world’s poor are part of the same supply chains and systems as us. Their livelihoods are directly impacted by the decisions we make each day.
They’re using technology that was pioneered in countries like the U.S. to fight poverty themselves. M-Pesa, a mobile money transfer service for people without bank accounts, has more than 17 million customers across sub-Saharan Africa. Ipaidabribe.com has crowd-sourced more than 20,000 reports of officials who demanded bribes in India, and has now expanded to Kenya, Indonesia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
Closer to home charities, campaigners and fundraisers are using technology to create a generation of global citizens, who alongside being American, Cubs fans and New Yorkers, also see themselves as part of the wider world, and people who will stand up and use their money, their networks, and their voices to ensure that we create a world without extreme poverty.
It’s in this vein that we recently launched Global Citizen, a new platform for people here in the U.S. and around the world to learn more about the progress that’s being made in international development and take action to build the movement to end extreme poverty forever. Combining articles, videos and infographics about the issues with actions like signing petitions, sharing to social networks and donating, Global Citizens can earn points for taking action, and, over time, get access to rewards that recognize their contributions.
Since the launch of Global Citizen 42 days ago, it is clear that the issue of global poverty resonates with everyday Americans. More than 70,000 users have signed up to take action and earn tickets to the Global Citizen Festival on September 29. There have been more than 61,000 tweets using the hash-tag #GlobalCitizen in the past three weeks.
For us, Global Citizen is about giving people the opportunity to go on a journey. Fighting extreme poverty is a complex and messy process, and it’s going to take a lot more than just signing a petition to end it. But, when we give people the opportunity to learn about the issues, see how they connect together, navigate their own way to action, and then take it to scale, we have a tool that can and is already starting to shift attitudes and actions.
As one user, Patrick, wrote on our Facebook wall recently, “At first it was really a lot about winning. But after watching these videos it became a lot more than that. It became about awareness and inspiration!” And anther Sharon Singleton wrote “Such an incredible cause and reality is if I hadn’t had the website handed to me, I wouldn’t have done so much research. This has opened my eyes.”
Awareness by itself isn’t much use, but linked into a broader story with clear actions, it’s vital. Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that the American public think that 27 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. In reality, it’s around 1 percent. Public awareness about foreign aid shapes what our politicians say and do, and combined with actions to make our voices heard, it can have a big impact.
By itself technology doesn’t end poverty, but it allows us to create the connections and relationships that together can break down the systems that keep people poor.
Hugh Evans and Simon Ross are the Co-founders of the Global Poverty Project and Executive Producers of the Global Citizen Festival