End Poverty by 2030, But Who Are We Leaving Behind?

03/19/2013 12:30 EDT | Updated 05/19/2013 05:12 EDT
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School pupils attend a class in a school of the poor Southern Madagascar region of Androy, where children receive lunch through a World Food Program (WFP) program, on December 17, 2012. WFP targets to offer lunch to about 215,000 children, in 1138 schools, all in the South of Madagascar. This consists especially of corn based food, and it costs about 50 USD per child for the whole school year. Over 4 million children are enrolled in primary school, according to UN data from the school year 2010/2011. About 500,000 children had abandoned school in Madagascar in the period 2008-2012 due to degradation of the school system performance. AFP PHOTO / ANDREEA CAMPEANU (Photo credit should read ANDREEA CAMPEANU/AFP/Getty Images)

In recent weeks, we have heard statements from leaders on the international stage that we are on the path to eradicating absolute poverty in the next two decades.

Leaders like President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union address; Bono, singer/musician/activist during a recent speech at TED2013; and the European Commission in its report A Decent Life for All, have made statements that the end of absolute poverty can be achieved by 2030.

According to the World Bank, the number of people living below the poverty line, or less than $1.25 a day (2005 prices), fell to half from 43 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2008. In looking at these numbers, we see not only impressive progress but also the realization of one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Across Asia, Africa and the Americas these falling poverty numbers are a result of unprecedented economic growth in many countries.

It is an incredible thing for the world as we know it, if we are really less than 20 years away from lifting more than a billion more people out of a life of poverty and despair.

As we celebrate the last 20 years of progress, we need to also look behind the numbers at who has benefitted and who has been left behind, so we can correct this during the next 20 years. Poverty measures have become a more complex basket of indicators for countries. A measure of absolute poverty can mask what is happening on the ground. And if we take out India and China, these global numbers may not look as promising.

More than 70 per cent of the world's poor now live in "Middle Income Countries," or MICs as the economists refer to them. Side by side with smart, urban capital cities, with all the elements of comfort and convenience we are accustomed to, are burgeoning slums where food and security are priorities and rural areas where infrastructure and schools are distant dreams. If we only look at the national indicators like GNP or global numbers on poverty, we get a skewed view of what is really happening in a country.

So, who are we leaving behind?

We know that women are being left behind. Globally, women represent 70 per cent of the world's poor, are paid less than men for their work, and suffer brutal and persistent discrimination on a daily basis. Here in Canada, women continue to suffer domestic violence, physical assault and gender discrimination - 67 per cent of Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.

Indigenous people, who make up 5 per cent of the world's population, are also not counted in these progressive numbers. And neither are young people; with more than 75 million youth worldwide looking for work, this group isn't experiencing forward movement either.

While there are other groups, the most important point is that these are all large numbers with straightforward solutions.


Youth in Sierra Leone meet regularly at a Plan-supported Village Savings and Loans Association to learn and develop skills in financial literacy. // Photo: Plan Canada

In West Africa, specifically Niger, Sierra Leone, and Senegal, we've been working together with the MasterCard Foundation on a youth economic empowerment project that is providing financial education and training to more than 70,000 young people in these countries. The outcomes are looking very promising and scaling these programs is on the horizon.

Around the world, we are advocating for and demonstrating through successful programming, that the right of every child to a quality education will accelerate national growth numbers at an unprecedented rate. We are also targeting the 66 million girls who are currently receiving no education at all and who have few prospects this will change.

Finally, with 1.3 billion young people, between the ages of 15 and 24, entering the global employment market in the next 10 years, and with only 300 million new jobs expected to be created, these numbers on poverty could quickly reverse. All the more reason we must continue to support smart economic and social policy, which will enable this youth bulge to participate in building their country's wealth and stability.

I'd prefer we wait to 2030 to really celebrate how much we did to close the gap and assure that these numbers reflect all countries and the people in them - and that no one gets left behind.

Child Poverty Around The World