Solutions for BlindnessThere is a strong correlation between blindness and global poverty and people living with both have faced even more challenges than usual amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why one Harvard graduate chose to research eye diseases, their causes and how they intersect with global poverty. Lawson Ung focused on solutions for blindness that can also alleviate poverty, such as cataract surgery and spreading awareness of treatment options. In the same vein, the United Nations (U.N.) recently created an initiative that will help people living with blindness and other vision-related challenges.

Harvard Graduate Conducts Research on Blindness and Poverty

After developing an interest in studying ophthalmology, Lawson Ung, a recent Harvard graduate, became inspired to do research on eye disease. While working in a lab, Ung decided to research how eye diseases impact different parts of the world. He learned that 80% of people living with blindness live in low- or middle-income countries and most have limited access to eye doctors. Blindness also increases the likelihood of poverty since eye-related issues can impact people’s abilities to complete daily tasks.

Possible Solutions for Blindness

One solution for blindness that would benefit about half of the people in low-income countries is cataract surgery. Cataract surgery is inexpensive and boosts productivity significantly. Another solution for blindness is spreading awareness that vision loss is not inevitable while informing people about treatment options. This involves reaching out to patients who lack access to eye care services and providing them with the resources they need. However, cultural issues such as acceptance must be a priority in order to make improvements. One study found that only about 22% of blind people living in poverty were willing to receive free cataract surgery.

The UN Creates “Vision for Everyone”

The U.N. recently created “Vision for Everyone,” an initiative that plans to expand access to eye care services in low-income countries. The reason behind this initiative is the high likelihood of more people suffering from vision-related issues in upcoming years. The initiative’s priorities include encouraging governments to improve eye care availability and highlighting the socioeconomic impact of vision loss. The initiative believes that eye care is an important component of poverty alleviation.

In his research, Ung found that many people living with eye disease also face poverty and other environmental barriers. However, cataract surgery and informing people about treatment options are possible solutions for blindness. The U.N.’s “Vision for Everyone” will work to alleviate global poverty by reaching out to millions of people who suffer from blindness and other vision-related issues.

Chloe Moody
Photo: Flickr

Science Can Help End Global Poverty
Scientists around the world are passionate about making the world a better place. Almost 1 billion people around the world live in severe poverty. Such people lack access to food, clean water and sources of energy. They also lack much-needed medicine and access to healthcare. Advancements in science can help end global poverty.

Starvation and Diseases

Between 25,000 and 40,000 people die each day from causes such as starvation and diseases in impoverished countries, many of which are children. Each year, roughly 6 million children under the age of 5 die unnecessarily simply because they do not have access to clean water, doctors and food.

Science can help end global poverty by implementing more cost-effective strategies when it comes to advancements in testing for diseases. In developing countries, it can be difficult to conduct research for such testing. Chemist George Whiteside from Harvard University experimented with bubble wrap as a means for conducting blood tests. Whiteside found that he could create a sterile container from bubble wrap to test for anemia. More than 33% of the world’s population is anemic and this more affordable advancement could be useful in assisting the detection of the disease in developing countries. If the anemia undergoes detection, then those with it could receive treatment and lead more productive and healthy lives.

Agricultural Methods

Science can help end global poverty by enhancing agricultural methods. One particular issue affecting many developing countries is drought periods. Water conservation and distribution are barriers that science can address in developing countries that lack irrigation. The ratio of water necessary to grow a ton of wheat is 1,200:1 and the rice to water ratio is between 2,000-5,000:1. Satellite imagery can map out underground aquifers to monitor water supplies to help identify areas of the world that stand to benefit from increased water recycling programs.

How Innovations Have Helped End Global Poverty

While work is still necessary, there have been various successes attesting that science can help to this social plight. Malaria deaths reduced by 50% from 2000 to 2014 due to enhancements in testing. The availability of cell phones and wireless internet has assisted farmers with setting prices on their crops in Africa. Science has made advancements in helping developing countries grow healthier bio-fortified foods. Science has helped design stoves that burn cleaner and more available fuel made from animal byproducts. The utilization of these fuels also helps decrease respiratory infections. With proper governance and economic support, science can continue to help end global poverty and provide hope.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) began a project called the Global Development Lab in April 2014. Both governmental and non-governmental agencies along with universities began working collaboratively to end global poverty by 2030. Budgeted at $1 billion, USAID works to make progress in areas such as clean water, healthcare, ample and quality food security, schooling and energy accessibility.

Moving Forward So Science Can Help End Global Poverty

For science to make greater strides in assisting those living in extreme poverty policymakers in wealthy countries need to realize the importance of funding to make the necessary advancements. Scientists in the United States spend more than $20 billion per year working to improve biomedicine. To do this globally would be of a much greater cost and securing the support of policymakers pertaining to foreign aid budgets will be necessary to continue advancements.

–  Carolyn Lyrenmann
Photo: Flickr

Certified B Corporation
Business Fights Poverty, a Certified B Corporation, began in 2005 to provide a network for businesses, organizations and other professionals. This organization believes in the principle of purposeful collaboration. It aims to unite influential businesses to add social change to the list of successes of groups across the world. Business Fights Poverty recognizes the underlying potential of uniting worldwide businesses to battle social issues such as poverty. Business Fights Poverty has implemented several influential actions during 2020. Here are four impressive examples of actions that Business Fights Poverty has taken to combat global poverty:

4 Initiatives of Business Fights Poverty During 2020

  1. Business Fights Poverty created a network of more than 28,000 businesses and organizations fighting poverty. The staff and content creators of this Certified B Corporation span across the globe. Moreover, this organization has a long list of partners with global influence. Among these partners are Walmart, Nestlé, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and Visa. Business Fights Poverty also partnered with content creating organizations to expand the reach of its content. Also, this is to increase collaboration among organizations fighting for social change. This extensive network of partners allows Business Fights Poverty to collaborate with organizations that hold different business goals and different content creators, to increase awareness surrounding global poverty.
  2. Business Fights Poverty holds free online conferences with influential business leaders to educate people on collaborative impact. Easily accessible from its website, Business Fights Poverty releases a weekly calendar of live-streamed conferences and webinars. Additionally, a major perk here is that if people cannot watch these conferences in real-time, they can watch them on the website. Previous conferences include discussions with business professors from Harvard University and the University of Oxford about the relation between social inequality and poverty. The future ones include discussions with members of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. These free conferences provide an accessible way for people across the globe to educate themselves and learn from influential leaders in business, education and other Certified B Corporations.
  3. Business Fights Poverty offers opportunities for individuals to contribute to its website via content creation or discussion forums. The idea of collaboration spans further than collaboration among worldwide businesses. Business Fights Poverty offers numerous ways for any individual to collaborate. For instance, the ability to apply for freelance work and online forums of open discussion with experts in different fields. This again serves as a way for individuals to educate themselves through discussion with professionals. Additionally, it allows them to delve deeper into becoming involved with the organization. Business Fights Poverty makes its purposeful collaboration accessible through a few clicks on its website. This has contributed to its growth in global partners.
  4. Business Fights Poverty motivates contributors and partners to move towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals are 17 goals developed by the U.N. to foster a more sustainable, global future. Two of these goals include no poverty and zero hunger. Business Fights Poverty considers one of its organization challenges as advancing toward a world that reaches these goals. By advocating for this change, the organization contributes to a global plan to combat poverty and hunger. The SDGs remain a focus in the conversation and content present on Business Fights Poverty’s website.

The Outcomes

The major outcomes of Business Fights Poverty have been reflected in the businesses and corporations it collaborates with. For example, since its involvement with Business Fights Poverty, Walmart paid its full-time workers $3 above the living wage of an adult in the U.S. in 2019. Also, it has the goal of training millions of employees in career growth strategies by 2025. Since 2015, Visa has assisted over 160,000 lower-income individuals in creating accounts and becoming involved in the financial system. Moreover, Business Fights Poverty has created a network of awareness. The actions of these major corporations set a positive example for customers and smaller businesses. This example urges people to stay aware and improve their strategies to assist those battling poverty, among other personal financial struggles.

Business Fights Poverty recognizes the impact that a Certified B Corporation, large-scale businesses and general corporations can have on battling the poverty crisis. Through education, collaboration and progress towards a common goal — this organization has dedicated itself to making a social change. As the network grows from its already substantial start, businesses can find success in assisting in the fight to combat world hunger and poverty. Finally, as for individuals, the organization’s website offers many ways to get involved that are worth exploring.

Evan Coleman
Photo: Flickr

global citizen year
In 2008, after winning first place at the Harvard Business School’s Pitch for Change competition, Stanford graduate and aspiring social entrepreneur Abigail Falik established the cultural immersion gap-year program, Global Citizen Year. Falik became inspired to create an opportunity for service available for all rising college freshmen.

Global Citizen Year in Ecuador

As a developing country, Ecuador faces a significant economic strain, especially in its more rural areas. It ranks as the fourth poorest country in South America with a GDP per capita at $11,036.

Global Citizen Year offers five distinct apprenticeships to its fellows, all of which revolve around social justice and complete cultural immersion. The program prides itself on providing an uncensored version of third-world interaction. This stands in contrast to its counterparts, many of which place a patronizing lens over international service.

When a fellow embarks on their mission to Ecuador, they choose between apprenticeships in agriculture, education, environmental conservation, social enterprise or social work. The duties range from working alongside the local government in efforts to protect vulnerable populations, to helping tutor English in local schools, to working in government-run elderly homes.

The following is an excerpt from Natalia Lanzoni’s June 2019 interview with the Borgen Project regarding Global Citizen Year’s unique approach.

Natalia Lanzoni’s June 2019 Interview with the Borgen Project

The Borgen Project: What were the biggest culture shocks—especially relating to the level of poverty—you faced when initially arriving in Ecuador?

Lanzoni: There was obviously a considerably less amount of wealth than the average person has in Cambridge. It kind of permeates every aspect of life, even the little things that you don’t think about what we do here. When I would buy groceries with my host-family we would buy one roll of toilet paper, because that’s what their income allows them. Here we don’t even think about it when we’re buying twenty-four rolls of toilet paper. It means that we have a surplus in our income that we can afford to spend it now. There was a lot of privileges I had that I didn’t even realize. Especially the fact that I was able to travel. The host-family told me they had never seen the ocean, which blew my mind because they were a two-hour drive away. Also, my host parents had to cross the U.S. border as illegal immigrants to find work when their son was born, because the U.S. won’t give visas if they see Ecuador in the papers. Their son lived his first ten years parentless.

The Borgen Project: Can you talk about your service experience in Ecuador?

Lanzoni: For the program, we have what’s called an apprenticeship, which is basically a volunteer job in our communities. So, a lot of people are English teachers or assistants to English teachers. English is important because it is so global. The one I worked for was at a local elderly home, it was run by the government of the town which provided a place for them to hang out during the day. They would come there and do crafts and the home would feed them meals. That home also supported families that lived very rarely, that had no sources of income because they were older. And they lived really high on the mountainsides, so a lot of them didn’t even have access to clean water, or they couldn’t walk all the way to the river because it was too far. They were living in pretty extreme poverty and the organization would also make trips out to do activities with them. Also, deliver them food and supplies for their homes.

TBP: Can you explain the ways in which you believe Global Citizen Year ensures long-lasting improvement on both a personal and social level?

Lanzoni: There are two different parts of how the organization is working to combat poverty. There’s the more obvious one which is the labor, the volunteer work that the fellows do while they’re in the country. But obviously, they’re only 18-year-old kids who don’t have a marketable skill or some niche way in which they can help the community. So I think the organization is more focused on the bigger picture, which is educating the leaders of tomorrow and inspiring young kids who are about to go off to college to involve themselves in social work. People don’t really think about going to college to work for a nonprofit combating poverty that often, so this is a way to expose young kids to those types of fields and to hopefully educates them in ways that they know will tangibly help that community down the line.

Global Citizen Year succeeds in informing its students about the reality of extreme global poverty. In doing so, it builds a force of passionate and motivated youth that will fight the fight to end global poverty. Here is the application to become a Global Citizen Year fellow.

Liam Manion
Photo: Flickr

Calestous Juma: Integrating Scientific Developments with Societal Needs
Calestous Juma, professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard University, recently published an article entitled “Forget Natural Resource: it’s Science and Tech that will Transform Africa.” The article explains the importance of more closely integrating scientific developments with societal needs.

Juma explains how there is a prevailing view that science is separate from ongoing developments in society. People believe that scientific advances occur removed from society and that it is simply convenient when scientific developments happen to benefit society in some way.

However, Calestous Juma believes that making societal improvement a goal for scientific researchers could net more efficient results. He points to the second law of thermodynamics as an example. While engineers were attempting to improve the steam engine for practical purposes, they ended up coming up with the second law of thermodynamics. Here, a development in scientific theory arose while trying to improve a facet of society.

A clear modern day example of what Juma proposes can be seen in the Grand Challenges initiatives launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Grand Challenges Exploration is an initiative that issues a set of challenges twice a year. Researchers apply with ideas they have to solve those challenges, and monetary grants are awarded to the most deserving.

For example, the initiative recently issued challenges to “Design New Analytics Approaches for Malaria Elimination” and to “Explore New Ways to Measure Delivery and Use of Digital Financial Services Data”. Proactively calling upon science to assist in these kinds of societal advancement provides a more streamlined pathway for scientific developments to lead to societal betterment.

Juma also questions the way universities separate the hard sciences from the social sciences in their academic curriculums. If you visit a college, you are likely to see people defining themselves as STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) students versus humanities students. This arbitrary distinction carries on to pervade the view of society in general, causing scientific developments to not be as helpful to society as it could be.

Calestous Juma calls for more integration between the various academic disciplines. In real world applications, often one needs a mix of skills from multiple disciplines of study. We need to acknowledge the value of interdisciplinary knowledge moving forward.

Juma proposes what he calls “innovation universities.” These universities would “combine research, teaching, extension and commercialization of new products and services,” giving students the means to work towards scientific advances in the context of societal demands.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr

Center for International Development
The Center for International Development at Harvard University is dedicated to both understanding the causes of global poverty and working to eradicate them.  It aims to accomplish the following five goals:

1. To reexamine the methods in which growth strategies are applied.

2. To increase various countries’ levels of productivity.

3. To make more markets accessible in impoverished countries.

4. To make a more efficient system for assuring basic human rights such as adequate health care, education and other social services.

5. To establish a way of life for the people in impoverished nations in a way that is sustainable over a long period of time.

Completed and successful projects by Harvard’s Center for International Development include the Migration Project, which sought to discover “the links between migration, remittance and prosperity”; the Empowerment Lab, which aimed to figure out a way to give the world’s poor access to crucial markets in order to promote their economic growth; and the Mexico Project, which established a research collaboration between the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Graduate School Of Public Administration and Public Policy of the Tecnologico de Monterrey.

One of the most recent projects from Harvard’s Center for International Development involved exposing fake malaria medicine being sold in Uganda. Researcher David Yanagizawa-Drott’s findings explain that these counterfeit drugs are extremely hurtful to those in need of medicine – in more ways than one might expect.

Naturally, if given the fake medicine, the patients aren’t receiving the real treatment they need, but if the patients are ever to receive the real medicine, these counterfeit drugs can also prevent the real medicine from working.

In an article in the New York Times, Tina Rosenberg explains that some of these counterfeit medicines contain a small portion of the active ingredient contained in the real medicine.  The amount of active ingredient, however, is so small that it will not help the sick patient, but ultimately is enough to “promote resistance that renders even the real medicine powerless.”

This research, however, now gives Harvard’s Center for International Development the knowledge and chance to attempt to remedy such situations.

– Jordyn Horowitz 

Sources: Center for International Development, Chronicle of Higher Education
Photo: Center for International Development

Clean Cookstoves CampaignHunger is not the only food-related problem faced by people in the poorest parts of the world. Even if people have access to nourishing foods, the methods they use to prepare meals can pose significant health risks in the form of in-home pollution.

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, nearly 3 billion people globally cook food and heat their homes using open fires or traditional cookstoves. Smoke exposure from these methods poses a significant global health threat that is responsible for 4 million premature deaths every year, according to Radha Muthiah, executive director of the Alliance. Those figures, Muthiah noted, make “the simple act of cooking a meal the fourth greatest health risk in the world.” Women and children are particularly vulnerable.

The Alliance is a large partnership-based organization that was launched by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative. It started with just 19 founding partners. Three years later the organization is significantly larger; currently, it is working with 700 partners around the world.

The success of the Alliance lies in an early effort to outline clear goals and methods of achieving those goals. The ultimate vision is to achieve universal clean cookstove adoption by 2030, but the organization is taking a step-by-step approach. First, the organization is working to get 100 million households globally to adopt clean cookstoves and fuel by 2020. To reach that goal, the organization will work with its partners on six continents.

According to the Alliance’s website, the organization uses a three-pronged strategy: enhance demand, foster an enabling environment and strengthen supply. Enhancing demand involves everything from raising consumer awareness to providing access to financing and developing better technologies. Strengthening supply means making sure there are enough cookstoves available for consumers at prices they can afford. Fostering an enabling environment involves promoting international standards and documenting new research about the benefits of clean cookstoves.

The Alliance has had a number of famous champions in addition to Clinton. They include actor Julia Roberts, Chef Jose Andres, and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

There have been some questions about the long-term health effects of the clean cookstove movement since it started gathering steam. In 2012, a study by a group of Harvard University and MIT professors looked at one specific city, Orissa, India, where the alliance had worked. The study found that there was a meaningful reduction in smoke inhalation during the first year a household used a clean cookstove, but the benefits diminished as time went on because the stoves were often abandoned if they were damaged. The results provided a note on how the movement could be improved.

– Liza Casabona

Sources: Devex, Clean Cookstoves, Bloomberg
Photo: US Embassy