When fighting poverty, reaching the most people possible with the least amount of resources is the goal of many organizations providing direct help, but this may not be a sustainable relief method.

Most international groups provide relief through vast shipments of medical supplies, food and clean water. Such large-scale approaches do their best to relieve the pressures of malnourishment and poor sanitation, but they are temporary solutions that require constant replenishment.

More sustainable relief methods are being used which empower an individual or a group of individuals to create solutions that are self-sufficient. When one person can resolve their own situation, the group benefits from that individual’s new income, access to food or other general life improvements.

An example of this is the empowerment of Edith, an urban farmer in Zimbabwe. A food shortage in the country has caused many communities to experience stunting in the growth rates of the youth and adults. According to ONE, an organization working to end preventable disease and extreme poverty in Africa, “less than a fifth of children [in Zimbabwe] under two receive the recommended minimum acceptable diet for adequate nutrition.” The result has been that “28 percent [of children in Zimbabwe] are stunted or have heights too low for their age.”

Directly providing the proper nutrients to the individuals that need them is a big challenge. Instead of large-scale international shipments, local projects financed by the U.N. are empowering individual farmers in the community, like Edith, to provide the necessary food to her peers. Without the financial aid of the U.N., “we cannot afford to water our home gardens as the municipality imposes stiff penalties on excessive water use,” she says.

Edith is part of a program that provides small community farmers with the appropriate seeds and tools like a solar-powered borehole. With the new machinery, she and a handful of other farmers have successfully reduced the level of malnutrition in her village. “This is certainly boosting not only our purses but most importantly nutrition,” reports Edith.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has endorsed this bottom-up approach as an essential way to reduce poverty. In a paper produced by the organization, individual empowerment is heralded as the key to achieving sustainable development goals. More specifically, these four good donor practices are highlighted by the research:

  • Donors should support “poor people’s rights and access to natural resources.”
  • Donors should support “participatory and accountable knowledge and advisory processes.”
  • Donors should enhance “the participation of poor rural producers in agricultural and related markets.”
  • Donors should support “poor rural people’s participation in policy and governance processes.”

All of these points stress the importance of an individual’s political and economic freedom, allowing them to rise out of poverty on their own. Edith’s story exemplifies the ability of financial empowerment to expand the potential of the individual, ultimately benefiting his or her community as a whole.

– Jacob Hess

Photo: Public Domain Image