Forbes Magazine has released its annual “World’s Most Powerful People” list, ranking the leaders of nations, intergovernmental agencies and businesses in relation to global influence. In the year 2013, the fourth most influential person in the world is the newly elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church, who has been drawing a lot of positive attention to the office.

As the leader of a church membership of over 1 billion people, Pope Francis has been dedicated to taking the papacy to the poor and the downtrodden. In Latin America, he has recently been nicknamed the Slum Pope because of his frequent visits to the more dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods in the region. His visits to the more destitute areas have given hope that the Catholic Church will do more to help those who cannot help themselves.

After his election in March, Pope Francis called for the church and its followers to return to helping the poor. In the papal tradition of taking on a new name after election, he purposely chose the name of Francis, after Saint Francis d’Assisi. The saint is widely known and recognized as the son of a wealthy man who left his riches to help the poor as a member of the clergy. In Pope Francis’ speeches, he has often championed the themes of poverty, hope and social justice which are the interests of the poor. Helping the poor is the constant theme of his papacy which has been warmly received wherever he has visited.

In his short ministry, he has visited the Italian Island of Lampedusa which is the frequent destination of fleeing African Immigrants seeking better economic and social opportunities in Europe. Every year many Africans unsuccessfully embark to the island with the hopes of ending their poverty but, instead, drown in the Mediterranean before reaching their goal. In his visit to the island, the Pope wept for those that had died and suggested repurposing church resources to accommodate African migrants.

As one of the most admired figures in the world, the Pope has always had a tremendous impact on not only his religious followers but leaders of nations across the world. The Pope is trying to use his office as a worldwide leader to be an advocate for improving the livelihood of the poor. His admirable example is one that should be emulated by leaders throughout the world.

– Travis Whinery

Sources: CNN, CNN Blog, Time, BBC News, Fox News, Forbes
Photo: The Times

poverty in brazil
Poverty in Brazil impacts all aspects of the country. Last month, thousands stormed the streets of Brazil to protest increased transportation fares. As the protests persisted, the causes of the protests expanded to include government corruption, poor social services, and high taxes, while meanwhile, billions were being spent to host the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Amidst this public upheaval, President Rousseff’s approval rating slipped from 73.7% to 49.3% in July. During Rousseff’s election campaign, she promised to eradicate poverty, saying it would be her top priority in office. Many are upset that these changes have not come soon enough.

With some of the highest paid executives in the world and an appreciating currency, the Brazilian economy appears to be well off. In addition, poverty in Brazil has been halved in the last two decades. The government is credited with lifting 28 million out of extreme poverty and bringing 36 million into the middle class. But despite being the sixth largest economy in the world, Brazil’s GDP per capita ranks 100th, behind Iran and Costa Rica. In Brazil, poverty disproportionately affects the young and those in the northeast. 8.5% of the population (16.2 million) lives on less than $45/month. Of the 16.2 million living below the poverty line, 4.8 million survive on no income at all.


Poverty In Brazil


To put it simply, Brazil is a nation of stark contrasts. Although the nation has some of the wealthiest in the world, many more suffer from extreme poverty. 26% of the population still lives below the poverty line. Brazil spends a lot of money on social programs, but because these programs are pro-rich, Brazil’s poorest only see 13% of all total benefits compared to 24% at the top. Increased social spending would not alleviate poverty in Brazil. Rather, Brazil must restructure its spending to reach the poorest. Maercio Menezes, professor of economics at the University of Sao Paulo, told the BBC, “Brazil is one of the most unequal countries on the planet… The reduction (of poverty) that has been taking place in the past decades is minor. If you are born into a poor family it is very difficult for you to eventually become rich.”

In June of 2011, President Rousseff expanded the country’s aid programs to reach the nation’s poorest. Rousseff launched a multi-billion dollar social assistance program called “Brazil without Misery,” and its aim is to eradicate extreme poverty from Brazil by 2014. The program expands a cash transfer benefit program started in 2003 by the Bolsa Family, which provided families with cash benefits in exchange for keeping their children in school and following a simple health and vaccination program. Since the program’s inception, it has helped tens of millions of Brazilians by providing food and basic social services. But, according to President Rousseff, Brazil cannot be content with just a big social program – it must do more to reach the nation’s poorest.

“Brazil without Misery” is made up of three components. First, it extends the cash transfer program to reach more people. The program increases the number of eligible children per family from three to five, in order to reach an additional 1.3 million children. Second, the government aims to improve access to health services, education, and improved infrastructure (running water, electricity, sewage disposal). Lastly, the plan intends to improve the economic means available to Brazilians through job creation, vocational-training and microcredit. To assist Brazil, the World Bank has offered $8 billion towards the program.

Several weeks ago, Pope Francis made a visit to one of Brazil’s most infamous slums. The Brazilian government was most worried about protesters during the Pope’s visit, but the Pope showed support for the nation’s poor and even criticized the government for not doing enough. “Here, as in the whole of Brazil, there are many young people… You have a particular sensitivity towards injustice, but you are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of the people who put their own interests before the common good.”

In order to eradicate poverty in Brazil, it is clear that a social overhaul is necessary. The stark inequalities within Brazilian society keep the rich wealthy, but prevent the poor from attaining economic security. Social and economic restructuring will not come easily, nor will they come immediately. Moreover, Brazil will need to reassess “Brazil without Misery” once its term is up in 2014 to see if continuation or expansion is required to meet the needs of the nation’s poorest.

– Kelsey Ziomek

Sources:World Bank,Rural Poverty Portal,Rio Times,ISSA
Photo: Paraiba Paradise

More than three-quarters of the 193 UN member countries are represented on Twitter, making the site a valuable communication tool with which leaders can succinctly speak to millions of citizens. Though it is clear that Twitter has become an increasingly important political medium, there has been little analysis of their Twitter activity. Twiplomacy is a global study of world leaders’ Twitter activity that seeks to examine how the site is utilized as a diplomatic tool. Listed below are five interesting facts from Twiplomacy that shed light on the Twitter usage of world leaders.

  1. Though a roughly 25% of world leaders and governments follow President Barack Obama and the White House, @BarackObama and the @WhiteHouse have only established mutual connections with four other world leaders, making them the least connected out of all world leaders.
  2. @CarlBildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister, has 44 mutual peer connections – the greatest number out of all world leaders. Next on the list is @eu_eeas, the European External Action Service, which has 36 mutual connections.
  3. @BarackObama is the most followed world leader on Twitter with 35,510,157 followers. The next most followed leader is Pope Francis with approximately 7.2 million followers.
  4. The most active world leader account on Twitter is @PresidencialVen, the Presidency of Venezuela, which averages 41.9 tweets per day. The most conversational leader is @AmamaMbabazi, the Prime Minister of Uganda, who replies to 96 percent of all tweets.
  5. 71 percent of African leaders are represented on Twitter, with ousted Egyptian President @MuhammadMorsi being the most followed leader on the continent. Morsi has 1.6 million followers.

Follow @Twiplomacy on Twitter to learn more about how world leaders connect on Twitter.

– Katie Bandera

Sources: Twiplomacy, Twitter
Photo: The Economist

Pope Francis arrived last Monday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he is spending the week visiting the city as well as Varginha, a slum neighborhood in very poor condition. The Pope’s visit, which will be his first time back on his home continent since his election, is bringing high hopes to many who are struggling in Brazil because of his history in the region and focus on poverty.

Currently in Rio protests are raging over preparations for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, which involve the demolition of thousands of houses without reasonable compensation in the region and increased taxes. Citizens of Brazil are angry that their government’s resources are being spent on sporting events, rather than helping those in need. The people living in Varginha were already living in impoverished conditions before the government decided to destroy the neighborhood. Even after whole sections of their houses have already been demolished by the government, many people there still refuse to leave.

While the trip’s official purpose is for the Pope to meet with and speak to participants of World Youth Day, a large Catholic youth conference in Rio, much of the trip will be focused on commenting about social justice issues in Brazil. The visit was originally planned for Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. It is likely that in spite of scandals involving the Vatican, Pope Francis decided to make the trip in order to draw attention to the social justice issues in the region.

The hope is that the Pope’s visit will draw attention to the needs of Brazil. The last time a Pope visited Brazil was when Pope John Paul II came in 1980. He visited a neighborhood that was soon to be demolished, but by calling attention it, the government relented and the neighborhood was saved. The Popes influence is especially strong in Latin America, which is home to almost half of the world’s Catholics, and Pope Francis’ former home.

Despite all of the good that is expected to come out of the visit, many are protesting the trip along with the World Cup and the Olympics. The World Youth Conference is costing the Brazilian government $52 million and some of that is going toward hosting the Pope.

– Emma McKay

Sources: The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian
Photo: The New York Times

Will Pope Francis Be a Voice for the Poor?After two days of deliberation in the papal conclave, the first non-European pope was elected yesterday at the Vatican. Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, now and forevermore known as Pope Francis, became the 266th leader of the Roman Catholic Church, presiding over approximately 1.2 billion followers.

Many attributes of the new pope give hope to the rising importance of assisting the poor and working in developing countries. As the archbishop of Buenos Aires until 2012, Bergoglio was known as a man of few material possessions. He lived in a simple apartment, wore hand-me-down clothes from the previous archbishop, and preferred to remain out of the limelight and work in the villages.

While Argentina is not a third world country, having a pope from South America, a region of the world that suffers from so much poverty and political corruption, will most certainly change the direction of the Catholic church and its leadership role in helping communities contend with economic and social issues.

Since European popes may not feel as strong of a connection to people suffering in developing countries, Pope Francis I has had first-hand experience with the issues and solutions that arise when serving a parish and community made up of such people. His concern about the persistent social inequalities in South America will direct attention to similar issues for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike in other parts of the world.

Aside from his home life, there are other signs that Pope Francis will become a bigger champion of the poor than previous popes have been. By choosing the name Francis, a name never used by a pope, Bergoglio alludes to the infamous Saint Francis of Assisi. According to Vatican spokesman Thomas Rosica, Bergoglio, like Saint Francis, was a lover of the poor. CNN Vatican Expert John Allen comments that the name also symbolizes “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church.”

Being also the first Jesuit pope (the Jesuits are a religious order that is part of the Catholic Church), it is important to note that from the beginning of his religious training he took the infamous Jesuit vow of poverty, among other things. While the Catholic Church has been criticized for its lavish ornaments and spending habits, it seems that Pope Francis has the personality and lifestyle that is sure to change the focus of the Catholic mission partly onto global poverty and social injustice.

– Deena Dulgerian