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Global Poverty and Coronavirus: Rethinking the Route

An community groups meeting

Our nation’s attempts to do right for people facing daily, vicious, poverty around the world, face a new ‘Everest’: coronavirus.

This Covid-19-driven change offers a challenge, I think, to all of us who would stand with our poverty-affected global neighbours: before you double your efforts, rethink your route.  

The All We Can movement is doubling down on an approach we’ve pioneered, rolling it out in an ambitious 5-year-strategy. We believe it’s primed for this altered landscape – primed for Everest.

Pioneering? Yes. And credible? Yes. This Partnership Model caught the eye of the Civil Society Media Charity Awards (shortlisted) while its impacts caught the eye of Third Sector (All We Can named among top 5 charities to work for – see this Bond Blog for more). And, we’re encouraged by interest from fellow NGOs.

 

But what’s so different?

Edmund Hillary (he who conquered Everest) said, ‘It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.’

Abhijit V. Banerjeeut, co-author of Poor Economics, wrote: ‘Poverty is not just a lack of money. It is not having the capability to realize one’s full potential as a human being’.

If I give aluminium roof sheets to a family in extreme poverty, who’ve built their own house, brick by brick, but who need a roof before the rains come, then I, rightly, feel good that I’ve been able to meet the obvious, presenting need.

But, what I’ve failed to do is tune into the inner story being written as the house is built. Every brick the family make, bake in the sun, and lay, is also a brick that rebuilds belief in their own potential.

So, as that family lay down to sleep, staring at the gifted roof, it speaks to them: ‘See, you couldn’t do it yourself. You couldn’t finish your home. You needed others to do it. You haven’t got the potential’.

To return to Hillary’s analogy – the visible mountain is conquered while the inner mountain, of not having the capability to realise one’s full potential as a human being, is not. Our 5-year partnership-powered vision addresses both, modelling different approaches and alternative routes for engagement.

In Tanzania, a send-a-goat project ended after the goats died. The community told the NGO, ‘When your goats fell ill, you weren’t here with medicine!’ In Mozambique, the donor-plaque on a man’s new biomass stove reminds him that he cannot make progress without outside help. These true stories demand we do development differently by releasing ownership through potential.

All We Can’s new 5-year-strategy sets out to answer this: we’re investing more; giving more of the thinking away, and extending the vision. We describe it as ‘Partnership-Powered’ because it starts with local partners.

And, the outcomes and impacts have far exceeded our ambitions. We’ve found that once potential is able to grow without obstruction, it’s infectious. Once potential is fed, it becomes generative.

The success of this approach is clear. In Ethiopia, All We Can have been working with marginalised communities in rural Amhara – one of the poorest regions in Ethiopia. All We Can’s local partner is working with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in local communities to grow asset-based community development groups. This may sound jargony – but in practice, they are groups that encourage those who might otherwise be written off as worthless by society to come together and pool their collective strengths, for the greater good. By recognising the inherent talent, skills and potential of these individuals, they are able to leverage real change and transform their community. I know of one group who have set the wheels in motion to build their own mill – something that would never have been possible to these individuals had they not joined together.

A community group meeting

An asset-based community development group meet in Ethiopia

Most importantly, this group is able to determine its own course of action. The development they realise is their own doing – their own ambitions, their own goals. They have been able to embrace their own potential. 

This approach is designed for the unusual reality faced as charity donations fall. Donations that would have been used by charities to build new schools or mills, bring clean water, and meet obvious needs require a new game plan. With lower budgets, we’re driven to rely instead on local partners and communities to themselves identify, own and enable the change. This is about much more than budgets though – we are resolute in our belief this approach is the only way that true, sustainable community transformation can be realised. The All We Can partnership model outlines a different way we can engage, suited to this new world, and to greater empowerment of partners and communities.

The risks are different, yes. But so are the opportunities, and the power-dynamics.

It’s what Economist Brain Fikkert calls for in When Helping Hurts, when he writes, ‘We need a different story of change.’

Potential is the greatest weapon for vulnerable communities. Potential enables people facing poverty to use their own local knowledge; their community-infrastructure; their skills, combined with the support of global neighbours like All We Can. It’s only when communities wait for the answer to arrive from outside, that poverty is allowed to cause havoc.

We believe our new 5 year vision is therefore a stepping stone in an evolving sector-wide story. And we need you to join us as we take this next step in writing the next chapters of this different story of change.

About the Author Steve Adams

Steve Adams is Director of Public Engagement at All We Can. He was formerly a consultant with clients including the UK Charity Commission, INGOs across Africa and in the US, Germany, Ireland, and the UK; and corporates in the retail sector. He spent 13 years at Tearfund UK as Head of Global Brand & Comms, and previously worked at GMTV.

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