It is unsustainable as well as extremely pernicious to offer people experiencing poverty discard knowledge and technology, an extended practice based on ignorance or prejudice. It is not true that productive and managerial excellence cannot be offered to those who have nothing or very little. There are resources and organizational and financial modalities to include these large population segments as producers. It is only required a determined and enlightened political support, the establishment of specific developers and trusts, and respect; a whole lot of respect.
There are very different attitudes regarding poverty. Some ignore it or brush it off as if it were a normal and acceptable component of the urban or rural terrain. Others, more aggressive, vilify people in poverty; they are stigmatized as lazybones, inept, or any other denigrating term. They even deny them the possibility of receiving any type of subsidy. They cannot consider that poor people do not have at their disposal the necessary conditions to get out of situations they did not choose and that, in general, such meager income they receive as subsidy only allows them to get around indigence by assuring them a minimum subsistence level. At the same time, they do not consider how many rich people live off rents, only partially live off their work, or without working, and how many of them managed to secure proper livelihoods due to the economic, educational, or networking assistance they had since the beginning.
Denigrating attitudes towards those who are experiencing poverty can be confronted not only politically but also by contributing clarification as to how and why poverty exists and reproduces itself across time; that it is not an unavoidable natural phenomenon but rather the result of how those societies were structured giving rise to privileged and underprivileged people.
Poverty is a harsh situation. It is a traumatic and undeserved punishment for large populations in this world. It is also an impious way of sterilizing the huge working, collaborative, and creative potential nesting within every human being.
Poverty and inequality situations need to be addressed at the level of public policies that act on the systemic course, the way of functioning, and the cultural and ethical context of a country, as well as at the level of the direct support to the popular and the impoverished middle class sectors. These include, among others, small and micro producers of goods and services, occasional or permanent-but-unregistered employees, producers of familiar agriculture and, of course, unemployed that vegetate within the interstices of our economic systems.
This convergence of public policies, regulations, and direct support to popular and middle class sectors is imperative to address with some level of success inequality and poverty situations and, from there, contribute in a decisive way to a sustainable development with fewer tensions for the entire society. Otherwise, favorable macroeconomic measures might fall into a popular context without being able to seize them or, in the same way, direct supports to the social base might result useless or with minimum effects if they do not have a favorable macroeconomic context.
Individual supports, valuable but with a low ceiling
In the last decades, a variety of support initiatives towards popular sectors have been unfolded; some with universal scope (they cover all the families in a community) that provide income to nearly covering basic needs. This is complemented by other essential (not monetary) supports in matters of public health, free education, and certain investments in environmental sanitation. In some cases, subsidies are given to enterprises who are providers of transportation, electricity, gas, and drinkable water to restrain eventual rises in tariffs for vulnerable sectors.
At the productive level, critical field for securing families the dignity of work and sustainable income flows, there are offers for training, technical assistance, and microcredit programs; all of which have merit and can be improved in effectiveness and coverage. However, they have a restricted cap in terms of viability as they encounter an important constraint which is the scale of the ventures that are promoted with such instruments.
A small scale of production affects managerial capacity and the ability of obtaining surpluses to finance improvements and investments that might let them access paths of extended reproduction; i. e., an organic development that can be self-sustained. Except for those exceptions that prove the rule, how could a small group of entrepreneurs with meager resources produce what is more appropriate for the demand they have access to, buy good inputs and supplies, access the required services, work with a simple but non rudimentary or onerous technology, market their products within the most favorable niches, defend the price of their production if they do not have the ability to negotiate improvements within value chains where their own activity is marginal and subordinated to much larger actors? How can the small entrepreneur address working obligations, permits, rates, taxes and other established obligations for activities of larger scale and profitability? How could s/he prevent that her/his vulnerability places her/him as an easy target for blackmail and bribes by inspectors and justice officers?
While popular and middle class sectors stagnate or go backwards, other larger actors with more influence use financial mechanisms to impiously profit or have at their disposal technological, credit, and marketing facilities that yield them rates of return to which small actors could never access if they continue to produce in isolation. The small scale places very low ceilings to work and grow.
In other texts, we have tried to place these specific socioeconomic facts in the context of the concentrating process of wealth and decisions that prevail in almost every country in the world today. It is worth to know and understand what these larger dynamics generate to propose, with as much realism as possible, transforming initiatives as the ones that follow.
Addressing the productive scale, raising the ceiling
Larger scale allows access to supports of excellence; the worst for the poor no more. There are resources for that, which could be channeled through specialized trusts, and there are also appropriate organizational modalities to achieve that: cooperatives of first and second level, consortiums of small producers to buy supplies, provide themselves with technology, and market their products and services, workers’ recuperated enterprises, community trading companies, locomotive agro-industries with associative ownership that make the production of small producers of familiar agriculture viable, popular franchises owned by the own franchisees who are sometimes allied with an strategic partner, community supermarkets, communal nucleus for transport and logistics, among many others.
However, all these do not spontaneously emerge in existent markets where whoever knows how to do these questions uses such knowledge and expertise for his/her own sake. It is necessary to establish developers for these ventures that are part of the popular economy: they will be asked to contribute organizational, technological, and managerial excellence, as well as access to critical factors particularly how to get inserted into promissory value chains, good contacts and opportunities, having short medium term credit at their disposal, explore new markets and avoid abuses, establishing strategic alliances, being permanently informed of tendencies, opportunities, and risks in their sector and in the macroeconomic context. That is to say, everything that is needed to successfully operate in the process of generating and retaining value in order to capitalize and self-sustain over time.
Promoting these new and highly effective medium size and popular base economic units is possible, viable, and of great social and economic impact. Of course, they require appropriate political support because unfolding a strategy of this nature requires scale and depth in scope; not so few not so little obstacles to overcome.
Community impact of popular economy ventures; savage actors no more.
No venture or productive initiative operates in isolation from what is happening around it. On the contrary, they are part of communities that fight for meeting their needs. In our times, individual action is generally given priority, mostly targeted towards personal gain. In this perspective, we lose sight of the fact that collaboration and mutual support help in addressing challenges and mitigating risks; it reflects the best of our human condition.
Actors from the popular economy need to promote other quite different values than those that tend to prevail in contemporary markets. It is not greed, selfishness, voracity, mistreatment of others, or mere profit what guides them. They can be more inclined towards values of responsibility for Mother Earth and solidarity with others. The effort of assisting those who suffer the situation of poverty would lose sense if it would only serve to generate more ferocious actors that would add savagery to what already exists in contemporary markets.
It is also true that values are not imposed but are adopted from the context and family in which each of us evolves. That is why these critical aspects arrive intertwining what the own popular economy is able to generate, with the huge ethical influence that emerges from those who form values and attitudes, being those social, religious, labor-union, political, cultural or entrepreneurial leaders, as well as those fearsome hegemonic media.
It is unsustainable as well as extremely pernicious to offer people in poverty discard knowledge and technology, which is an extended practice based in ignorance or prejudice. It is not true that it cannot be offered productive and managerial excellence to those who have little or nothing. There are resources and organizational and financial modalities to include those large population segments as producers. Impoverished people are not the originators of their situation but, if valued and assisted, they are an essential part of effective solutions. It is only required a firm and clarified political support, to establish developers and specific trusts, and respect, a whole lot of respect.
* I thank my brother Hector Mizrahi for his comments and companionship