Transforming, not leading the poor towards failure

There are very different reactions to poverty: indifference, hypocrisy, charity, special projects, transforming actions. This article offers a look on those perspectives, trying to distinguish the actions that lead the poor towards failure from interventions that sow seeds of change, and sustainable strategies that are capable of abating poverty.Those who are plunged in poverty have scarce resources, social capital that revolves around other poor, little or no credit; they undergo a great knowledge and information gap; they find it hard to spot economic opportunities, and if they do so, they are generally not fit to seize them. Furthermore, they are hit by insecurity, poor health and education; their voices are not heard.

However, they have assets, which are for the most part intangible, associated with talent, dignity, capacity to work, learning and transforming themselves. They know their milieu well, how to sail in it, and have developed resilience to face hardships. Some of them have leadership skills they implement in their communities as well as in union and political organizations.

Even in conditions of utter scarcity poor families can contribute those assets to society and to solve their circumstances provided they can participate in transforming initiatives, such as promising productive ventures. Yet, they hardly manage to be a part of good projects; they rather end up cornered in meagre-results activities. This can be changed.


The worst perspective is indifference. Here poverty is taken merely as a trait –inevitable and cumbersome- of the natural evolution of things. Although less explicit, something equivalent to the way slavery and native peoples were considered in the past: their existence was so functional to the economic and political model of those times that prestigious philosophers, politicians and diverse churches went as far as wondering whether the oppressed had a soul. Nowadays nobody would dare question the human condition of those who live in poverty although some people and governments act as if they actually lacked one.

This indifference leads to cover up for suffering, to condone discriminations; it enables poverty to last and reproduce itself. Abating poverty is not included in the political and existential agendas of those who have the capacity to influence the course of events.


A second outlook accepts that poverty exists and that, if nothing was done concerning it, the welfare of those who are not poor could be jeopardized, social stability and eventually governance could be affected. It is then necessary to pay some attention to those large population segments. It is not a matter of solving the situation (this would imply allotting energies and significant resources that are destined instead to maintain the way of functioning) and, hence, the fact that the stance is fake and hypocritical does not really matter. The goal of those who hold this viewpoint is to do “something”, just what is barely necessary to allow processes to keep going without major changes.

This action’s effect is of very low impact, it does not remove the factors that generate and maintain poverty nor does it sow seeds of transformation that could bloom later on. On the contrary, those actions serve to demobilize resistance; they tend to co-opt some members of the poor communities, aligning them against the interests of the rest; they introduce practices of dishonest political promises and generate labour for aggravated criminal systems, such as people, drugs and stolen goods trafficking, or smuggling, among others. They ultimately constitute a time-delay element for the possibility of generating a change of situation.


Charity actions are associated with the purpose of mitigating some of the brutal effects of poverty and indigence. They are tackled by organizations and people of good will that search to come in contact with human suffering directly. With their determination, they somehow manage to transform some of the conditions that hold certain population segments in a vice-like grip although they generally lack a systemic approach and do not aim at removing the causes and circumstances that make poverty exist and reproduce itself. However, they contribute to triggering check and alert processes concerning what is going on in left behind segments of our societies. Their intervention broadcasts problems which have been covered or concealed while it also brings young wills close to serious social and existential problems. A great number of contemporary social and political leaderships have started their course through that fortuitous or occasional contact with pain and social injustice.

In fact, there are different types of charity, spanning from the ones deeply felt and genuinely devoted to offering protection, solace, knowledge and contacts, to those others that are spurious and that are most of all useful to those who provide charity. The former mitigate suffering, create conditions for future changes, mobilize wills, call people’s attention on devastating problems. The latter de-mobilize, generate alienation, increase differences and resentments.

Special programs

Though insufficient and of meagre results, to address poverty through “special” programs is a step forward. Those who propose them consider poverty an undesired result of the way of functioning and think that, with an appropriate support on the level of the base itself of the social pyramid, it can be eventually eliminated. The idea that poverty is the result of the course and systemic way of functioning is not present, although it can sometimes be shared by those who get involved in “special” programs yet do not have the capacity to affect the macroeconomic and mesoeconomic context.

“Special” programs contribute their share to the process of overcoming poverty because they manage to insert poverty situations in the national or local development agenda; they mobilize wills and resources; they test approaches, work methodologies and institutional coordination formulae; they offer direct support to small and micro production reinforcing their self esteem, their capacity to take initiatives, enabling them to access productive networks and markets that they would not reach without that support; they also form cadres that are familiar with situations of poverty, among other effects.

Nonetheless and although praiseworthy, these “special” programs -operating without the support of a change of context- very seldom materialize all the potential that nests in the mobilized population and in the efforts and good will of those who promote and run them. The conditions to overcome poverty include adjusting very diverse factors besides providing some elements of direct support as credit or technical and management assistance. If one or only a couple of those factors were tackled without transforming the context in which all of them crop up and last, a greater rationality would be left intact still operating against all deployed efforts. This does not underestimate any step forward; it rather warns us that efforts may end up being ineffective or with results that are way below what could be achieved if by contrast they were a part of a strategic change of course and way of functioning.

Transforming action

The transforming action starts by aligning macroeconomic policy with the aim of abating poverty. This entails working on the composition of public spending gearing social and productive infrastructure towards the sectors that are left behind or excluded, transforming the regressive structure of the tax system, ensuring monetary stability, registering informal work, applying a fair policy of prices and salaries, accessing institutional credit, facilitating capital formation at the base of the social pyramid.

On a mesoeconomic level, the effort that productive chains leading companies may contribute to abate poverty is decisive: they are to a large extent responsible for the productive weave that develops around them. Their corporate decisions (labour, commercial, technological, of investment) very directly affect suppliers, distributors and the communities they operate in. There rarely exists a single way to achieve the goals pursued and some of these ways have more positive effects than others on the mesoeconomic milieu. Thus, abating poverty also includes summoning those who lead productive chains so that, while looking after their interests, they also contribute their efforts and fully exercise their mesoeconomic responsibility (as we have been calling it).

In a more favourable macro and meso eonomic context, direct support actions to small producers (new and existing) acquire new meaning. There credit, training and technical assistance count. Yet it is not a question of insisting on solutions inscribed in the meagre niches of very low profit activities where the poor and indigent are placed, but of facilitating their insertion in promising endeavours and sectors. This implies a paradigmatic change and a huge challenge as it is very difficult, almost impossible, that they may do so on their own.

It would certainly be ingenuous to believe that the poor and indigent could come out of their misery and become a part of promising activities by themselves. As stated above, their shortage situation implies a huge gap of knowledge, management capacity, access to information, contacts, credit support, entrepreneurial experience. These constitute liabilities which are very difficult to overcome in isolation or in association with peers only. Other players operate in much more advantageous conditions with whom they could not compete. It is mandatory to think of a different type of productive venture capable of integrating small producers coming from the universe of poverty with strategic partners knowledgeable of the market, of how modern economic organizations are organized and led. It is irresponsible to launch poor people to miserable productive adventures, whether separately or by forcing associations of poor people only, thus crystallizing some sort of poor and indigent ghetto.

Nowadays there exist modern business engineering applicable to mobilize poor and indigent people and transform them in producers of mid size organizations that can access good market opportunities. That engineering includes franchise systems, cooperative holdings, export consortium, locomotive agribusiness, community supermarkets, among many others. If well structured with rules protecting the small producer and a financial and tax support system, that engineering can help create very effective inclusive ventures that are capable of integrating economic efficiency and social and environmental responsibility. [More information on Inclusive Ventures Developers->]

There is not a lack of knowledge, resources and management capacity to abate poverty: what is missing is vision, decision and political strength to adjust the course and, deep down in each one of us, determination, creativity, courage, compassion to overcome so much injustice and stupidity.

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