4 Crucial Things To Realize Before You Serve The Poor

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I meet many people who are at the very beginning stages of wanting to “do something” about extreme poverty. Sometimes they feel compelled to get involved because they watched a moving documentary. Other times it’s because they came across some shocking statistics. But, most often, I meet people who find their comfortable lifestyle unfulfilling and they desire a higher calling.

But there is a big difference between wanting to serve people and serving people well. This post is designed to help you figure out how close you are to being ready to serve people well. Below are 4 things you must realize before pursuing global poverty alleviation.

Realization 1: Poor people exist

This is the hardest realization of them all! If you can understand this well, you are 90% of the way there. It’s still vital that you learn the remaining 10%, otherwise you will continue to be ineffective. But this is, by far, the biggest hurdle most people in the developed world have to jump through.

Here is a quick summary of global poverty by the numbers: The top 1% of the planet is anyone who earns $34,000/yr (almost everyone reading this). The bottom 50% of the planet makes an average of $621/yr, after adjusting for cost-of-living. So, there is a decent chance that you are at least 95x wealthier than approximately 3.5 billion people on this planet!

If you want to understand this better, you can view my TEDx Talk. I also encourage you to spend time overseas, visit DonorSee and check out GlobalRichList.com. But this will be the hardest hurdle to jump through before you are ready to pursue global poverty alleviation.

Realization 2: Serving the poor is messy

As soon as you realize that global poverty exists you will understandably want to do something about it. And you will likely be filled with passion. But soon after you start trying, you will no doubt be made aware that people have been trying for a long time. And they’ve been failing, miserably. When Helping Hurts, Toxic Charity and Poverty Inc. are some of the top charity related media from the past decade, and they’re all negative.

Bad poverty alleviation is a fact of life. Sometimes it’s not just ineffective, but counter-productive. And that’s because poverty is far more complicated than we want to admit to ourselves. There isn’t one singular reason that keeps people poor. There are many reasons that intersect with each other and it culminates in a tangled mess with zero obvious solutions.

Understanding the many pitfalls of poverty alleviation and their extreme consequences is an important next step in getting closer to pursuing global poverty alleviation.

Realization 3: There are good ways to serve the poor

Sadly, many people stop after Realization 2. They get burned trying to do good and they throw their hands up in despair. It’s an understandable reaction. Why try and help if people are just going to take advantage of you?

But if you have the fortitude, I encourage you to press on. This is where things start to click. There is so much negative press about poverty alleviation that you would be tempted to think it’s a lost cause. But, according to mountains of data and examples, it’s not! HumanProgress.org does a great job showing how much poverty alleviation has happened in the last several decades. One of my favorite statistics is:

“The total number of a dollar-a-day poor people in the world fell by a quarter of a billion between 1981 and 2008 in spite of an increase in the total population of poor countries of about two billion.” – Deaton

Our World in Data, Effective Altruism and Human Progress do a great job showing the success we’ve had in poverty alleviation, using data. And my organization, DonorSee, does a great job showing the success via video documentation. Thankfully, there are many good solutions. They just get less press than the bad ones!

Realization 4: Serving the poor will always be imperfect

I tell people to think of giving like they think of investing. It’s not going to work out every single time. But a good investor, and a good giver, will both have far more success than they do failure. And their successes may pay off for decades to come!

I can’t think of a better example than Amy Hathaway, DonorSee Storyteller. Amy saves the lives of starving babies with formula milk and then sets up their caretakers with a business so they can continue to provide for the child. Not only is she saving lives on a regular basis, but she is providing a sustainable solution for these kids!

But setting up a business through their caretaker is not a straightforward endeavor. Businesses are complicated and the caretakers for these babies are living in the impoverished country of Tanzania and rarely have a formal education. Despite these unfavorable circumstances, the businesses that Amy helps start up have an 80% success rate! That’s an incredible feat given all the forces working against her.

There are many people, like Amy, doing great work out there. And none of them have a 100% success rate. It’s the nature of working on such messy problems. But if you realize this, you are ready to start serving the poor!

Now you’re ready!

Many of you are following me because you are at the beginning stages of wanting to get involved in extreme poverty alleviation. I am grateful that you care about this problem and so are the people in need!

You have the capacity to improve the lives of people in far corners of the earth that few will pay attention to. It starts with realizing that these people exists. Then realizing their problems are gray, not black and white. Then realizing there are tenable solutions to those problems. Then realizing that no solution will be perfect, but they are still worth pursuing.

These 4 Realizations are challenging but rewarding. Which Realization is hardest for you to accept? Which do you think is hardest for others?

  • Please consider sharing this with someone who might be interested. You might also like my Podcast, my Instagram page or supporting my Patreon. All engagement, shares and support are greatly appreciated!
  • If you find it uncomfortable that I talk about “the poor” in such a straight forward manner, I wrote this for you.
  • To start serving the poor today, please visit DonorSee.