The poorest half of the world gets less attention than it deserves. A well known statistic is that if you earn $34,000 a year, then you are wealthier than 99% of the global population. A less well known statistic is that if you earn $750 a year, then you are wealthier than 50% of the world (after accounting for cost-of-living).
The level of poverty that 3.5 billion people on our planet experience is astounding. And yet, it’s barely talked about. Here are 5 reasons why and what we’re doing about it.
5 reasons it’s easy neglect the poorest half of the world
(1) The squeaky wheel
Things get attention when they become a nuisance. The saying goes, “the squeaky wheel get’s the grease.” That’s because people want to fix whatever problem is creating the biggest distraction. However, often the noisiest distraction is far from the objectively biggest problem. You might be fixing a squeaky wheel while being oblivious that your car is on the verge of engine failure.
Those in the poorest half of the global population are unable to be squeaky. They are not in a position to draw attention to their situation. They don’t have online followings. They have no platforms. They are never asked to be interviewed on TV. They have a hard enough time trying to survive. So, unless other’s make noise for them, the majority of the world looks wherever they see the biggest spectacle.
(2) The fish bowl
Think of a fish tank full of pampered goldfish. They are fed twice a day, they have clean water, and they have no idea what a predator is. Their lives are very different from a pond-dwelling goldfish. The fish tank goldfish might be tempted to think that every goldfish on the planet lives relatively similar lives, even though that’s far from being reality.
The same can be said if you grew up in wealthy, suburban America. You will have a hard time picturing the life of a little girl with no access to clean water living in rural Malawi. And vice versa. Being around people of similar socio-economic status tricks your mind into thinking that most people on the planet are represented by the people who surround you. Your mind has a really hard time understanding that other humans on the planet live in a murky pond while you live in a pristine tank.
(3) Road Rage
There is something about having glass in between people that encourages our mind to dehumanize others. Think about the difference between someone cutting you off in traffic versus someone cutting you off in the grocery store with a shopping cart. They evoke polar opposite reactions. In a car, you will be highly tempted to fume and tailgate the evil misanthrope who dared defy you. In a grocery store, you will quickly move on after assuming the other person is having a bad day or that it was an honest mistake.
The same dehumanizing tendencies happen when we see poor people on a screen. We might understand, on an intellectual level, that they are real people. But they don’t feel real. They seem distant. And it’s easy for our minds to categorize those people as not worthy of our attention, even though we would never want that if we were in their position.
(4) Negativity Bias
Our minds are naturally drawn to that which could harm us. When we’re walking through our neighborhood, we’re more likely to notice the car that’s speeding than the flower bush that’s budding. So it is with stories about charity. Our ears perk up when we hear about a charity that pays it’s CEO $500,000 a year or when a charity blows half a billion dollars in Haiti.
Our ears don’t have the same reaction when we hear about a charity that faithfully and meticulously serves the poor for several decades with little recognition. There are people doing effective and compassionate work, but they are less likely to be noticed than the ones who royally screw up.
Tasks with an easy reward mechanism are addictive while tasks with a difficult reward mechanism are repulsive. Facebook uses this to train our behavior. When we open up Facebook, we get rewarded with the satisfying feeling of seeing pictures of our friends and family. But the reward mechanisms for helping the poorest half of the world are more laborious.
When you want to help someone living in destitute poverty, you have to do a ton of research, give your money to a large organization, and hope that it’s used effectively. You are then given an annual newsletter from the organization explaining that your donation contributed to helping a lot of people, but you never know exactly how. This level of friction repels people from what is normally a gratifying task of helping someone in need.
On the other hand, think about how good it would feel to save the life of a drowning boy. And yet, while you are often effectually causing the same thing to happen, that feeling of saving a life is vacant from most charitable transactions. Until now.
How DonorSee answers these 5 tendencies
I moved to Malawi, Africa in 2013 and lived there for 3 years. I was shocked by the level of poverty I saw and tried hard to communicate it back to my friends in the States. I wrote blog posts, made videos, shared statistics…and nothing seemed to work. But I didn’t give up.
I wanted people to pay attention to the poorest half of the world, so after many different iterations, I founded an organization called DonorSee in 2016. Below are the 5 corresponding ways that DonorSee answers our tendency to ignore the poorest half of the planet.
As the CEO of DonorSee, I make it my personal mission to be one of the squeaky wheels for the poorest half of the world. I frequently post on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, my blog, my podcast and talk at speaking engagements. I also do what I can to give a platform to those who actually come from the poorest half of the world. And, if you’ve been following me for long enough, you know that I encourage those who follow me to be squeaky wheels as well (hint: share this post)!
One of my favorite types of emails to get is from someone who has a reality check after they visit DonorSee.com for the first time. There is a lot of opportunity on there for people to learn how the poorest half of the world lives and the types of needs they have. Seeing a child who can’t afford $79 for new glasses is humbling when your saddest frustration is that you can’t afford high speed Verizon Fios.
One of the most difficult problems to address is the dehumanization that happens on account of being on the other side of a screen. I struggled with how to solve this for a long time, until I realized that one of the best ways to “re-humanize” people is through story. Knowing that people in poverty exist isn’t enough to evoke genuine compassion. But hearing the stories of these people can change that by injecting empathy and a meaningful connection that would otherwise not be there.
(4) Ease of use
With DonorSee, the friction of helping the poor is gone. You can either sift through a feed of worthwhile projects in our Staff Picks section or you can give even more conveniently by signing up for monthly giving. Your donations will be used by a network of on-the-ground aid workers who are invested in their communities and who need your money to accomplish their projects.
(5) Database of success
Our goal at DonorSee is to overwhelm negativity bias with a never-ending stream of success stories. There are too many to count and the list grows larger every day. You can either see the success stories of individual DonorSee storytellers like Amy Hathaway or you can scroll through recently updated success stories right on our front page.
I invite you to join the DonorSee movement! Our goal is to bring awareness and effective aid to the often neglected poorest half of the world. Please consider sharing this post, subscribing to my podcast or signing up for a free account at DonorSee.com so you can get our weekly newsletter. I would love to have you join us!