World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello visited children in Niger. Photo by Adel Arkozi, World Vision
Tim Costello will be answering your questions in a live chat here on Tuesday November 27 at 12.30pm.
I’m often asked whether global poverty can be solved or whether it’s simply an inevitable part of life, one of those unchangeable laws of nature that we must accept.
The Why Poverty? series screening on ABC TV this week poses a similar question: Can we fix it? And if so, why haven’t we?
The truth is extreme poverty is a complex but well-understood problem. And there are complex but well-understood solutions to match it.
There are many reasons why global poverty endures, and also some challenging truths to face.
Political will is vital, as is global stability and the protection of the natural world. The solution also requires compassion and global citizenship by all people to ensure politicians have a mandate to act.
I don’t suggest for a moment that the solution is easy. After nearly a decade working in aid and development, I can attest to the challenges. But as I reflect on all that’s been accomplished in that time, I realise that I may be seasoned but I am not weary.
Far from being jaded, I find myself more hopeful than ever. We are winning the battle, and you need only look at the statistics to witness the impact.
Literally millions of children who are alive today wouldn’t be if we hadn’t given it our best shot. Millions more receive an education.
A world without poverty
Recently I was asked by a journalist to consider what a world without hunger might look like.
I understand that might sound absurdly utopian to some, and funnily enough, the overarching theme of the program was “Utopia”.
But I found myself fascinated by the exercise because it forced me to think backwards in time and work out what would have to change if we were to get there.
There were the obvious needs that sprung to mind straight away – control global warming, reduce conflict and ensure food production increases at an adequate rate. But once you start thinking about it, there were many other factors that become critical too.
Like gender equality – until women have equal access to education, the power to make decisions about their lives and communities, what work they want to do, when they will start a family, how many children they will have, then the goal of sustainable development will remain out of reach.
There is also urbanisation to consider. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population is likely to live in cities, including huge megacities with 30 million or more people. Some of these are in precarious situations with limited resources.
This is not a wish list, it’s a reality.
Right now, around the world, aid and development agencies are already tackling these issues.
We’re working with communities to access fairer trade channels. We’re working with farmers in Africa to increase crop yields and to revegetate vast areas of denuded land.
We’re helping children, especially young girls, access education. When you visit the poorest areas of poor cities you might see a slum, a place of disease and desperation. But if you take a longer view, you see the slum changing – it’s a process where people are building a city from nothing.
Along the way to progress there will always be setbacks. It would be easy to fall into pessimism.
But I remind myself that what is considered utopian in one lifetime is often regarded as normal in the next. We’ve seen this with slavery, with gender equality and with so many other social issues.
When William Wilberforce campaigned against slavery in the late 1780s, he could barely have hoped for victory. And yet, by 1807 the British Parliament had passed the Slave Trade Act.
Real social change occurs when a new generation takes as common sense what the previous generation merely aspired to.
I don’t believe that William Wilberforce set goals knowing absolutely that he would achieve them in his lifetime. I think he set them knowing that if he didn’t, progress would never be made.
Tim Costello is the Chief Executive Officer of World Vision Australia.
Have a question for Tim? Join our live Q&A on Tuesday November 27 from 12.30pm. Submit your questions here