Why Poverty?

November 20, 2009 · Print This Article

As I sit on the 28th floor of a hotel in San Francisco I am angry, yet hopeful.

I wonder why in a world with as much wealth as we see, as much luxury that we experience, should 40% of the human species live on under $2 per day?

2.56 billion human beings, people just like you and I, live on under $2 per day. On average, 24,900 children under 5 die each and every day in the developing world, often from preventable diseases and starvation. 24,900 children under 5. Check out the sources below. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Why does no one talk about this?

Were you aware of this? Please comment…



1 – 2008 World Development Indicators: Poverty Data Supplement, World Bank

From p. 10: “…the number of people living on less than $2.00 a day has remained nearly constant at 2.5 billion. From Table 3: “People living on less than 2005 PPP $2.00 a day (millions), 2005 – 2.564″

2 – UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2009

From p. 121, Statistical Tables, Table 1 Basic Indicators, Summary Indicators, Developing Countries “Annual Number of Under 5 Deaths (Thousands), 2007 – 9109″ We arrived at 24,956 deaths of children under 5 per day by taking the 9,109,000 total deaths per year for children under 5 in developing countries and dividing by 365.


16 Responses to “Why Poverty?”

  1. Jaisen on November 20th, 2009 3:28 am

    Anger leads to hope only once you take steps towards solving the underlying problem. I feel the same way often. It’s overwhelming to think of the extent to which poverty exists in this world. It’s unimaginable to think of the difference between rich and poor.

    I don’t think it’s really talked about much since we don’t really see much poverty here in the US. Relative poverty here is probably still considered wealthy in many developing areas.

    I get angry and defeated thinking of people whose lives are being affected by it as I leave this comment. People are literally starving to death. Sometimes I an overcome with guilt, but I know my heart, priorities and goals are with them.

    I’m only beginning to participate and have commitments to do much more. That’s where my hope comes in.

  2. Benjamin Arie on November 20th, 2009 6:18 am

    Ryan -

    The old saying about teaching a man to fish is a cliche, but it is true.

    We can export dollars and make a small impact. Or, we can export the values and actions that are responsible for making us successful, so that other people can build their own success. If we do that, we will make a MASSIVE impact.

    Success must be created, using principles and action. It cannot be given.

    In your own success, which was more important: a sum of money given to you, or experience passed on that you harnessed and used?

    We need to help others around the world. This is clear. But HOW to help them is the key. Export knowledge, values, and experience, and the rest will take care of itself.

  3. Ron Sanyal on November 20th, 2009 8:20 am

    Number one answer is Education. No body can solve anything overnight. I went to a fund raising for educating underprivileged kids in India. The organization is called “PRATHAM”. They educate the teachers /volunteers to go to remote village and teach these young world citizens.
    As per, North Carolina, I teach soccer to under privileged kids FREE so long they stay in school. Education is the KEY! It is a Marathon Race and we have to start and finish the long journey. God Bless Ryan Allis for generating constructive thought process.

  4. Lars Hasselblad Torres on November 20th, 2009 8:51 am

    Ryan, thank you for sharing your passion/compassion. I believe you are right, we need more constructive discussion around this topic. I think individuals like Paul Polak over at D-Rev (http://www.d-rev.com) , the UKs Department of foreign and International Development (http://www.developments.org.uk) and many others are trying to popularize the discussion.

    The challenge – what I hear in your, “Why isn’t anyone talking about this” outrage – is to bump this work to the level of lifestyle impact and rethinking aid.

    Bringing people “out of poverty” is intensely personal work. People like Muhammad Yunus have demonstrated, in my opinion, the need for long term solutions that are managed by a ‘boots on the ground’ presence that really knows its base.

    How do people in luxury-intensive societies contribute? Not by Kiva alone. But by making choices that free up choices for others. This is an unpopular position perhaps, because no one thinks of development as a lose-win dynamic. Its supposed to be win-win, right?

    Climate change, globalization and returning shareholder “value” as defined by fund managers fundamentally re-write the equation.

    The place to begin is outrage perhaps – and then we can translate that into passion in the boardroom.

    Thank you for your ongoing leadership. Next time you’re in Boston, I hope you’ll come by and meet the students at Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development (http://web.mit.edu/seid/) – they’re working in exactly that space.

    Very best regards,


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  6. John Carlo on November 21st, 2009 12:56 am

    First of all I don’t think it will ever change……not until the end of time anyways……second of all if it ever were to change everyone would need to get on the same page……that is goverments, peoples, everyone….of course I still think we should try………I think that’s what we are called to do as humans……the rest I believe is destiny……..

  7. Paul Polak on November 21st, 2009 9:34 am

    Thank you Lars for your mention to my work. I wish I had more time to respond. There is an amazing movement growing amongst Universities such as the MIT Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development and the Stanford Design for Extreme Affordabilty Program. I am also amazed at the movement amongst individuals like Heather Flemming of Catapult Design and Peter Frykman of DripTech. An exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt museum Design for the Other 90% kicked off the Design Revolution and the start of my new organization D-REV- Which I am happy to say is making significant impacts already. My other organization- IDE-International Development Enterprises is still going strong. We have lifted over 20 million people out of poverty forever.


    You can follow me on Twitter @OutofPoverty for updates on how I’d like to end poverty and your can find me on Facebook.

    Lest I mention my book Out fo Poverty, What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. I wrote Out of Poverty to start a revolution, and that revolution begins with you.


  8. Brian Watkins on November 22nd, 2009 2:31 pm

    Ryan, one word for this… Psychology.

    Definitely aware of the scale.

    I’ve brought myself to tears many times throughout my life by attempting to mentally place myself into the circumstances and mindset of what others face who live in poverty & pain. It is horrible and must be resolved.

    However, in asking myself why throughout the past I came to understand it through a more compressive outlook of human nature…

    Why, when we have all the abundance we need throughout the world to take care of everyone, do most people sit in complacency with a self-serving life and not contribute much more to others who face a horrible quality of life?

    The direct logical answers are obvious. However, in order to get a deeper gut level understanding of why this is occurring, I looked at our human capacity for violence. Put yourself in a mindset to really feel the source of horrible violence and all of the sudden the complacency driving our worldwide standards of contribution look like nothing special. The perspective of… If humans can violate and consciously take the lives of others in such horrific manners, then of course uninspired people living in relative luxury/comfort will likely deprioritize putting in real effort to contribute to those in need.

    What you and I want is like a vertical trajectory of development. The world’s current complacency is like a flat-lined scenario. However, violence is like a downward trajectory of destruction. Producing meaningful positive change takes real effort. Humanity is still plagued by consistent violence. Overall, obviously, most people are comfortable within their own lives remaining flat-lined with complacency.

    This is not pretty, but if one really taps into feeling the source mindset of violence, then a gut level feeling of understanding can be achieved for why many are complacent with issues like poverty, overall, I think.

    I always believe in truly understanding things that I want to solve, even if the understanding leads me to believe it is going to be a harder pursuit than I thought, since understanding often fundamentally helps with crafting effective strategy.

    I’ve been seriously looking for solutions for several years now as it relates to these types of mass problems. I too remain hopeful for the opportunities within raising consciousness, general social entrepreneurship, & government. However, ultimately, I’m not satisfied with relying on these, since I don’t see enough predictable power in them to fully pan out. I’m working to pursue more powerful game changers for this reason.

  9. Sukanta Nanda on December 1st, 2009 6:06 pm

    I believe people do think about the problem when they read about the statistics or see the visual images of poverty. Most resign to take up action in the face of scale of the problem. As Ron mentioned, education is a key instrument to bring about the change. And we are endowed with technology today to bring about that change at a pace unthinkable few decades ago. Parts of the world where poverty is deeply ingrained, people are conditioned over the centuries to fatalism and complacency. Education is changing that, but at a pace that would take centuries. When people believe the endless possibilities of having a better life, mass migration from poverty will be unstoppable.

  10. Martin Mpukani on December 4th, 2009 1:26 am


    Its humbling to know that many others feel for those of us living in poor countries and living basically at below $1 a day.

    How can we get help? As many have said, we need more information on good business practices. This information can be through hands on workshops, seminars, etc. However, the cost of attending these workshops is beyond most of us living in developing countries.

    I ran an adult literacy and training enterprise of which the majority of the learners cant even afford to pay basic fees of $20/month.
    We face real challenges and will welcome any progressive suggestions.

  11. Eric Calhoun on December 5th, 2009 12:42 pm

    very interesting new UN report argues that freedom of movement across borders is critical for raising living standards in the developing world – http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2009_EN_Complete.pdf

  12. Hannah Weaver on December 6th, 2009 2:39 pm

    I think about it all the time, Ryan. Even more startling are the stats on the $ spent on “dieting” in this country alone. I know there are lots of things we overspend on, but all of the drugs, gimmicks and machines spent to ‘lose’ what we have ‘gained’ in excess in our midsections dumfounds me when measured next to world hunger issues and is doubly wasteful, IMO. Worse, we could feed countries instead if it was the priority above over-eating and yo-yo dieting. My mind spins with the possibilities for putting an end to needless hunger. We cannot change it if we remain living our excessive, ever-consuming, everything’s-expendable lifestyles.

    Unfortunately, in the words of Ani Difranco, “it’s as easy as breathing for us all to participate.” We are surrounded with people who look the other way every single day. It is like the bystander effect on a global level. We disassociate from the problem, assuring ourselves there are many non-profit orgs we have put into place who are handling it so that we do not have to face up to it and look it in the eyes. We are in denial, because to do or be anything else would mean we would have to take responsibility individually and collectively for the suffering of other human beings. To take ownership would mean we would have to take action and to take action would mean reversing our generations-learned behavior. Also unfortunately, there are some that feel after climbing the corporate ladder that they and theirs deserve more by way of privilege alone.

    I know people care about this, but there is a detachment from it which I think has to do with the mind-numbing sense of helplessness as a single person swimming upstream from the mainstream and always taken under with the current of the masses. … Read More… See More

    It is a huge battle, but I stand with you in astonishment against it. You are a phenomenal social entrepreneur and I appreciate that you bring these statistics up at your speaking engagements because no matter how big or small it always has an impact. Keep up your amazing awareness efforts!

  13. Naima Zakaria on December 6th, 2009 2:40 pm

    The key to changing the poverty you see in figures cannot be found in stats and numbers but in the minds of the poor. There is a distinct abundance mentality in cultures that attract what it got. nemly America. The average American Mind has gone though expereinces like Carneie, Rockefeller, Napolean Hill, Vanderbilts and many other money … See Moreluminaries. This is not the model in the minds of people in other parts of the world. Americans are truly blessed to have access to role models of business and industry. In my country in Bnagladesh where I grew up in a very nonprofit (http://www.gonogobeshona.org/) oriented household I could see just giving to programs and developing projects for handout is definitely not the way. The consciousness of the people whose lives you wish to touch, that consciousness of Can- do is what one must dare mighty things. You are going to do it Ryan. Once you hit 30 It will be Fun to see you on a World Social Business Idea Challenge tour. I will let all my peeps know. Promise!

  14. Brandon Mullins on December 6th, 2009 2:41 pm

    What’s ridiculous is that $45B is spent every year on PETS in this country. $45 billion on PETS. There are children dying everyday in this world, as we are spending $45B on pets. It’s unfathomable and beyond absurd.

  15. Joe Tassani on December 15th, 2009 10:45 am

    Brandon, Although your post does contain a valid point that spending on Pets may be excessive, we have to be mindful of the good they do for humans, with little expected in return except love and compassion. As you probably know, pets do provide comfort and healing to many humans. They even save lives.

    Example 1 – Four Dogs Save Seven Lives http://dogsinthenews.com/issues/0204/articles/020424a.htm

    Example 2 – Dogs Save Lives During Katrina http://wjz.com/pets/Katrina.Pets.Mississippi.2.417296.html

    Imagine how many humans would not be with us today had it not been for an animal…rescuing them..comforting them…helping them get through a difficult time emotionally. When someone says its “unfathomable and beyond absurd”, I ask, “Is it really that much to reward a pet with treats/toys for the priceless act of compassion they provide”? Just a quick thought though.

  16. Sam on December 29th, 2009 7:33 am

    Thanks Ryan for a Wonderful work.

    In my opinion Ryan the best way to help the poor in the world would be to have a Team in each State starting with 1 or 2 teams and increase the no of Team and spread across the globe and with the first sucess get funded for this project from the Billionaires around the world to make this impossible Task a I aM Possible.

    Good luck Buddy

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