We live in a geopolitically changing and uncertain world, where the tectonic plates of influence are shifting and a new world order is emerging. While this can give rise to tension between different world powers, some issues require us to work together – notably our commitment to the war against poverty.
One in five people in developing countries live on less than $1.25 a day, according to the United Nations, and millions more are just above this poverty line and risk slipping under it. While substantial improvements have already been made – extreme poverty rates have been cut by more than half since 1990 – a lot more needs to be done. In addition, we all increasingly face the additional challenge of growing inequality, as the gap between the rich and poor widens ever further.
Philanthropic initiatives, combined with good governance and involving coordination between the public and private sector, play a vital role. The most effective, strategic aid is carried out when civil society takes the lead in driving and running such programmes.
We must move from having financial donors to value-adding donors. The most effective aid equips people to find their place in society. It encourages participation from its beneficiaries by providing materials and tools to allow them to be more self-reliant.
While in certain scenarios cash transfers will always be required – for example, to the vulnerable and those unable to work – most philanthropic activity should aim to create an enabling environment where more people can have a decent life. The ability to show such results can also help drive further donations by making benefactors see they are adding value. Donors should carry out detailed evaluations of the needs of those who they are trying to help, so that their aid is targeted and distributed in the most effective way.
Education and vocational training are a key priority. In developing countries, there should be a focus on encouraging education for girls and women, allowing them to reach their full potential and boost their role in the workforce. Both the public and private sector should be encouraged to play a part in spreading education and tools such as radio and television should also be utilised.
There is a role for government, both in encouraging philanthropy with the help of incentives, and in providing the infrastructure, connectivity and basic utilities that can allow people to boost their income. This includes creating an enabling environment for small business activity to grow.
Inspired by Dr Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of microcredit, I brought in legislation to start microfinance in Pakistan while I was in office. We introduced access to microfinance on all levels – local, provincial and federal – and built a regulatory framework to oversee it. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, people could get funding for new ventures or take out a small loan, be it to open a shop, produce handicrafts or raise poultry. Several specialised banks – including those to encourage women entrepreneurs – were established. Unsecured loans of as little as $50 became available for the first time. The ability for men and women to generate economic activity from their homes was invaluable for remote areas with limited infrastructure.
This is just one example in how providing people with the tools to boost their income can have a transformative effect. The reform of Pakistan’s mobile phone market and the mass connectivity that resulted from it was another empowering measure we oversaw.
There is no single global solution. Any approach needs to be adapted to the specific needs of the country it is being applied to. Main poverty alleviation programmes should be home-grown, because they can respond more quickly in times of need, but there are also foundations and charities that can be important change agents across the world. To give some examples, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Prince’s Trust and the British Red Cross have done valuable work, as have philanthropists such as Abdul Sattar Edhi, who founded the Edhi Foundation, which provides vital social welfare in Pakistan. The notable work carried out by the Al-Dabbagh Group, both in improving the lives of children through its Stars Foundation, and in bringing together people from across sectors to exchange best practices in philanthropy at its annual Philanthropreneurship Forum, has helped inspire other philanthropists across the world. The United Nations also has an important role to play in alleviating humanitarian crises across the world.
If we want a more responsible and peaceful world, we must never neglect the needs of those in society who are living in poverty. It is the responsibility of all stakeholders – including government, the private sector and civil society, individual donors and charitable organisations – to reach out to these members of society and improve their quality of life. The only limit to helping people is the limit of our own imagination.