The Stroumboulopouli

The Stroumboulopouli

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Get to the Point: Make Poverty History

*Earlier this week, Make Poverty History launched a new ad campaign urging Canadians to speak out to convince the Federal government to make Canada a leader in irradicating poverty around the world by simply standing by a promise made years ago: commit 0.7% of the Gross National Income (GNI) to foreign aid and development.

In 1968, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson became the Chairman of the Commission on International Development, a United Nations committee whose mission was to analyse previous development assistance programs and make concrete suggestions for what the world could do to lessen the disparity of wealth amongst the nations. After a year of constant travel around the world, consulting both wealthy nations and nations receiving aid, the Commission published their report "Partners in Development" (also known as The Pearson Commission Report). At the heart of this report was the concept that all nations must work together, as partners, if developmental aid was to succeed. It is this report that coined the concept that foreign aid is a feasible task requiring a constant flow of income from the wealthy nations that would be equivalent to 0.7% of their GNI. And living up to Canada's international reputation as compassionate and caring, the government of the day immediately made the commitment to allocate the necessary funds.
Unfortunately, over the past four decades, Canada has not kept their promise. Over the years, we've come close to allocating the full 0.7% (the closest being 0.53% in 1975) but we've yet to actually hit the target. In fact, we're averaging less than 0.3% of our GNI. We're far behind other wealthy nations including the Netherlands and Norway, who give 0.81% and 0.95% respectively.

K-os: one of the many Canadian celebrities participating in the Get to the Point campaign.
The new ad campaign is part of a call to action leading up to the next G8 summit in Japan in July, where one of the main topics of discussion will be the member nation's contribution to foreign aid. By meeting the target, Canadians could become world leaders in the battle against global poverty. The ad campaign (created by ad agency Taxi on a pro bono basis) is endorses by a wide selection of Canadian celebrities including: Feist, Chantal Kreviazuk, Sam Roberts, Gord Downie, Sarah McLachlan, Tom Cochrane, K-OS, Billy Talent, Jann Arden, Suzie McNeil and George Stroumboulopoulos.
From a press release dated June 11, 2008:
"We're at a critical juncture in the battle against global poverty," says Gerry Garr, Chair of the Make Poverty History campaign. "If every nation that has promised to sign onto the .7 campaign follows through on its word, we can stave off a much larger global disaster that many experts think will come our way if we don't act now."
How can you get involved? Make a statement. Go to Make Poverty History to tell Prime Minister Harper and your local MP that they need to commit to the promise we made to the world. By signing up with the Point Seven campaign, you can send a message to the government, telling them, "Get to the Point!" and publically commit to finally keep the promise that Pearson first made so many decades ago.
You can also view the ad on The Hour website.


Kim said...

This is a touchy subject. But I admit I resist campaigns like this. The premise of this idea of giving money to poverty-stricken nations is that the hands that receive it will use it well. i.e. corruption. Will it solve their problems or will they use it in the same old way they always have?

I support another human being who tries something that they think will make a difference (e.g. an ad for .7), but question the solution.

More questions: (I'm not looking to argue, just innocently pointing out the other side to this)...why do we think the North American way is better than other country's ways of living? And what about people figuring out their own problems?

It's hard to watch a fellow human being struggle. I guess that's where these campaigns stem from. But to empower vs. coddle seems more logical to me.

Mich said...

Kim, you make some very good points. And to an extent, I agree with you. However, the original premise of the point seven promise is to help eradicate the major discrepancies of wealth between nations. You're right, it's not necessarily that North America's way is better than anyone else's or that we shouldn't let people figure out their own problems. Point Seven may have been created by a UN committee headed by a Canadian (Pearson), but the concept is global not just North American. Most wealthy nations around the world have signed on, and the five countries that do consistently make the point seven mark are European. Canada and the USA are far down the list.

Do I think that committing Point Seven percent of our GNI will magically solve the global poverty crisis? Hell no. I just think it's a piece of the puzzle. There are many things that make a difference , look at the programs developed by Paul Polak and Muhammed Yunus or the work of War Child. Those make concrete differences, one person at a time. Point Seven is just one of the many things that must happen in the world in order to end the suffering, social injustice and violence associated with poverty. It's not the only thing, it's not the whole answer, it's just part of the solution.

Kim said...

Mich, you're right - one of many things that need to be done. The Europeans really "get it" in many ways, don't they? I checked out Paul Polak and Muhammed Yunus (I didn't see those interviews). Exciting and innovative!

I had another thought...tell me what you think. The biological imperative is humans need to be able to survive by looking after themselves. Did poverty start when people moved off the land & into cities. Is our disconnection from nature and basic survival a contributing factor to poverty?

The humans living on less are closer to the land, but struggle because cities don't garner this. Western cultures master economics, city life, but are disconnected from Nature & living on only what you need. Both need to learn from each other for balance.

We don't look at our side of "helping" other nations. We get to learn about community, and connect more with Nature by digging wells and looking after basic survival. We miss this because it's done for us in Canada, so our hearts are drawn to where we can experience it?

Mich said...

Could the disconnect from the land and nature be the genesis be the root cause of poverty? My initial gut reaction is no, but to be honest I'd have to go back and take a look at history to back that up. I think poverty has always existed, but where or how it started would be probably very hard to pinpoint. The Industrial Revolution didn't start until the late 1700s but really didn't pick up steam (pun intended) until the middle 1800s which is one point where historians see high urban population growth (people leaving the land to live in the city). The Industrial Revolution doesn't account for those who lived in poverty before that. Looking at more ancient cultures, there was always a division of the wealthy and the poor, a prime example could be the ancient Egyptians: the ruling wealthy enslaved the lower classes and keeping them poor by withholding basic needs and enslaving them. Religious texts, such as the Bible, talk of treating the poor and the feeble with compassion (Tony Campolo's interview comes to mind here). So I don't know if you can pinpoint a specific point in history where poverty started, the division of wealth has always existed.

Maybe it's not a case of pinpointing where poverty started... maybe it's more of pinpointing what the root causes of poverty were/are and how those causes have stood the test of time, holding up the disparity between those who have and those who have not. There are so many root causes of poverty, which is the initial root? Is it lack of resources? Lack of ambition? Lack of ability? Disparity of wealth among people and nations? Colonialism? Enslavement? The high standard or cost of living (I'm not talking materialism, I'm talking meeting the basic needs to survive)? Environmental issues(drought, etc.)? Other issues?

It's hard to point to just one thing as the root cause for all poverty. As with most subjects, it depends on the situation. Why someone lives in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is likely very different than why someone lives in poverty in Myanmar or even here on the streets of Toronto. As the solution cannot be made up of one effort, I don't think the problem of poverty itself can be brought down to one pinpointed root.

Kim said...

Mich, you're good at looking at the bigger picture. That's a great quality to have. It's a good point to bring up, that the separation between rich/poor has gone on a long time. Perhaps stemming back to caveman times - I'm a good hunter, and I'm not sharing. So everyone else is left wanting what I have.

I saw something on the news recently. A Canadian family living on decreasing portions of cornmeal and lentils for a few days, to get some idea of what it's like. I was so disappointed - the kids didn't like the bland taste, so they threw out much of the food and seemed to struggle a lot for just a few days.

Seeing this, I wonder if the ones needing the lesson poverty is our society. Perhaps we are the ones going against the biological imperative, if we struggle going a few days without much food.

Mich, what do you think is the best way for someone in Canada to make a difference in poverty?

Mich said...

I too saw that family and was disgusted by the waste that happened. It was just not right and from what I remember, I don't think they got the point.

What do I think Canadians can do to make a difference? Wow. That's a tough question. I don't know if I have the answer. I guess, like anything else, that it has to start small. Be aware. Be engaged. Know the issue. Get involved. Make any difference you can, whether it's on a global scale or a local scale. There are people living in poverty in our own communities, we can't forget them while saving others around the world. Volunteer for organizations that help out and help up those living in poverty. I don't know if I have the answer. I wish I did, these are just things that I think would help make a difference. Even if it's just a little difference.

Kim said...

Awareness is definitely a world changer. If I ask myself how can I make a difference, a couple things come to mind.

One thing I've done before that I liked - the microloans. I've donated through, and found it fun that $25 helps someone's entrepreneural spirit. And it's a little closer to one on one.

I also feel it's important not to look at other people as victims, but see that any one of us could be in a challenging situation. Also, to take care that "helpers" aren't on pedestals because it means we miss what other humans/cultures have to offer, that we can learn from.

Thanks for tossing around ideas, Mich!