“How Can They Do That?”

It’s a question I have heard often over the last few weeks as we have seen people buying up big in preparation for the end of the world brought about by coronavirus. I must admit that it has been a bit confusing to watch people race for, and fill trolleys with, toilet paper and other inane items that 4 weeks ago were annoying necessities. What drives people to behave in such a way?

Apart from those that are purely taking advantage of this situation and profiteering (which I am choosing to assume is a very small percentage) people that are hoarding are doing so out of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not having enough. Fear of scarcity. Fear of poverty. I can understand this fear. The word for 2020 so far is ‘unprecedented’. We have never experienced anything like this…in the developed world. (Millions of people go through upheavals of life regularly, but that is a conversation for another time). So, fear of not enough is understandable. But fear breeds more fear. Scarcity breeds scarcity. Scarcity subtracts.

To overcome the fear of hoarding requires acts of generosity. To look outside of our immediate needs and see those around us. Instead of acting as a single family unit we connect with those in our community and work as a larger entity. Together everyone achieves more (corny acrostic of T.E.A.M but has the added benefit of being true). When we act as a community, both locally and globally, it creates a generous mindset within us. Generosity comes from a hope that we can achieve things together that we are not capable of as individuals. Generosity breeds more generosity. Generosity multiplies.

When faced with the fear of scarcity, choose to act in generosity and it will have a positive, long lasting impact on our world.

Oh, That Hurt.

I recently hurt my back. You may have heard about it if you have seen me; it seems that I can talk about nothing else.

I didn’t do anything specific to cause the injury, just a combination of a newborn baby, lifting things and a minor history or back complaints. Every couple of years or so something like this happens, but this one was worse than normal. If you have ever experienced back pain, you will know what I am talking about because you use your back to do everything. I couldn’t put socks, shoes or pants on, I couldn’t sit in chairs, or find a comfortable way to stand and sneezing was a nightmare.

My effectiveness at work plummeted. If you can sit or stand, you can’t email, or plan, or meet or pretty much do anything that a job requires. But the worst thing was the threat of a sudden burst of pain at any given moment. It was all I could think about because one false move would conjure significant pain.

It gave me a glimpse of what it is like for someone who constantly lives with pain, where it permeates every area of your life, it wears you down and changes the way you think. It gets to a point where you cannot imagine life without pain, and it is terrifying. Things that were previously possible are no longer possible because of your pain. That is the cruel psychological effect that it has.

Not unlike the effect of poverty. I have often referred to the psychological effects that poverty has on people, because not having enough to feed your family becomes all that you think about, it permeates every area of your life. Things that were previously possible or may seem possible to someone on the outside looking in, are not possible because of poverty. You cannot imagine a life without it, and it is terrifying. Unless…

Unless someone does something to overcome it. Unless something changes.

Now, I can see a specialist and do my rehab exercises and work to improve my back. That’s up to me, no one else can do it for me.

Poverty doesn’t work the same way. It is a trap that no person can work their way out of by themselves. It requires someone to step in, make a donation and take what seems impossible and make it possible. That is what ending poverty looks like.

2 Selfish Reasons to Care about Developing Countries

Somewhere along the lines we decided that if we got something in return for being generous, then that wasn’t okay. For some reason it was thought that for an act to be a good thing to do then we should receive no benefit from it at all.

It’s an interesting thought and has led to hundreds of years of miserable generosity. So many people have been missing out experiencing the joy of giving purely because they thought it was wrong. There is a danger though. A danger of only doing a good thing for a completely selfish reason without concern for others at all. I think we can all admit that that behaviour feels wrong and we should probably avoid it.

In saying that, I consider some things too important to care about whether people are doing it for the right reason. Like ending poverty for example. Australia lives in amongst some of the poorest countries, they are our neighbours. Why should we care?

Well, here are two selfish reasons from Bill Gates:

  1. For Our Safety

It is to our benefit to see developing countries improve their income which improves education. Education equals stability, and less reason for radical idealisation and terrorism.

Also, and this is a big one, if we can overcome poverty in developing countries this will lead to improved healthcare and less disease because they will be able to diagnose and treat diseases more effectively (did someone say Coronavirus?). If we can equip all countries with the best medical care, it will literally save our lives down the track.

2. For Our Prosperity

This should be a no-brainer for us, living in a capitalist society and all. If we have more countries overcoming poverty, creating extra income, then all of a sudden we have hundreds of millions of new potential customers for our products. In short, history shows us that a richer Japan equals a richer world. What about a richer Indonesia, or India, or Pakistan? We are leaving money on the table.

There are other non-selfish reasons as well, but surely these two are pretty significant by themselves.

Foreign Aid Makes Australia Safe

The Australian Federal Government says that helping our neighbouring countries transition people out of poverty “will be important for Australia’s economy and security.”

Giving money for the purpose of aid, development and education is not just a nice thing to do, it’s not just about creating more customers who are able to buy more of our exports, but it makes the world a safer place.

We know that when there is a higher proportion of people living in poverty in developing countries, who have little to no opportunities to improve their lives, the region will become unstable, and young people will become “prone to radicalisation, and susceptible to the influence of countries and ideas at odds with Australia’s interests”.

So we must act, because if we don’t “create opportunities for people to lift themselves out of grinding poverty, instability will grow and people will continue to seek refuge from violence and economic hardship on our shores.”

It sounds blunt, and it’s not the only reason why Foreign Aid is important, but if we want to stop the rise of radicalisation, violence and refugees seeking asylum, giving aid to the countries around us will do that. In fact, we should be giving more.

My First Pay-Packet

I can remember receiving my first ever pay-packet. I was super excited to get it. It was back before it was all sent electronically; I was called into the cash office of the supermarket and was handed an envelope with actual cash in it. I still remember the feel of that small, windowless, locked office, and the smell of the envelope in my hand. There was no greater feeling.

I’m pretty sure I blew most of it on unnecessary stuff. But why not? It was my first one.

I’m sorry to say that my financial decisions didn’t really improve too quickly. I would buy clothes I didn’t need, eat out way too much and generally have nothing to show for myself after payday.

I’ve learned some hard lessons over time, most through necessity. I would like to think that I have a much better understanding on how to run my finances now, but occasionally I will buy something with no purpose or positive impact. I’m only human, right?

When we think about those who are living in poverty and how they spend their money, how would we feel if they spent what little they had on something wasteful.

There is the classic comedic line:

I didn’t want to give some money to the homeless person I walked past because they would just spend it on drugs and alcohol. Then I realised, that’s what I spend it on!

Why do we have greater expectations on people living in poverty than we would put on ourselves?

What is really difficult to stomach is the reality that many people living in poverty in Asia and Africa handle their money much better than most Australians. There have been numerous studies done which show that a cash injection to a family living in poverty, rather than being spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling, go towards education and health. Exactly what we would hope the money gets spent on.

And if the money can be in the form of a small loan to fund an entrepreneur who can start a business and work her way out of poverty, even better.

It is easy to forget that we can learn a great deal from other people, even if they are living in a slum somewhere in India, and even if it is about how to handle our finances.

The Worst Thing We Ever Built

The greatest thing that I made with own two hands (apart from my children, but I was really a bystander in all of that) was a table that I built in Woodwork when I was 15. It wasn’t a masterpiece and I think I accidentally stole part of it from another student, but it was mine (mostly) and it maintained its structural integrity when I put something on it. It was amazing, because I made it.

We often feel that way about something that we create, but sometimes what we create isn’t amazing, and can even cause significant damage to people. That’s a little difficult to talk about though.

One of the man-made creations which has torn our world apart is poverty. We have created it, and we maintain it, and it holds hundreds of millions of people captive every single day, taking the lives of millions each year. The ‘we’ that I refer to are the wealthy in our world. If you are reading this, then that is you.

You see, poverty has not been created by people living in poverty – Muhammad Yunos would say that poverty was created‘…by an economic system in which all the resources tend to keep surging up towards the top, creating and ever expanding mushroom head of wealth belonging to only 1 percent of people.’ An economic system created and cultivated by those whom it serves. Those with wealth. You and me.

It is not a natural disaster, it does not happen at random and it is not a necessary evil. It is a vile beast that we created, and we must kill. Because it is holding us as a human race back, and we are missing out on the beauty, creativity and intelligence of the majority of people who live on the planet.

Ending poverty is a lofty goal – but we are doing it, one small loan at a time.

Life After Poverty

We are nearly there you know. We have almost overcome extreme poverty. It’s not quite beaten as there are still hundreds of millions of people suffering in it but we have made some huge progress over the last 50 years and we will beat it in my lifetime. So I’ve been giving some thought to what life will look like for me ‘after poverty’.

It’s a strange thing to think about but the reality hit me the other day as I was contemplating my life and purpose. I have been working at overcoming poverty for such a long time now, and there are many more people who have been doing it for longer, so what would I do with life when there is no longer a need to rid the world of extreme poverty? How will my skills transfer? Not only that, how will my passions transfer.

This is the most exciting thought process that I have ever had – not because I am looking for another job but because at some point in the future, I will make myself obsolete and nothing could make me happier. I long for a world in which organisations like Opportunity International are no longer around because this means that people everywhere are able to make the most of their life, live up to their full potential, regardless of where they were born.

Surely this is the greatest succession plan. I am incredibly glad that of all the jobs that will become obsolete in the future, mine is one of them.

Now, join me in making that a reality.

Handling Rejection

I hear no quite a bit.

I work for a charity and I ask people to give generously to that charity. If I am doing my job then people will say ‘no’ to me on a regular basis, to either meeting with me, coming to an event, or being generous financially. I get ‘no’ on a much more regular basis than I get a ‘yes’, and it can hurt. It can create doubt and fear and a sense of rejection. To not go crazy, I choose to approach this ‘rejection’ with a particular mindset.

A while ago I spent some time working in radio and at the time (things may have shifted a little now) the adage was that someone needed to hear an advertisement 7 times before they decided to engage with it. Essentially, on average, it takes time for people to get comfortable with a message or product before they start to build trust and get to the point where they look at buying or connecting.

I now take the same approach with every conversation I have with someone or when I speak at an event. I talk proudly about Opportunity International and how we are ending poverty but at the same time I recognise that it could be the first time that someone has heard of the organisation and what we do, or the first time they have heard about giving to charity. I can’t expect them to jump on board straight away, but this is the first important step. It could also be the third or fourth time, or it could be the seventh time and they say yes and support generously. It just depends on the person and their journey.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I have had people tell me that they have heard me speak a few times before and now they are ready to support.

If people say no to me, that’s okay, it’s not the ‘seventh’ time for them yet. My job is to keep the relationship going so they can get to that point.

I also know that some people will never come around, that’s okay too. They are on their own journey and whilst I believe being generous is good for everyone, we all have to come to that place in our own time and on our own terms.

Bad and Better

There is no doubt that if you look around at the world today it can make you very sad. Death, destruction, poverty, hatred and ignorance.

Sure things are bad but they are not as bad as we think. Not even close. In fact the entire world appears to be ignorant of just how great things are in comparison to how they were.

I have written about some of this before, highlighting child mortality has dropped by 70% since 1970, even though the global population has grown by 30% in that time. 2 billion more people, 16 million less deaths of children under the age of 5. Phenomenal.

But that just scratches the surface. Over the last 100 years global incomes per person have sky rocketed and the average life span across the world has improved over the last 50 years. The average lifespan globally today is 70. Almost everything is better including the amount of people who own guitars and this is what I wanted to focus on.

There are a number of different ways to measure improvement, through income levels, life expectancy, population growth, babies born per women and culture. The last one is a little complex to measure, but music is a good place to start.

Hans Rosling (my new hero) has data on playable guitars per capita (who thinks of these things?), and back in 1962 there was 200 playable guitars for every 1 million people, in 2014 that had grown to 11,000 playable guitars for every 1 million people. The increase in income globally has allowed more people to engage in cultural activities like music, being a sign that things are improving.

Things are bad in our world, but they are a heck of a lot better than they used to be, they continue to get better, and we are not finished yet.

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Equality…and cake.

Have you ever been given the responsibility of cutting a birthday cake for children?

The need to get each piece the exact same size has never been so great, and when you can’t do that, each child knows who has the biggest piece and who’s piece is smallest. Of course, in that situation the easiest thing to do is to take some from the biggest piece and give it to the child with the smallest piece, so things are equal.

But you know that things are not that simple. It doesn’t matter how much you explain it with logic, and even though each child gets the same amount, the saddest child in the room is always the one who has had something taken from them. They are unable to focus on anything else except for their cake – even if it ended up being distributed with equality, they can only see what they lost.

We know what inequality is; when people are oppressed, there is injustice, parts of the community are unable to reach their full potential, and society is at odds with itself. We notice it acutely when we feel it ourselves. When, for us as individuals, life is not fair, we are not getting what we deserve, what we have worked so hard for. Somebody has taken our cake.

But there is another side to inequality and that is privilege. If there was no privilege, then inequality would not exist. From a place of privilege, it is a little difficult to notice when someone else is oppressed. It requires a courageous ability to empathise with those who are different from us; different in the way they think and approach life – it is an act of generosity to assist those who are living in the oppressed side of inequality to bring about equality. It sounds great, but the difficulty when part of our community begins to move from inequality towards equality is it usually creates a disturbance. The power that those in privilege are used to experiencing, begins to shift. When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression so moves towards equality are hindered by those in privilege, even if they want equality in theory.

We live in a world of inequality. More often than not in Australia, our experience of inequality is through privilege. We’ve been handed a very big piece of cake*. There is no one to take it off us and redistribute it to others who are oppressed so it is up to us to do that individually. But it is going to cost us. It will disrupt the power that we have.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to get started – a gift of $100 is enough to create a small loan for a mother living in poverty in Asia so she can start a business and begin the journey out of the poverty cycle. A small, but important step in the journey of equality – giving up some of our financial power to empower someone else.

*Metaphorical cake.