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.

Tonight, I’ll Be Eating.

What happens when the extraordinary becomes normal?

Human history is littered with examples of people who have come into a large increase in income, won the lottery or had their life dramatically changed beyond what they could hope for, only to become so accustomed to this new life that it becomes normal. They then forget what life used to be like and take their extraordinary circumstances for granted.

Australia is a prime example of this en masse. The way we consume food has changed so significantly over the last 40 years that it beggar’s belief. Preparing family meals looks very different now, if it happens at all. Not only has the increase in the prominence of super markets changed how we access food, but the introduction of fast food restaurants has impacted how and where we consume it. Not to mention the ease in which we can access freshly prepared meals from a range of providers delivered to our door through the use of an app on our phone. We don’t even have to move off the lounge to organise dinner. Amazing – what a journey of food consumption.

As we become more and more accustomed to this new reality it is easy to forget that hunger is still the biggest killer on the planet. Whilst we can have food delivered at the tap of a smart phone, 10% of the global population are suffering from chronic hunger and for them the extraordinary is not about choice or ease of access but of finding a meal for their family. So next time your delivery takes a few extra minutes or the line at the fast food restaurant is slow stop and reflect on how things have changed, but also how things are for those living in poverty. Perhaps every time you eat out or order in, set aside some money to donate to making our world a better place.

University: Where Nice Ideas Go to Die

A Keynote Delivered to the Graduating Group from the John Curtin Leadership Academy of 2018

Uni’s are a funny place. I mean that in a nice way of course – they can be the making of people, or they can also be the breaking of people.

For me, they are a place where nice ideas go to die.

My nice idea was to go to university to study a degree in Banking and International Finance and I gave it everything I had…for about a week, until I discovered that I didn’t know anything about economics and even less about accounting. This was not fatal, but my problem was that I didn’t care about those things. This was the start of the death march of my nice idea.

So I left uni after a term and went to work in a bank, can you believe. I spent 5 years working my way up and ended up selling financial products to financial planners. My recollection of that time was that I would meet with people and they would tell me how many millions of dollars they had in funds under management and I would pretend to be impressed and understand what that really meant. One day I woke up and realised that I didn’t care about that either. So I left the bank to find something that I could find purpose in. The nice idea finally died.

There is a difference between nice ideas and world changing ideas. Nice ideas are normally ones that others may suggest for you, or ones that you think will be okay mostly because you have nothing better to do. World changing ideas are the ones that grab you by the scruff of the neck and throw you into a place completely out of your comfort zone. They change your life, the lives of those around you and potentially the world as you know it.

My world changing idea came from a casual job. From the bank I went into community radio for a while, then went back to study at Bible College. At that point I needed a casual job to keep some money coming in, and somehow landed a role with World Vision in their Youth Team. I’m not entirely sure how I got it, I have it on good authority that I wasn’t in the top 8 applicants. (That’s in the top 10, so that is still good…right?)

I spent 9 years engaging young people in the fight against poverty and my world changing idea was created. I studied my Masters of International and Community Development and now with Opportunity International, I continue to find my place and my purpose in the world. The more I learn about development and empowerment, the greater purpose I find in overcoming poverty. You see, poverty has such a devastating effect on people – it makes it impossible to see past your immediate needs today to be able to plan ahead, or hope for a future keeping people trapped and unable to reach their full potential.

There is poverty of the non-poor too. This is where too much creates poverty. This kind of poverty, where there is excess, creates greed, corruption, health issues from too much food, and slavery to the idea of a bigger and better house, a newer car, a faster boat. Somewhere in the middle of nothing and excess there is a balance where we are neither a slave to survival nor a slave to possessions.

Overcoming poverty of the non-poor requires generosity; learning to master the excess and become skilled at giving money away. This also, is how we overcoming the issue of financial poverty. It creates a place where people can reach their full potential. But potential is hard to measure so knowing whether or not we reach it is a little difficult – except to say this, you drastically underestimate what you are capable of and you drastically underestimate what the people around you are capable of. Although to reach your full potential requires good people.

Like Jim Rohn says, you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. So find some amazing people that challenge you and push you beyond your comfort zone and make them your people, because we were designed for growth.

So, do you have a nice idea that needs to die so you can discover your world changing idea?

 

 

Psychological Stress of Poverty

What happens when you stress about money?

There is a story about sugarcane farmers in India – a group of researchers tested their IQ after harvest when they had money, then again a few months later right before the harvest. The difference was that they scored nearly 10 points less when tested right before the harvest. They simply had less mental energy to focus on the test.

That is the impact of poverty and financial insecurity. It is mentally overwhelming. Poverty places a huge burden on each person’s finite mental bandwidth which creates tunnel vision as well as decreases cognitive function. All of this makes it harder to focus on anything beyond the current problem, to problem solve, resist impulses or think long-term.

It’s not that the sugarcane farmers lacked intelligence or became dumber, it was because of the circumstances they were in on the day they were tested.

This is a good reason we don’t talk about “poor families”, but instead “families living in poverty” – because their identity is not that they are poor, that is just their current context.

This phenomenon is the same everywhere in the world. Poverty has a crippling effect and stops people from reaching their full God given potential. It’s the reason that God’s heart is always for those trapped in the poverty cycle. We must keep working to overcome it.

Where the Help is Most Needed

Often people will have a particular area in the developing world that they are passionate about. So when they give money they will allocate it to that country or region.

Others may not have that connection and they will request that their funds be assigned to where the greatest need is.

With so much need in the world, how can anyone possibly suggest that one area is a priority over another?

It’s a difficult call.

Low income is one factor when it comes to poverty, but so is a lack of access to basic services, like clean drinking water, toilets, health and education, and vulnerability shocks, like illness, death or even festivals.

Opportunity International targets rural or under-served areas where poverty is high but the overall economic and political environment are stable. We also look for signs of development such as roads or markets in those areas of need. There is a tension between recognising the great need and also being able to genuinely create a positive impact and measure success over time. It’s vital to track and feedback on the projects that are being funded.

The greatest need is constantly shifting in our world as new events take place that cause poverty related issues, but also as more and more families work their way out of poverty. That’s the good news – today’s areas of greatest need will not be the same in the future because of the work that is being done.