Eradicating poverty must be a universal imperative

By Dr. Arun Gandhi
Poverty around the globe is the result of greedy, selfish and materialistic life style that human society has chosen for itself.  Although we take pride in our “civilization” we really live by the jungle law: Survival of the fittest! To oppress, deny, discriminate against fellow humans and deny them basic human rights is not civilized living.

At the same time, attempting to eradicate poverty is not the responsibility of the government alone. It has to be tackled imaginatively and collaboratively by the administration and by society together. Bureaucrats and politicians are incapable of viewing a problem compassionately. Eradicating poverty without compassion is virtually impossible so the government needs to provide the means and society provides the method.

It is also important to know that while we may be educated and more knowledgeable we really do not know what it means to live in poverty and hunger.  We have never experienced it and that makes a very big difference in understanding the problem. We have to purge ourselves of the arrogance of success which is the first step in allowing compassion to flourish.  Arrogance and compassion are two ends of the spectrum and bringing them together only causes an explosion.

Any program of lifting oppressed people out of their misery has to be carefully planned and structured.  If those living in poverty are the problem, they must be allowed to be a part of the solution.  The practice today, motivated by arrogance, can best be described by the famous song: “Shut up and dance with me.”

By making the poor people a part of the solution we help them discover and rebuild their self-respect and self-confidence, the two essential components of success.

Working cooperatively helps speed up the process but I was told that a country that worships individualism rejects cooperation.  Besides, cooperatives are too closely linked with socialism.

When my organization tackled homelessness in Mumbai, India, we brought together almost 800 of them, formed a loose cooperative, and challenged them to collectively save a coin every day to build a capital that could be used to build a support system they needed.  Their fundamental problem was poverty and ignorance.  If these were eradicated they could build homes for themselves.  All together, with trust and painstaking work, collected the equivalent of $11,000 in less than two years.  We invested this money in buying 12 second hand electric textile weaving machines and in a little tin shed in their village we opened a factory.  They had no idea of management, production, marketing, accounting etc.  we trained them on the shop floor and as they became confident we handed over the work to them.

In 10 years they built three more factories and all those who contributed to the capital became cooperative owners with a steady income and prosperity.  In 15 years they opened a cooperative bank The Kranti Weaver’s Cooperative Bank in the city of Mumbai.  Today the bank has a capital exceeding $2 million and six branches.

They are now educated, successful and capable of not only providing their own needs but have become major contributors to the growth of society.  They are now helping others achieve the same success that they did with our help.  This is what Gandhi called a constructive program.

Dr. Arun Gandhi, a global voice for justice, is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. He is a member of The National Advisory Panel of The PuLSE Institute, an independent and non-partisan anti-poverty think tank based in Detroit.

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