KARACHI: The majority of the people on earth are either unaware of the shocking disparity that exist between the “haves” and the “have nots” of this world, or choose to ignore it. To put things in perspective, consider the fact that the 10 richest countries average a per capita income of $69,420, compared to $540 for the 10 poorest countries in the world. Pakistan’s is $2,600. The richest citizens of the world earn in three days what the poorest may earn in a whole year.
The citizens of rich countries – the haves – must realise that they cannot continue to enjoy their luxurious lifestyles indefinitely. We are bound to each other in a finite space, and it is not possible to insulate the comfort of some from the misery that the majority of the world suffers from. The poor will not forever overlook the fact that their children are dying of malnutrition and lack of healthcare, while the children of others across imaginary borders are able to live lives of bliss and comfort, and expect great futures.
Under such circumstances, the rich must not stick their heads in the sand like ostriches, but engage with the problem before it is too late. It has been demonstrated in the past that poverty and illiteracy drive behaviours such as extremism, radicalism and intolerance. Indeed, the rich have already experienced the tremors of social upheaval, instigated by people from ‘third world’ countries, within their own developed world.
I feel that the time has come when the more affluent citizens of earth must take this issue extremely seriously – or risk the loss of their peace and tranquillity as the troubles of the poor spill over into their society as well. An example to emulate may be Bill and Melinda Gates, who have put aside $33.5 billion dollars to enhance healthcare and reduce poverty in the “have not” nations of the world.
In a similar vein, I suggest the richest nations to found and fund an ‘International Impact Organisation’ ; along the lines of the United Nations, but with the objective of making ‘impact’ investments that drive education and knowledge initiatives using solutions that create positive externalities rather than negative ones. The organisation would, in other words, teach its beneficiaries ‘how to fish’. This could be done through the provision of schools, polytechnic training institutes and other such skill development initiatives, coupled with nurturing their economic activity. Illiteracy is perhaps the most important determinant and characteristic of poverty and extremism. Low literacy is prevalent broadly in three regions; the Arab states, South and West Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. These regions have traditionally been volatile and stricken with strife. If problems of literacy are resolved, we will move collectively towards a better tomorrow.
Potential in this area is immense, and the benefits long term. The key focus must be to redistribute global income and build the capability and capacity of poor nations.
Impact investment should address earth’s social issues, such as access to education, clean water, improved health care and provision for clean energy. With the creation of this proposed “International Impact Organisation”, the future of this world may be brighter and happier for humankind collectively.
The writer works in the corporate sector and is active on various business forums and trade bodies.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2012.