Tag Archives: solve poverty

How Can A Model Solve Poverty?


Poverty is a problem, but whose problem is it to solve poverty?  And how exactly can a poverty model help? This article answers both questions.  We promote a 3 Step Plan to solve poverty, namely: define it, map it and focus its ‘fixers’. That’s it. All problems, at their heart, are human in origin.  Don’t agree? Then take the example of the polar bear. It may be true that some of their natural habitats are under threat, through global warming. However, polar bears themselves do not perceive this as a ‘problem’, as such.

polar bear oblivious to global warming and desire to solve poverty

For those that it affects, it is just their immediate reality. For those that it doesn’t affect, they remain blissfully unaware of the issue. In the same way, global poverty is a human problem, not just because it is human in origin, but that ‘problems’ themselves are ultimately all human in nature. Nature itself doesn’t register a formal opinion either way. If it did, it might well consider human poverty as another form of ‘natural selection’; an enforced instance of ‘survival of the fittest’. In contrast to such anthropological Darwinism, human history provides a long track record of human problems being solved by human ideas. Karl Marx (1859) claimed that “Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve”.  We contend that solving poverty is no different and that the 7 Layer Poverty Model may prove just such an idea. So let’s examine it together and see if you agree.

Solving global poverty, poverty images, Thailand, Akha village, Akha people


The challenge to solve poverty is a human one. The 7 Layer Poverty Model is a human idea. It is not the complete answer in itself, but it is a key tool in solving the puzzle, in that it provides a COMMON and consistent way of understanding the complex problem of poverty and its many contributory causes. It is intended to be sophisticated enough so that most experts can use it, but simple enough so that most people can understand it. It draws from simple concepts that are familiar to us all and shows an effective way of combining them in a single, 3-dimensional model, consisting of a 7 layer cone sat on top of a ‘target’. Like this…

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

It uses a standardised definition of poverty that can be simply understood and simply communicated. That definition can be given in 7 child-friendly words. Poverty is: “not enough of 7 things we need”. To the expert, that translates to “the relative absence of 7 Humanitarian Basics”. But let’s just take the child-friendly definition for a moment.

It breaks down into 3 simple ideas:

1. There are some things we all need as humans

2. There are 7 important ones to keep in mind

3. ‘Poverty’ means not having enough of them.

The 7 Humanitarian Basics are: water, food, clothing, shelter,  healthcare, engagement (within the community) and freedom from oppression. Could you explain these things to a 5 year old in language they can understand? Could they then explain it to their friends?  If so, that is more than half the battle: defining the problem in such a way that most people actually understand it. But is it still powerful enough for experts to use? Let’s now consider the problem from the perspectives of those whose job it is to actually solve poverty – those whom we call ‘the fixers’.

Sadhu, Holy man, religions often prioritise solving poverty within beliefs



The 7 Layer Poverty Model recognises seven ‘players’, ‘actors’, ‘stakeholders’, or those who otherwise recognise they  have a particular role in solving poverty for any given individual on the planet. First and foremost is that individual themselves (excluding those who opt for some form of poverty out of choice and preference). You may have heard the phrase: “God helps those who help themselves” in this context. The Poverty Model recognises that the person typically most motivated to lift any given individual out of poverty, is the individual themselves. The model therefore starts by identifying that motivated individual, represented by the 7-layer cone at its centre – at the ‘bulls-eye’ of a sequence of concentric circles – like an archery target.


With some rare exceptions, people around the world mostly choose to organise their living among others. That model of organisation proves pretty consistent globally. Individuals tend to cluster into households of one or more. Households tend to cluster into communities. Both such ‘social structures’ are thus represented by the two ‘ghost’ cones surrounding the central, individual cone. One can imagine that in many (but not all) cases, the relative absence of Humanitarian Basics experienced by the individual will also be experienced at the household level.

One can also imagine aggregated assessments for Humanitarian Basics taken at the whole Community level, using techniques like the Small Area Estimation approach adopted and promoted by the World Bank. The risk of such aggregated information is the loss of detail for the individual and their household. This is one of the strengths of the 7 Layer Poverty Model, relative to Small Area Estimations, where levels of granularity only extend as far as the community as a whole.


Within the 7 Layer Poverty Model, the individual, their household and their Community are the first three out of our 7 key ‘fixers’ recognised and represented. The other 4 are represented by the 4 sectors of the target pattern underneath the cone. These fixers are: multilateral agencies, non-governmental organisations, social entrepreneurs and in-country governments. Statistically, countries do not tend to change their boundaries that much, or that often, even though some remain in dispute to this day. This enables us to look consistently at remarkable aspects of the history of poverty globally, at the macro-level, over 200 years and for some 200 countries, using published statistics from the United Nations.

Poverty issues face Three generation of himba women. Epupa-Kaokoland-Namibia

So, surrounding the individual, the Model recognises a household, which may be one or more persons, but is otherwise largely self-defining. They are considered a single ‘household’ because they think and act as such. Beyond that boundary, there is the Community to which the given household is considered to belong, however loose, shifting, or complex those relationships may prove to be in practice.  Underpinning Communities is the support (however tangible) of the government of the country to which it is typically considered to belong – such that it would think of that community as its citizens and thus, to some extent, its responsibility.

Red thumbtack on globe. Isolated 3D image

While countries have long seen themselves as part of various geographic empires, regions and continents, recent decades have also witnessed a particular rise in new multilateral entities, formed through alliances between multiple countries and across continents. Of particular note and influence in the context of solving poverty, are the United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union. These are referred to collectively within the Poverty Model (and elsewhere), as examples of ‘multilateral agencies’. They are another of the seven fixers, represented in the Model as one of the 4 ‘sectors’ making up the ‘target’ pattern underneath the cone. We think of it as operating like a ‘safety net’, underneath the individual, their household and their community.

solving global poverty, eradicate global poverty, global poverty model, poverty profile


Multilateral agencies have a publicly declared interest in the general wellbeing of citizens who exist beyond the borders of any one constituent member state. The United Nations was formed with the idea that ‘an attack on one was an attack on all’. This reflected a sense of shared problems and shared responsibilities among the member states within the multilateral agency. Member charters and codes of practice define what each member state commits to sign up to.  It is typically considered part of the price of ‘membership’.


Such shared public commitments have variously extended to such significant things as: the International Bill of Human Rights; the Geneva Convention; and the Millennium Development Goals. Such internationally recognised standards and commitments are impressive enough in themselves. So many authorities, from so many differing countries, speaking so many different languages, over so many years, have all agreed on them – at least notionally. Those agreements may not go far enough for some member states, but their great power is in their perceived consensus. So it is with the 7 Layer Poverty Model.

organisations solving poverty, poverty models, overcoming global poverty


Within the Model, non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) may include both charities and religious groups, operating at a local, national or international level.  However, this category is usually seen to exclude companies, in the traditional sense. NGO’s may have a tight focus on one particular community, or their reasons for being may extend all the way to international ambitions and activities. The Red Cross, or Red Crescent is a well-known example of the latter. Poverty-focused charities are of obvious interest for us, within the 7 Layer Poverty Model, but clearly most faith group members around the world would also recognise some common responsibility towards ‘the poor’ – even if it may prioritise the poor among the group’s own notional ‘membership’.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in church


The Poverty Model does not expressly exclude companies from having a place within the broad category of NGO’s, insofar as they are usually organisations which are not actually ‘governments’, despite some of them being ‘state-run’ or part state-owned.  Companies do have an important  role to play in providing employment, which is a factor recognised within the “Engagement” layer of the 7 Layer Poverty Model. Some companies even make notable contributions to charities, financial or otherwise.

Closeup of business people shaking hands over a deal

However, companies are not treated as a separate priority group within the Model, as their stated goals are not typically seen as primarily distinguishing and serving ‘the poor’ as such, or addressing poverty, specifically.  Yes, some of their actions may help alleviate some aspects of poverty, but they would not see it as their primary “job”. Companies have priority obligations to their own stakeholders, as part of their own reasons for being. These may include ‘society’ as a whole, but the majority of companies usually see themselves as geared more towards satisfying shareholders, customers, suppliers, management and staff. ‘Society’ may be ‘in the queue’, but it’s not at the front.

Hand and word Teamwork

We also think that efforts at persuasion are best directed at the individuals who invest in and run those companies – all of whom may enjoy a greater degree of individual free choice than some of the people their decisions can adversely affect. We recognise that there are many techniques of persuasion in such circumstances and we wholly advocate the positive, constructive ones, recognising such free choice. We do not support the use of intimidation and violence to achieve our goals and in that sense, we do not advocate any perceived need “fight fire with fire”. So how DO we aim to help solve poverty?

solving global poverty together, overcoming poverty, how can i make a difference


We define poverty as the relative lack of 7 Humanitarian Basics. These Basics are organised in a tiered-hierarchy, in recognition that this stepped idea broadly reflects how an individual’s priorities work out in real life for those facing poverty – in its multiple dimensions. Each Humanitarian Basic forms a Layer within the cone structure.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

Each Layer can then be subject to a Simple Assessment in terms of 3 considerations: Attributes, Access and Availability – for every individual on the planet and without the need for data aggregation. Such an Assessment is qualified with a measure of high, medium, low or none, based on categorising responses to 21 questions. Conceptually then, every individual can be represented by a 3-dimensional cone, with each of the 7 layers of the cone made up of 3 inter-connecting sectors – all of which can be subject to Simple Assessment. Each individual is represented as being surrounded by their household and Community, in the from of ‘ghost’ cones. The cones together sit on top of a ‘safety net’ made up of 4 sectors, representing the 4 macro-scale fixers.

Conceptual image of sphere and arrows. Isolated.

Together, these constitute the 7 key fixers that we recognise as having a sustainable, long-term interest in solving poverty for every individual facing it on the planet. The collective, shared intention is to assist each motivated individual to improve their own life and circumstances – sustainably. The value of the model is to facilitate a common language and understanding, enabling us to better define poverty, map poverty and focus the fixers sharing the same common agenda. That is how a simple model can help solve poverty. It is a simple, but powerful tool, that can be used alongside Systems Thinking, to overcome more poverty sooner, with the same or less resources.

Global poverty images, Can Tho floating market, Delta of Mekong, Vietnam.

We hope you will share this agenda with us and with others who will do the same.

And we thank you again for being…

One in a Billion!



How Close Are We To Solving Poverty?


We want to introduce the notion of ‘closeness’ in driving action towards solving poverty. We use it deliberately, as a term that most people can relate to and feel they understand, without requiring a dictionary definition of the term. Closeness is a ‘feeling-based’ summary of one’s overall attitude towards another. People use it in their most valued relationships, to describe how they feel towards each other, in a common language: “I feel so close to you right now”. The same common idea is used to describe matters when things are not going so well: “You seem so distant”. Although technically speaking, ‘closeness’ is meant to be a measure of physical proximity, we habitually use it to give a sense of how ‘unified with’, or ‘separated from’ another individual we think we are. It is a simple way of describing and summarising the complex way we may actually feel. We believe that the relative presence or absence of this feeling of closeness, materially affects how we collectively respond to the needs of the poorest billion people on the planet.

closeness drives action in solving poverty

Clearly, as human beings, we are used to our behaviour being driven by how we feel. If we are tired, we might sleep. If we’re hungry, we might eat. If we’re concerned over a given situation, we might act. Our simple idea is that people who feel closer to others are more likely to be motivated to ACT on their behalf. The closer we feel, the stronger the motivation to act. Agreed? Consider the strength of motivation a mother can have in protecting her child, based on the sense of ‘closeness’ she feels to that other human being. This is not simply a genetic thing. There are biological mothers who admit to feeling little for their own children, in some instances. While elsewhere, a person may feel an immense closeness to a child that is not even their own.



Whatever the reason, the idea of closeness has come to be used between people, to summarise their overall strength or weakness of feeling towards each other. Degrees of closeness then, though quite possibly hard to actually measure scientifically, certainly seem reasonably easy for people to express. While people may not ADMIT to any sense of absolute measurement of closeness, they can certainly respond more readily to questions of comparison: ‘Which of your friends do you feel closest to?’ We do not know how this concept translates into other languages. We hope that the universal experiences of touch, physical proximity and interpersonal relationships will mean a common language equivalent, via interpretation, throughout the world.



OK, fair point. To recap then, a sense of ‘closeness’ drives motivation and motivation in turn, drives our behaviour. Motivation MOVES you to action. When solving poverty, well-informed, timely, effective, sustainable ACTION is precisely what we want, so anything that leads to that outcome is of keen interest to us.  It is this kind of action that we look for among any or all of the 7 key poverty ‘fixers’ recognised in our 7 Layer Poverty Model. It is recognised that MANY other motivations and forms of action may abound in the realm of seeking to overcome global poverty.  Our own interest is in how EFFECTIVE a given course of action is and what helps motivate and focus the fixers towards that kind of action. We cannot reasonably ASSESS any such outcomes, without some reasonable approximation to MEASUREMENT. We accept that all attempts at measurement of progress against poverty metrics are, to a degree, “truth-substitutes”. They cannot tell us exactly what the situation is, but we accept the compromise in getting us the closest thing to the truth we can reasonably expect to obtain, under the circumstances and within given constraints.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014


‘Focusing fixers’ is the third of our proposed 3 steps to solve global poverty. When focusing fixers, we aim to use measurement in assessing action impacts and the notion of ‘closeness’ as a key variable when assessing various ‘fixer’ motivation levels. So the loaded question arises: “What are the key factors which then drive a sense of closeness between people?” We can think of a few categories of things. Chief contenders among these seem, to us, to be: emotional, familial, social, ethical, moral, religious, practical, circumstantial, physical, sexual, geographical, political, functional and awareness-driven. That’s quite a list, so allow us to unpack it just a little.


Imagine a circle broken down into many segments, rather like an orange cut in half and viewed from the top. Each of the potential factors in our list is like an individual segment of that circle. The thickness of each segment can give an indication of how relatively important a given factor is in the overall sense of ‘closeness’ between two people, while the bigger the whole circle, the stronger that overall strength of feeling. Got it? With that metaphor fixed firmly in your mind, we will continue. Let’s start with an easier one. Imagine the same mother and baby scenario we referred to earlier. There are reported instances where mothers have been motivated to go to EXTREME lengths in the protection of their children, in some cases lifting off massive weights from their physically trapped children, in order to rescue them from some disaster. By weights, we mean things like cars! That would be a powerful overall strength of feeling represented by a large circle and we would expect the biological relationship to represent a large segment within that whole. Now consider the size of the circle and the thickness of the segments within it, for other types of relationships you have.



If you ask parents around the world if they feel equally ‘close’ to all their children, the answer in many cases, will be ‘no’. It is not necessarily that they feel ‘close’ to some and ‘distant’ from others, but that they experience DIFFERENT DEGREES of closeness. You may have experienced the same thing with your FRIENDS. You feel closer to some than to others. In English, we even have the phrase “close friends”, to distinguish them from others who are – not so close. And there are certain things we would be willing to do for CLOSE friends, that we wouldn’t be willing to do for OTHER friends. This relative distinction becomes important when considering the relative motivations of our 7 key poverty fixers.


Yet not everyone fits neatly into one of those 3 categories: ‘not a friend’; ‘friend’; or ‘close friend’. There are billions of others who we don’t even know yet, including the vast majority of those facing poverty. So just how “close” do we feel to them? It is not even the simplest answer, which would be ‘not at all’ – because in fact we can and do feel DIFFERING DEGREES of closeness, even to people we don’t actually know personally. Have you ever witnessed the devotional behaviour of fans of pop stars and movie icons? Remember, we are not suggesting that such feelings need to be reciprocated by the person you feel close to, just that YOU can sometimes feel surprisingly close to those you don’t even know – whatever the degree.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in church

So, if we can feel different degrees of closeness to people we don’t necessarily know, then what sort of things drive that? We accept the more obvious things like family relationships and friendships, but there’s more. There are also other perceived ties, that bind two people closer. A sense of common religious views can be one. You may have witnessed references to the sense of ‘brotherhood’ between Muslim men worldwide. You might also be aware of Christians who describe themselves as ‘one in Christ’ with others who share the same faith. The differing extent to which those stated beliefs are felt, or actually practiced, is a different matter. The principle is that those of a common faith will often experience a greater sense of ‘closeness’ with those who share the same faith. But the tie of common beliefs and loyalties is not exclusive to religion. We previously mentioned fans of pop stars. Have you heard of teenage girls describing themselves as “Beliebers”, after the surname of their heart-throb, Justin Bieber? Similarly, sports fans will share a sense of closeness to others who support the same team – and a sense of distance from those who support an opposing team. They may even label themselves as ‘fans’ – which is short for ‘fanatics’. And fanaticism itself can become a common bond, increasing a sense of closeness between people.



We don’t debate whether the origin of such senses relates back to former times, when one ‘human tribe’  needed to know if a member of another tribe was ‘in or out’, friend or foe. We simply wish to acknowledge the fact that this sense of ‘closeness’ is common to human beings and is felt to varying degrees and for different reasons. Let’s briefly consider some more of those reasons. Social: if they are part of our community, sub-culture, country membership, language and so on, we feel a greater closeness to them than those that differ – all other things being EQUAL (which they often aren’t). Emotional: plenty to choose from here, ranging from the natural pity humans seem to have for nearly all babies, through to the intense closeness that can be felt for those you most identify with. Political: a greater sense of closeness to those from the same or other countries, who share the same political ideologies. Practical: a greater sense of closeness felt between people facing similar predicaments together. Functional: a greater sense of closeness felt to those who are deemed your ‘responsibility’ in your job, whether fellow staff, or those your job role specifically serves (customers, clients, the cared-for). There are clearly more, but you get the idea.

Rice field

Underlying it all, is the necessary sense of personal AWARENESS of and IDENTIFICATION with the other individual or group. If you are unaware of another person’s existence, then a sense of closeness simply doesn’t register. The greater the level of awareness of another person, the greater opportunity there will be to develop any sense of closeness based on OTHER factors – instead of the ultimate indifference and distance typically felt otherwise. Perhaps this partly drives the idea that: “charity begins at home”. We are naturally more aware of the possible needs of those in our immediate vicinity – in our home, in our community. There is less likelihood that we will have the same level of closeness to those who live in a different country, or on a different continent. Less likely, but not impossible.

Feeling closeness is not primarily driven by physical closeness, but by awareness and identification. Consider friends who met in one country, moved to completely different countries, but remained friends. Physical distance NEED NOT be an issue, but it is certainly one of the key factors to consider. People talk about the idea of the “global village”, where modern transport and the global spread of telecommunications means that people never need feel that far away from each other. You can now talk to someone the other side of the world as if they are standing in the other room.


Red thumbtack on globe. Isolated 3D image

So what of it? Assuming we now accept that awareness and identification drive closeness and closeness in turn drives motivation to action, what does that mean for solving global poverty?

It means this: That we will be MORE motivated to act on behalf of those we feel CLOSER to. Conversely, we will feel LESS motivated to act on behalf of those we feel more distant from. Campaigns on behalf of poverty charities realise this. If they are to get you to feel closer to the people needing help, they have some obstacles to overcome. Firstly, you don’t know the people involved, so they give you their NAME. The more familiar the kind of name given, the greater the probable sense of closeness. A name turns a ‘some thing’ into a ‘someone’. It is personal. It even works on paper and radio. But we want more closeness – so we give you a picture. When you SEE the person, then what was unfamiliar and unknown starts to become more FAMILIAR – and perhaps closer. If the picture is of the kind that you will respond to more readily (a wide eyed child, for example), so much the better. And a moving, rather than a mere photo image is best of all. It all helps to identify them as human and ‘like us’ in that way. That is why we at Give A Billion seek to use close up pictures of REAL PEOPLE on this site so often. We think it is important to remind all our welcome visitors that we are talking about the lives and livelihoods of real people. Photos help us do that. They help us to feel closer to the person we are seeking to help overcome poverty.



So then, we recognise the principle that an increased sense of closeness leads to an increased sense of motivation. We also understand that different sets of related FACTORS all add up to give us an overall relative ‘closeness’ measure. The strength of that sense of closeness can VARY over time, so our overall closeness ‘score’ would change with it. We also point out that our goal at Give A Billion is to facilitate a ‘coalition of the willing’, in overcoming more poverty sooner for a billion people. Hence, the greater the genuine sense of closeness we can help foster, between those who want to help and those who could use some help, the better.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

So let us return to the 7 Layer Poverty Model once more, to check where this consistent notion of ‘closeness’ helps us and can be incorporated. Remember the person facing poverty stays central to the Model. Of all those feeling ‘close’ to that person, the individual themselves must surely feel closest of all. They are typically the most motivated to overcome their own poverty circumstances. They will remain so, long after others may have given up and gone home. Which brings us onto the next most motivated group typically – the individual’s own household. In most cases, if an individual is facing poverty, it is likely that their whole household may be also be facing certain similar aspects of that same poverty scenario. As the ones ‘closest’ to the individual, it is normal to anticipate that the household of the individual will be the first and next most motivated to ACT to end poverty for that individual, if they can.



If the household is NOT acting that way, then the household is not functioning as one would normally expect a household to function. It is being ‘dysfunctional’ in that sense. If the household is AWARE, has the necessary RESOURCES to act and does not – then the issue is with the dysfunctional household, not identifying closely enough with the individual. Let us call this a ‘Cinderella Syndrome’, after the fairy tale character who suffers neglect and maltreatment at the hands of members of her own household. In the same way, if the household exists as part of a wider Community, that is again AWARE of the poverty circumstances faced by the individual, has the necessary RESOURCES to help the individual overcome those circumstances, and yet does not act – then it is the Community which is now being dysfunctional. This then, is ‘Cinderella Syndrome by proxy’. We are not suggesting that the Community should prop up all individuals for any and every reason, but as we explain elsewhere on this site, there is a recognised minimum standard that we would want all people to exist above, in each of the 7 Layers of the Humanitarian Basics. On that assumption, the “why” reason to act is to be consistent with our own personal standards of being ‘humanitarian’. If we DO NOT act consistent with our declared aim of being humanitarian, then we should not be surprised if we lose that particular label in the minds of others – locally, nationally and internationally. If the immediate Community of a person facing poverty circumstances and trying to overcome them, will not ACT to help that individual, then it should not be surprised if the wider global community asks them to account for such inaction. Is that not reasonable?


Beyond Communities that are either dysfunctional, or lack the necessary resources to assist individuals among themselves facing poverty, then the issue naturally escalates to the relevant Government of the Country (or region) to resolve. Remember that Government is one of the 7 key poverty ‘stakeholders’ in our Model and one of the 4 constituent members of the ‘net’ that underpins the individual, the household and their Community. Perhaps you have heard the saying: “God helps those who help themselves”? Well, certainly Communities can be more inclined to help individuals who help themselves and in turn, Governments can be more inclined to help Communities who help themselves. But they first need to be AWARE of “what” the poverty issues are. That is where the Simple Assessment can help. Rather than giving vague, anecdotal stories of how bad poverty is for certain individuals within certain areas, Government politicians and decision-makers can be better informed and prompted, by more tangible evidence of actual circumstances.



A word of caution on this point. Do not expect too much of politicians. Remember that it is best that they are left to do the things they can do well. Keep in mind the issue of ‘closeness’. If a Community does not feel close enough to an individual who lives within their midst, why would anyone believe that a politician would feel closer and more inclined to act than the relevant Community? In the UK, by way of comparison, there is about one politician for every 10,000 people – and that is in a fairly politician-dense country! What is the ratio in your own country? We ask this, because this site is visited by interested thinkers from over 125 countries around the world, so we are always curious to know. Your own situation could be far worse – maybe even 50,000 people per politician. What can one such politician do to address the many and various needs among 50,000 people, within the constraints of time, budget, mandate, local law and other resources at their disposal? In our opinion, Politicians are best left to help in the best way that they can, through such things as supportive legislation, protection of the vulnerable, humanitarian constitutions, the effective national and local rule of law, freedom from oppression and policies that facilitate individual productivity and innovation. They can also help engage and co-ordinate with the relevant local ‘chapter’ of the ‘coalition of the willing’ stakeholders. When others know the Government is genuinely supportive, it helps increase levels of motivation to act. Solutions often involve the need for local politicians to play their part – and share in the positive impacts of practical success on the ground. Those are things a politician can reasonably spend their time doing. Individual projects and situations are a tougher call. After all, which of the 10-50,000 people in your area do they reasonably focus on? If they have to prioritise, how should they decide which community’s needs come top?

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai

Beyond the national level, we still have the NGOs, the Multilateral Agencies and the Social Entrepreneurs. In terms of closeness, it is variously part of their chosen and defined ‘roles‘ to help overcome poverty. Hence, a degree of empathy is already assumed. For NGO’s, their own reasons for being may limit them to a particular focus, or a particular issue, but they can still play their role within a co-ordinated whole. The larger organisations have the benefits of scale of resources, but greater volumes of need to respond to. The smaller scale social entrepreneurs have the advantage of flexibility and potentially local proximity to the point of need. Most international NGO’s are under pressure to fulfil their expected roles cost-efficiently. They often seek to achieve this through “local partners” in the relevant country. This way, they can show donors that much of the money donated is spent in-country, rather than on central administrative overheads. The local ‘partners’ have the benefits of local expertise, language, knowledge and resources. For these collaborators, ‘closeness’ SHOULD be less of an issue. But it still can be. Local operations can be subject to local prejudices. Preference can be shown in the allocation and distribution of funds and resources, that should have been shared equally among all. The UNHCR Handbook makes this clear in its guidance on fair and equitable treatment of all refugees within its camps.

Balancing stones


So what have we learned about closeness and its role in focusing the fixers? The ‘closer’ we feel to someone, the more likely we are to want to ACT on their behalf, when it comes to helping them overcome poverty circumstances. But that motivation is best CHANELLED into fruitful and effective action. Not all actions will prove equally effective. We believe that the 7 layer Poverty Model will inspire better focused action, on more relevant criteria, with more widely engaged resources, to overcome the relative lack of Humanitarian Basics in the lives of a billion people around the world. Closeness gives us a measure to assess ‘fixer’ motivations and potentially why a given Social Structure is not effectively performing its intervening function as expected. Closeness also helps direct our thinking, when it comes to engaging more people in the ‘coalition of the willing’. The ‘closer‘ we can get each willing volunteer to feel to the person they are helping, the more they will be inclined to invest their time, efforts, energies, attention and resources in helping THAT INDIVIDUAL overcome poverty. We encourage a one-to-one sponsorship relationship wherever practical. We encourage households facing poverty to demonstrate their own closeness by their own action on behalf of the individual. We encourage Communities to demonstrate their own actions on behalf of each individual, before they look to outside bodies to help. If someone is richer, they may be better EQUIPPED to help a poorer individual, but they will not have the same degree of motivation of ‘closeness’ that should be manifest among that individual’s own household and Community. If the Community is not already offering such help themselves, then such Communities should not be surprised when they are not offered such help themselves.

Conceptual image of sphere and arrows. Isolated.

There are some supremely wealthy individuals on the planet. Many of those are already major philanthropists. We believe that they will be far more likely to INVEST in projects, where Communities and Countries have already established a solid track record of ACTING EFFECTIVELY  themselves. As one commentator put it: they are keen to give ‘hand-ups, not hand-outs’. It is always easier to suggest that someone else should be doing what we are perfectly capable of doing ourselves.


We comment elsewhere on what any Community can reasonably do to demonstrate that it is already seeking to help itself. Such demonstrable action and results will more likely encourage others to lend their additional support. And some of those others may well be billionaires! And if every dollar helps in solving poverty, then a billion should help even more.

So it just remains for us to say, thanks again for being…

One in a Billion!

Can You Solve Poverty In 7 Words?


Can you solve the complex challenge of global poverty in just 7 words?  Well, yes and no – and perhaps not for the reasons you think.  Firstly, let’s deal with an obvious point.  Words alone won’t solve it; but the actions that those words imply, just might.  “Words are the clothes that thoughts wear”.  Such words thus embody ways of thinking, which in turn can drive behaviour and that lasting change in behaviour can, we contend, ultimately solve poverty.

But what do we MEAN by poverty?

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These are our 7 words. Or six if you leave out ‘the’.  To expand this summary a little, our contention is that in order to overcome, or otherwise solve poverty, we need to do 3 things better than we have done, up until now:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Map, or otherwise measure and represent the problem; and then
  3. Focus the various stakeholders, or ‘fixers’ who are individually and collectively motivated to overcome the problem.

Progress can be and is being made WITHOUT doing these 3 things as well as we might.  Our view is that existing efforts by existing ‘fixers’ will prove far more effective if there is better co-ordination and agreement between them. Simply put, we will get much more done with the same, or less resources, if we all know more clearly what we are all doing where, together with why and how we are doing it. It is simply looking for consistent and clear answers to Rudyard Kipling’s classic ‘6 Honest Serving Men’:  who, when, where, what, why and how.

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This post specifically tackles the first step, summarised in the first two words: ‘define poverty’.  What’s your definition?  Did you ever look it up in a dictionary? Dictionary.com has three! You can check them out. The first includes the phrase: “The state, or condition of having little, or no money, goods, or means of support”. The second says “The deficiency of necessary, or desirable goods or ingredients”.  Both of these are helpful, but they are not universal. Worse still, they are not particularly memorable. Do you think you will remember them tomorrow? Or even in 5 minutes time?  And how well do you think a 5 year old would do understanding them & discussing them with their friends? Exactly…

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Now imagine trying to spread that common understanding to 7 billion people across some 200 countries and speaking thousands of different languages. Not easy, right?  No wonder we encounter some difficulty in tackling a problem that we collectively even struggle to define memorably.


Yes. We looked at a number of sources and combined that with some practical thinking, recognising that we specifically wanted a definition we could USE analytically, which would help focus the very efforts to solve the problem, which the word itself was labelling. We recognised the idea of poverty was not new. In Isaiah chapter 58, within the Bible, the writer lists some basic social standards that were expected of the people: ‘when you see the naked, clothe them’, ‘share your food with the hungry’ and ‘provide the poor wanderer with shelter’. These words were originally written several thousand years ago. They remain very practical today.

.Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in church, faith groups help solve poverty

Fast forward to the 21st century and Wikipedia’s definition of ‘absolute poverty’ covers some strikingly common ground.  Their list refers to “the deprivation of basic human needs, which commonly includes food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care and education”. Those agreeing the Millennium Development Goals might well have had such definitions of absolute poverty in mind.

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Now compare those lists to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, or motivations. If you are not familiar with Maslow’s work, you can find out more at Wikipedia, among other sources. In summary, he found that people the world over, were motivated by different things at different times. Nothing amazing there, you might think. However, Maslow’s remarkable insight was that these human motivations were typically organised into a hierarchy, whether or not we are consciously aware of it. This meant that people tended to start off with motivations at basic levels of survival and security, before moving on to ‘higher’ level motivations, regarding such things as belonging and achievement.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

Our particular reason for referencing Maslow’s work here is its ability to model apparently complex, highly differentiated real-world human behaviours into a fairly simple model. That model can be consistently applied to all kinds of people, at all kinds of times and in all kinds of places.  It allows flexibility in its terms, such that the “achievement” layer can be uniquely interpreted for each individual, while the underlying desire to “achieve” is common to all.  The Concise Oxford English Dictionary has referred to “success” as ‘the achievement of that which was aimed at’. Our aim here is clear: solve poverty.

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In that sense, Maslow’s model allowed that different people may well be aiming at vastly different things, but that they were all tending to aim at something! The aiming itself, reflected the common underlying motivation of a desire to achieve. It is this same approach, of simple commonality underlying apparent complexity, which we borrow for our own definition of poverty. We also make use of insights from Maslow’s lower motivation layers of survival, security and belonging.

The stilt fishermen at work, Sri Lanka, Asia. Solve global poverty sooner

One more vital component in our definition, before we proceed. It is the core idea that poverty is ‘relative’, not ‘absolute’. Organisations like the United Nations and the World Bank understandably promote the generally adopted definition of ‘extreme poverty’ as those who live on the equivalent of US$1.25 a day. This approach is useful for their own purposes, as both population figures and GDP figures for UN member (and other) countries go back a long way and are readily accessible, country by country, region by region.  This is impressively illustrated by the stunning short video on global poverty indicators by Hans Rosling, called “200 Countries, 200 Years“. You will be amazed at how much complexity Rosling explains with such simplicity in 4 minutes. Do watch it. It has our highest commendation.

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Percentage of Country Population on Under US$2/Day (UN 2009)


“The relative absence of the 7 Humanitarian Basics”.

Unpacking this definition, observe the following. It is written in adult language, but the underlying ideas can still be conveyed in simple terms. Instead of “relative absence of”, the 5 year olds we had in mind might say “not enough of”. Which brings us to the second observation.  Poverty should be understood at its core and from the outset as relative. But that does not mean we cannot measure and compare it.

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Consider human height. Like many attributes from the natural world, it follows a typical ‘normal distribution curve’ of values, when comparing 7 billion people to each other.  When measured in absolute terms, everyone’s height is different. If taller is better, then in that sense, we can compare the absolute measure of height, to give us the relative measure of whether people are taller (‘richer’), or shorter (‘poorer’) than each other. If I am 6 feet tall, then I am relatively shorter than pretty much all the USA basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters. if I was in that team, I might well FEEL short among that group of peers. Among my usual peers in my own country, I am considered tall and indeed I feel tall. So how I see myself and how others see me is relative and is affected by my perceived position among my peers. There is no single, absolute global definition for ‘tallness’, or ‘shortness’. They are relative terms. And so is ‘poverty’.

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Nevertheless, I can measure my actual height with some precision, always knowing that my feelings and perceptions of “tallness” and “shortness” are driven relatively. The same is true with our definition of poverty. It allows for the experience of poverty in relative terms, but accommodates its measurement in more absolute terms. These two simultaneous aspects of the definition make it more useful for our wider purposes.

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The last part of the definition relates to “humanitarian basics”. We choose ‘basics’ instead of ‘needs’, because the things we list are not all truly necessary for sustaining human life. You can get by without some of them – and billions of people alive today do. Instead, we prefer the notion of basics, a minimum standard. We use ‘humanitarian’, instead of ‘human’, because people are perfectly capable of surviving and even thriving as humans without having in place all 7 of the ‘basics’ we list.

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Instead, we think in terms of a rational human being setting a fair and reasonable minimum acceptable standard for another human being, that they did not know. As our guide, we asked ourselves the question: “What would we consider a minimum standard, even for someone who we didn’t like?”

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Thus we have our definition of poverty. But what are the 7 Humanitarian Basics that our definition refers to? They are drawn out and consolidated from the ancient Biblical Isaiah list, the modern Wikipedia definition of absolute poverty and the bottom 3 layers Maslow’s Hierarchy. They deliberately therefore draw on  understandings of poverty that have stood the test of time, while remaining thoroughly modern and relevant. They cluster certain ideas together for convenience, ease of recall and subsequent explanation to others. They are intended to be generic enough concepts to permit adaptation to relevant cultural experiences and variations. Each of them will be the subject of other posts, giving more explanation on each ‘Basic’. Posts will be suitably tagged to permit cross-referencing with other relevant posts on the subject.

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And the 7 Humanitarian Basics are:

1. Water.  2. Food.  3. Clothing.  4. Shelter.  5. Healthcare.  6. Engagement.  7. Freedom from Oppression.

Some will require further explanation and unpacking, which we will cover elsewhere on our web site and in these posts. By way of introduction, consider yourself dropped into the story of Robinson Crusoe, stranded on a remote island. Your own order of priorities will not be that different from the above list. That’s what makes it so universal and so memorable. In that sense and by our definition, Crusoe suddenly found himself lacking the 7 Humanitarian Basics & thus set about overcoming his own poverty.

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In the same way, please scan through our other material and see how this starting definition can move us from an intellectual exercise onto a practical one, helping to address the pressing lack of humanitarian basics faced by the poorest billion people on the planet.

And thanks again for being…

One in a Billion!