All posts by Galactyx

Solving Global Poverty


Solving global poverty?  It’s a pretty big ask.  Surely if it was that easy, someone would have done it by now, right?  And aren’t there hordes of smart people working on that problem already? I mean, what about progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals?  At ‘Give A Billion’, we do recognise that much good work has been, and continues to be done on tackling the problem of poverty worldwide. But consider for a moment, the global problem-solving power of a brand new IDEA.


Imagine just how different things might be  today, if the first person ever to invent the wheel had been able to share that simple and brilliant idea with everyone – globally and immediately. Today, the internet is the world’s best global delivery mechanism for such powerful new ideas. You just have to have a good one. And that’s what we think we have. A REALLY good one, in fact. But why don’t YOU be the judge of that? If you want to discover what it’s all about, you can start with  the image below. It sits right at the heart of all our poverty thinking – just like the hub of a wheel…

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

But first, a quick word to those who might initially be tempted to quickly dismiss our own efforts, without even understanding them. We would first politely ask this question: When it comes to overcoming world poverty, are we all, collectively, already going about things the best way humanly possible?  Is there no room in our minds to consider the prospect of a better way of thinking and working together?



We think there is. It is called the “7 Layer Poverty Model“. You can find out all about it on this web site.  Functioning like the hub of our conceptual wheel, it sits at the heart of our 3 step plan to solve global poverty, namely:

  1. Define poverty
  2. Map poverty
  3. Focus the fixers

The 7 Layer Poverty Model is the core concept that links these 3 steps together and integrates them all. To help any remaining sceptics to at least hear us out, let’s consider the phrase “5 a day”.  What does that phrase mean to you?  For hundreds of millions of people around the world (in their own language of course), that phrase means something like: “We should all ideally aim to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, because it is good for us”.


Now, hold on just a second, where exactly did that phrase start?  People have been eating fruit and vegetables (among other things) for thousands of years before that phrase.  Who decided on 5? And how did they persuade us all to believe them anyway? And will someone please tell me EXACTLY what a “portion” is?!



The fact is, eating a mix of fruit and vegetables each day probably is a pretty good idea for the health of most of us, if we have the option. In that sense, it’s nothing new. Before the idea became established, there was perhaps a broad awareness about the general health benefits of various types of fruit and vegetables.  We all knew we “should” eat them, but there were nagging questions, which confused the issue for us and blurred the lines of decision. How much? Of what type and variety. And how often? When people get confused, they tend to make poorer choices. Better education of the masses was required. In that particular case, regarding the somewhat complex matter of personal nutrition.


Then along came some bright spark and told us the MODEL ANSWER was FIVE! Five portions of fruit and vegetables every day was the magic number.  Years later, this idea has caught on very well among more developed nations.  All kinds of produce suppliers now seek to promote their products as “one of your 5-a-day”.  The model has become part of every day life and conversation for many of us.  We all automatically know what they mean, without any further explanation. Or at least, we think we do.



But there are a few problems with the model, admittedly. Some of them quite serious. Do we know at what AGE a child should begin their 5-a-day regime?  Are 5 portions of grapes as ‘good’ as 5 different portions of leafy green vegetables?  Do fast food fries and potato chips count the same as broccoli?  And is a portion driven by size, or weight?  There are also the issues of food allergies, processed versus fresh fruit and vegetables, the starch levels in some vegetables, the nutritional impact of how the vegetables are actually cooked, the relative merits of cooked versus raw vegetables, and so on.


Whoever came up with the 5-a-day model was probably aware of these potential issues too. However, we assume that they decided that the BENEFITS of standardising on a single nutrition model of 5-a-day, outweighed the disadvantages of people not properly understanding all the details. The purpose of such models is to simplify reality to such a level that most people can understand it.

sprout in hands over the water and sky


This is the same principle we are promoting in the 7 Layer Poverty Model. It is a tool in the service of solving global poverty. It is recognised as a simplification of the real world, but it is a very useful one. It is based on both scientific knowledge and common sense. It helps convert a rather vague and abstract general notion of ‘poverty’, into something definite that even 5 year olds around the world can relate to.


They know what it is to feel thirsty, or hungry. They understand what clothes are and what having a place to live means to them. They know what it means to get ill and to get better. They will also have some understanding of what it means to be forced to do something they disagree with and what it means to feel included – or left out of a group.  All these basic ideas have their own place forming the 7 Layers of our Poverty Model.

Poverty itself is a 7 letter word. We define it helpfully in 7 words. We have set out a compelling plan to solve it with only 7 words. The Model has 7 layers and identifies 7 key ‘stakeholders’ or ‘actors’ in overcoming more poverty sooner, with the same resources – or less. This unique Model stems from fresh and innovative thinking regarding solving global poverty, using Systems Thinking to help. The 7 Layer Poverty Model remains the conceptual hub, but there is a whole ‘wheel’ of supporting ideas to work with it. And what better way to help end the systemic cycle of poverty, than with a conceptual wheel? To discover more, why not start with our ‘Best 7 Ideas’ page?



Our guess is that hundreds of millions of people around the world now know something of what “5-a-day” is meant to mean. Our goal is to help a billion people understand the 7 Layer Poverty Model and how that understanding translates into solving global povertyovercoming more poverty, more quickly and more effectively. Now you’re here, YOU can play your own big part in that.

So we thank YOU personally for being…

One  in  a  BILLION!

How Should You Treat Someone Who Tries To Kill You?


An odd question, we will admit. Probably one you have never considered and perhaps will never have to – for yourself, at least. Not so for the writers of the Geneva Convention and those many nations who have subsequently subscribed to its various expectations, regarding treatment of Prisoners of War (or PoW’s). The demands of this Convention are in part, it seems, why the Americans have more recently labelled their current guests at Guantanamo as “enemy combatants”.  Such a novel categorisation apparently absolves them of the responsibility to treat such prisoners in accordance with the standards set out for PoW’s arising from the more ‘official’ wars of the past – legally and Constitutionally, if not morally.


Which provokes an interesting point. Let us cross-compare the expectations of the Geneva Convention, with the 7 Layer Poverty Model. Under the Convention, PoW’s can reasonably expect adequate water, food, some form of basic clothing (or uniform), shelter (even if it is a prison cell), they cannot be denied essential healthcare if reasonably available – and by default they will be permitted to engage with fellow PoW’s. Even though imprisoned (curtailing their freedom of movement), they cannot reasonably be oppressed, either physically or mentally. Here, the lines of expectation admittedly become rather blurred. However, in essence, PoW’s can expect to receive fair treatment, consistent with the 7 layer Poverty Model, under the protection of the Geneva Convention. Even if those same PoW’s have, moments before, been trying to kill you – right up to the point at which you captured them, or they surrendered.

Funny – but I suspect nobody is laughing.


The net effect of this present bizarre Humanitarian System is this. The West can legally allow 1 million African citizens to die of thirst, malnutrition and sickness, without any national constitutional obligation to respond. However, if those same 1 million African citizens organised themselves into an official Army and launched a War on the West, those same African citizens would all then be protected under the Geneva Convention. So if all 1 million African warriors subsequently surrendered on Day 1 of the ‘War’, the West would be legally obligated to provide every one of them with Humanitarian standards of care.


In Europe right now, there is much political debate about how to manage the significant influx of migrants from African nations into the not-so-welcoming arms of certain European nations – Italy, Spain and Greece in particular. There is talk of a more ‘fair’ distribution of those migrants across the many countries of Europe. It is a challenge, no doubt. Perhaps those in positions of power would find it easier to know what to do, if those same Africans were part of an Army.


At least then, they would have the clear expectations of the Geneva Convention to guide them. Let us hope that the immigrants don’t have the same disturbing idea. For history teaches us, again and again, that desperate people frequently resort to desperate measures.

And current conditions in Africa seem to be producing a LOT of desperate people.

We applaud the inspired humanitarianism of the Geneva Convention and we encourage its provisions being upheld by all those in positions of power, around the world, who have to make the tough decisions that accompany inspirational leadership.

And again, we thank you reader, for being…

One in a Billion!


At Give A Billion, we promote 3 steps to help overcome more poverty sooner, with the same or less resources. These are: Define poverty; Map poverty; and Focus the fixers. Central to poverty mapping, is an effective system of poverty measurement. Finding a consistent, underlying approach to measurement across all 7 Layers of the Poverty Model was daunting indeed. However, using the unifying idea of ‘humanitarian concern’, we have created a visual illustration we call “The Humanitarian Impact Spectrum”. It is our best shot at developing an integrated conceptual model, for the ‘otherwise-virtually-incomparable’ range and variety of types of human suffering. Curious? Then read on.


There is a widely adopted expression, used to describe the highest guiding PRINCIPLE of all moral choice and action – including such things as our own humanitarian concern for those facing poverty, in all its forms. It is expressed in the question: What result generates “the greatest good for the greatest number?” This thinking was originally articulated by Jeremy Bentham and others, in a philosophical framework called “utilitarianism”. At first glance, this seems self-evident genius. That is until one asks the pertinent question: How exactly does one fairly measure the relative “good” of wildly DIFFERENT intended outcomes, particularly when those outcomes are themselves UNCERTAIN at the point of decision? If you want to dip into some more detailed thinking on this, click here. If you just want to learn about the model itself, then read on…

measuring humanitarian impact

Resources are finite, so we all have to make CHOICES on some kind of basis. You may not even be aware of your own internal moral framework, even though it guides you all day every day – however imperfectly. It is what gets you by and helps you live with yourself afterwards. But what if you were suddenly put in charge of meeting the needs for all 7 Humanitarian Basics, for literally billions of people worldwide? Tricky, right? Well, just in case you should ever be put in that tricky position, we have an idea that we think will help crystallize your thinking a little. But first, we have to make things a bit worse, before we help them get better. Sorry.

Balancing stones

You see there is another entire side to the moral spectrum. Yes, really. It is not enough to consider real life choices from among a theoretical range of “goods”, even if you COULD figure out which one of them was in fact the greatest. No. In real life, we must also allow for a range of BADS. If we can imagine a spectrum going from morally neutral, all the way to the ‘greatest good’, then we must similarly allow for that same continuum to extend all the way to the ‘greatest bad’. This creates a complete theoretical SPECTRUM: from the greatest bad at one extreme, through morally neutral, all the way to the greatest good at the other end. Agreed? Fairly simple to imagine in principle; very hard to work out in practice. But practice is where it really counts, so try we must. Let’s press on…

From impossible to the possible

Underlying all that potential difficulty – and in fact mankind’s moral conundrums on the whole – is the challenge to COMPARE and CONTRAST between options. We may feel able to make moral comparisons, distinctions and hence moral choices – between scenarios which have certain clear similarities. So the more consistent our scale of comparison is, the less problematic our choices become.

balls balance

In our view, the way forwards lies in considering what constitutes being ‘humane’, in treating another person as we would like to be treated ourselves. In particular, when it comes to poverty, we propose focusing more on the avoidance, or removal of existing poverty ‘bads’, as our overall guide to achieving the ‘greatest good’ in overcoming poverty overall.


At the risk of being controversial, we would rather offer something practical and illustrative, in the absence of anything universal and definitive. So, in a nod towards the hit American TV series of the same name, we’ve set about “Breaking Bad” into 4 distinct, but overlapping categories of human woe. They all begin with D – just to help you remember them. How considerate of us, right? You can think of them as the 4 horsemen of the Humanitarian Apocalypse…


All 4 categories of ‘bad’ are relatively ‘ranked’ in terms of perceived SEVERITY of their humanitarian impact. Let’s start with the worst impact first. Death. Of the permanent, no-coming-back variety. We absolutely recognise the concept and possibility of there being “a fate worse than death”.  However, on the moral (and hence usually legal) spectrum, cultures around the world typically recognise death as the worst category of negative impact you can usually inflict upon another human being. Death as a category of impacts, then, sits at the worst extreme of our Humanitarian Impact Spectrum.

Breaking Bad_4 Horsemen_Venn1_large

The next most severe ‘bad’ category, is one we have labelled DISFIGUREMENT. The point here is that it is not generally considered as ‘severe’ as death in humanitarian terms, but it shares the same notion of a permanent and severe ‘bad’. It involves a lasting, negative change to the individual’s normal bodily form and function (limbs, organs, faculties, or appearance). Whilst we readily recognise the idea of different degrees of disfigurement, this can still be heavily influenced by the person’s culture and personal preferences. The causes of such disfigurement can be manifold, frequently including factors originating in our next category of ‘bads’.

Breaking Bad_4 Horsemen_Venn2

This is the category we have labelled DISEASE. Disease is clearly closely linked with the ‘bads’ either side of it (Disfigurement and Discomfort). The distinguishing characteristic here is one of an outcome’s PERSISTNECE, rather than permanence. It involves direct harm, or dysfunction to the individual’s normal bodily function and condition. Note also, that there is often an extra dimension to the ‘bad’ of Disease – that of potential numerical impact. Diseases can and do SPREAD to others.


The last of our 4 D’s is DISCOMFORT. This is deliberately meant as a broad and inclusive term. It can be taken as covering unpleasantness to any of the human senses. There can be discomfort associated with smell and taste (eg with water quality), as well as chronic and severe physical pain. All register somewhere in our broad scale and category of Discomfort. It is down to common experience and subjective assessments, as to how minor, major, or extreme an individual’s discomfort level might be, when assessing ‘bad’ humanitarian outcomes.


Straight away, we imagine you may be coming up with your own overlapping scenarios. For example, what about the person suffering from such severe pain, that they feel they would rather take their life, than face another day of it? There are valid distinctions and we have tried to allow for them in the Simple Assessment questions and grading system we advocate elsewhere. The breadth and inclusiveness of the category helps complete the proposed impact continuum across 4 severity category divisions. Some may wish to suggest alternative bases of distinction between the various types of ‘bad’, even while recognising that there is often overlap and blurred lines between categories in the real world.

Breaking Bad_4 Horsemen_Venn4 Overlap

One way of expressing the overlap, would be using a Venn diagram concept. However, since each category contains examples that might be deemed as serious as instances of scenarios in higher categories, perhaps this is better expressed as overlapping triangles, extending up inside other triangles, generally considered as more severe categories on the spectrum.

Breaking Bad_4 Horsemen_Arrow4

In the absence of a better, or more useful common scale, each of the 4 ‘bads’ could be further split into notional (but necessarily subjective) extreme, high, medium and low severities. Extreme is added as a category to account for the notional extension of one category into categories above. Hence ‘extreme’ in the Discomfort category, would include scenarios where the pain felt was so severe, that the individual might consider it on a par with Death, or Disfigurement alternatives. The aim here is not to be definitive, or prescriptive, but to help create a common language and terminology, that permits a basis for sensible discussions, comparisons – and indeed hard choices – between otherwise seemingly incomparable alternatives.

Difference and Similarity. Abstract Concept.

These types of distinctions have influenced the 21 questions of the Simple Assessment. The numbering system it uses, broadly reflects the high/medium/low/none options, where ‘none’ correlates to extreme, or severe conditions, typically reflecting crisis conditions in the given dimension of poverty, for the individual concerned.



acid test

We have given you the Humanitarian Impact Spectrum model, to help unpack answers to the utilitarian question: What decisions will lead to the greatest good for the greatest number? We recognise the ideas of overlap, degree, blurred lines and subjectivity, yet still feel the model is flexible enough to accommodate these, without losing the usefulness of its basic shape and structure. You are free to disagree. The real test comes in the real world. If you find it works – great. Keep it and use it with our blessing. If not – ditch it and look for (or invent) something better!

Until then, we thank you for being…One in a Billion