It was a long flight and a movie about Freddy Mercury seemed in perfect order. The summary said: “The events in the lead up to “Live Aid”.
Within two hours I was transported back to the eighties, and if I could have cranked the Queen songs up any louder in my seat, I would have. I was taken back to when I first saw the photos of the Ethiopia famine, of starving men, women and children—who could forget those images—and remembering Bob Geldof's call to mobilise the world to do something about it.
I still get goose bumps when I remember the major British artists of the time united in song, “Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmas time again”. And soon followed by their US compatriots, “We are the world... We are the children...”
LiveAid was a wake-up call for me as a 13-year-old. I was a child then but my memories of watching the event televised across the globe are as vivid today as they were then in 1985. And it planted the seed that fostered a deep appreciation for the arts and for social justice and how closely they can be interlinked.
The story of Bohemian Rapsody is beautifully redemptive. You can’t help but root for the social misfit who refuses to conform while challenging the status quo of music, of norms, of traditions.
The relentless drive for self-expression, indulgence of living in excess that doesn’t end up satisfying deepest needs, drowning lose ends in temporal escapes. Good prevails over evil. Love makes a way. Selfish ambition gives way to reconciliation and true connection.
Maybe there is a little bit of all of us in that story. The tension between building our own life, self-esteem, level of success and comfort and using what we have got to serve others. Is life ultimately about us or about something bigger than ourselves?
Art has always been a way of making the unspeakable accessible to humankind. Of tapping into the mysteries that connect us across the world that are stronger than any national divide or disagreements. The call for social justice remains as loud today as it was then.
Art has always been a way of making the unspeakable accessible to humankind.
Live Aid showed me how a bunch of idealists and visionaries could gather together, combine their skills, their strengths and resources, and speak for those without a voice – and mobilise global resources to end poverty.
So, what has happened since Live Aid? Did the mobilisation of the world in the eighties make any difference to world poverty?
It is believed that more than £150 million was raised for famine relief in direct response to the Live Aid concerts held in the UK and US. But efforts did not stop there.
“Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President.
“This is one of the greatest human achievements of our time. But if we are going to end poverty by 2030, we need much more investment, particularly in building human capital, to help promote the inclusive growth it will take to reach the remaining poor. For their sake, we cannot fail.”1
Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty
However, a huge challenge remains. There are still 2 billion people living on less than $3.20 a day. That’s one in every four people living on less than what many of us spend on a cup of coffee each day.
At Opportunity International Australia we work towards ending poverty. At our recent national events, I announced that we wanted to end poverty in our lifetime and it instantly stirred a heated debate around the dinner tables and, quite frankly, caused some controversy.
The questions came: “Is it theoretically possible and practical to end poverty in our life time?” “Isn't this an overly ambitious goal?” “Are we setting ourselves up for failure?” “Won’t we disappoint people if we don't deliver?” And there were the ‘spiritual’ voices “Doesn't Jesus say, ‘you'll always have the poor with you’?”
I announced that we wanted to end poverty in our lifetime and it instantly stirred a heated debate
Call me an idealist, but if we consider the elimination of poverty as requiring a global and concerted effort, then yes, I unequivocally believe that ending poverty is possible – one person, one family, one community at a time.
But the stark reality is yes, it will require a global and concerted effort. It will require a movement. And we know it won't be accomplished in isolation. It will require leaders and visionaries from around the world who can leave complacency, cynicism and disbelief behind and seek answers to a problem that is too big for one sector or one organisation or one philanthropist to fund or tackle alone.
What if ending poverty is the equivalent to ending slavery, or ending apartheid? What if ending poverty is as simple as throwing down the gauntlet and making the challenge? We should remember that there are people alive today who were born during the infancy of powered flight. Yet by 1969 we touched the face of the moon. This year we celebrate 50 years—half a century—since that historic moment.
It took less than ten years for Kennedy’s challenge of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth” to be accomplished. It simply needed commitment and belief. Yes, there were naysayers and there were many who thought their tax money could be better spent. But, as Kennedy said soon after, the “challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
So, is ending poverty an insurmountable challenge? Maybe it’s a challenge that is long overdue. Maybe ending poverty is a challenge that we need to accept, that we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.
The poverty forecasts for the next decades are dire. There are currently more than 50 million people on the move—the largest since World War II—displaced by war, famine, and political instability; there is a pending crisis for global youth unemployment, and we know that climate change will disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.
The question of ending poverty will require leaders from all spheres of life to come to the fore and say, 'We don’t have the answers yet. But if we persist, if we prioritise, and if we sacrifice, the sum of who we are will be bigger, will be more creative and contain more genius then we can even begin to imagine. We will find answers and with unity, strategy and a miracle we will be able to turn the tide. We can and we will.'
But it is not just our leaders. Our world needs everyday people turning into Bravehearts who take courage. Not because they are strong but because they are not content discussing real estate and private schools.
We need a movement because as individuals we are not strong enough to move the dial on a problem of epic proportions.
The Millennium Development Goals set out to reduce extreme poverty by 2015. There were some key results. In 1990, half the population of those living in developing regions lived in poverty – less than US$1.25 a day as measured at the time. That had dropped to 14 per cent by 2015.
Primary school enrolment increased from 83 per cent in 2000 to 91 per cent in 2015. The proportion of people practicing open defecation has fallen by half since 1990 and more than 2.6 billion people have improved access to drinking water.2
But there is still an extraordinary amount of work to do. The Sustainable Development Goals—adopted by all the United Nations Member states in 2015—provides a shared blue print for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.
Poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, and decent work and economic growth, run through the SDGs in that order. Climate action is another goal.
At Opportunity we work across those top nine goals, using microfinance to improve the livelihoods of our loan clients. Our priority areas are those issues that keep people trapped in the cycle of poverty: finance, health, education and safety. We provide small loans to help people start sustainable businesses so they can provide for themselves and their families; and we use our existing platforms to teach vital health practices, provide loans for schools and education, and we teach families how to stay safe from domestic violence and human trafficking.
Our approach is founded on solid business principles – everything we do needs to be smart, scalable and sustainable. We have a solution that will end poverty for millions of people – but we can’t do it alone. We all need to accept the challenge. We all need to commit to the urgency that ending poverty demands. And we need to win.
We need a movement. Will you join us?