Global Poverty’s One Percent Solution

© Jasmin Merdan -

I had some fabulous teachers from grade school all the way through graduate school. The best ones taught me a basic principle you might have been taught as well: when approaching a complex, difficult problem, break it down into individual parts, otherwise you’ll get lost and discouraged in the complexity of the problem.

Global poverty is one of those complex problems that leave us all overwhelmed. Can you blame us? Nineteen thousand children die every day of easily preventable causes. A billion people go to bed hungry every night. Another billion lack clean water. Three billion people live on less than $2.50 per day. If not overwhelming, those statistics are at the very least mind numbing.

Here’s where I apply the principle my teachers taught me.

If American Christians—just a portion of our country—increased their giving by just 1 percent, we could wipe out extreme poverty in a generation.

Let me explain.

There are 350,000 churches in America and 238,000,000 Christians. Their combined annual income is $5.2 trillion. The average giving of Christians in the U.S. is just 2.4 percent, which equals about $125 billion a year. That giving supports all the churches, soup kitchens, and aid organizations already doing a great amount of good.

But let’s say that we could increase the giving of Christians in our country by just 1 percent, from 2.4 percent to 3.4 percent. That little bit of extra generosity amounts to about $52 billion a year of money now available to us to tackle global poverty. This works out to about sixty cents per day per Christian.

How much would you give if your children had no food, water or health care?

Over twenty years that extra 1 percent adds up to an astounding $1,040 billion. So what would we do with that kind of money? Let’s go shopping.

  • World Vision estimates that the cost to provide clean safe water to every person on the planet would be about $70 billion. This one intervention will drastically reduce child mortality rates, allow tens of millions of children to now attend school and free up millions of hours of productive time for women.
  • Eliminating hunger is more costly. The U.N estimates it would take an investment of about $300 billion over ten years to increase food production enough to eliminate virtually all malnutrition in the world.
  • Malaria, one of the greatest killers of children under five, would cost about $86 billion to eradicate.
  • Giving microloans to start new businesses to 100 million potential entrepreneurs would cost $30 billion and create some 250 million new jobs over ten years.
  • Now let’s subtract the $100 billion it would cost to achieve universal education for children.

That still leaves us with $454 billion unspent. Yet the things I’ve listed above would effectively decimate extreme poverty and human suffering on our planet. With the rest we could find a cure for cancer, end homelessness, and do all kinds of good for our world. The exciting thing is that ending extreme poverty is doable. We really could do this. We could. And we should.

Simply throwing money at them won’t solve these problems of extreme poverty. But they can’t be alleviated without money. We know how to address these problems. We have the expertise, the technology, and the access to defeat the world’s worst problems.

Let’s start a 1 percent revolution. Will you join me?

By Richard Stearns, President World Vision, Author of  Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning

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