Author: McKenna Carr
Book: Unpoverty: Rich Lessons from the Working Poor (Buy the Book)
Table of Contents
Opportunity International is a global non-profit microfinance organization specializing in lending to the world’s poorest. Microfinance, otherwise known as microenterprise development, offers small loans to people in developing countries all over the world. In five years, Opportunity International gave out $3 billion in microloans to assist people in growing their enterprises and supporting their communities.
The goal of the organization is the achieve unpoverty, which is the total eradication of poverty in the world. Mark Lutz, author of UnPoverty: Rich Lessons from the Working Poor, is the Senior Vice President of Global Philanthropy at Opportunity International. Through his work, Mark visited over fifty countries where he interacted with and learned from the locals. UnPoverty serves as a voice for these people as it tells their incredible stories and calls the world to action.
Mark focuses on ten key areas encompassing the most valuable lessons he learned from those who live in the simplest means:
- Justice: Justice is achieved when every single person has access to basic human needs. We must act or else this injustice will continue.
- Family: Spending time and being with family is key to a happy, strong family unit. The family gives us dignity, security, emotional support, and a sense of value; wealth and possessions, on the other hand, do not.
- Community: When communities come together, especially on a global scale, our world is stronger and undoubtedly better. We must learn to appreciate and utilize our community instead of isolating ourselves.
- Gratitude: The world’s poorest express their ardent thanks for even the smallest of blessings. Our materialistic culture permits us to feel entitled to things because they have always been readily available. The poor teach us to show gratitude in any way we can, especially through the act of sharing our blessings with others.
- Persistence: In our developed Western culture, we resent obstacles and easily become impatient and frustrated when we experience them. People who live in extreme poverty have an unmatched willingness to get done what must get done. We learn from them to look past simple inconveniences and persevere through the toughest challenges we face in life.
- Self-reliance: Spending time with those in poverty teaches one that they simply want to be able to successfully provide for themselves and their families all on their own. To eradicate the issue of extreme poverty, one must look to the long-term solution of fostering the development of self and community in these developing worlds.
- Faith: The distractions we face in our Western culture keep many of us from completely placing our trust in God, which limits the depth of the relationship we could have with Him. Learning from and examining how those in poverty lead their spiritual lives would allow people all over the world to develop a closer, more meaningful relationship with Him.
- Innocence: Children in the West are often shielded from despair, issues, or challenges their families face, while children in the developing world are aware of the harshness of reality at a very early age. Eradicating poverty is the only way to give these children back their innocence and allow them to experience the joy of childhood.
- Ingenuity: In impoverished communities, being resourceful is a skill that allows people to grow and thrive. Instead of constantly consuming, let us adopt this kind of ingenuity and seek solutions in areas where we previously overlooked the opportunity.
- Awareness: The developing world is increasingly aware of the way in which the developed world lavishly lives. The wealth gap between the two worlds continues to expand to an unprecedented level and sets the stage for conflict. To avoid this, we must look at how our culture chooses to live and help others with the resources available to us.
At the end of the book, Mark calls us to action to work to eradicate extreme poverty. The steps he suggests for us to consider are:
- Paying attention
- Expanding your boundaries
- Being an informal advocate
- Helping immigrants in our country
- Writing letters to lawmakers
- Adopting a nation
- Examining our lifestyle
- Joining an international trip
- Partnering with professional organizations
- Seeking out a job which works to help poor during retirement or a career change
Nothing is more rewarding than knowing you gave someone a chance to have a better life. If everyone takes Mark’s suggested steps and opens their hearts to help the poor, poverty can be eradicated.
In the world today, approximately 1.3 billion people live on about a dollar a day. As commonly portrayed in the media, people usually view poverty as distant, a fact of life, or an issue one must fix.
Mark Lutz, author of UnPoverty: Rich Lessons from the Working Poor, challenges these notions and encourages readers to view the poor with respect, seek to learn from them, and find commonalities in the human desires we all share. They, like everyone else, want to provide for their families, succeed, and share their success with others.
Opportunity International is an international non-profit microfinance organization specializing in giving loans to the world’s poorest. Microfinance, otherwise known as microenterprise development, gives these loans to people in developing countries all over the world. The typical loan begins at about $150 and operates normally with both interest and payment schedules.
A loan term is usually around four to six months and, in that time, borrowers are required to attend co-op meetings on a weekly basis with other borrowers in their communities. In this co-op, they cross-guarantee one another’s loans, learn efficient business practices, share stories from their experiences running their enterprises, worship together, and often receive medical advice.
The cross-guarantee of the loans takes the place of collateral; if a member cannot make a payment, other members will pool money from their savings and make the payment for them. The only way a member can receive another loan after they pay theirs off is if everyone in the co-op group has made their payments. The borrowers hold each other accountable through this setup and the default rates stay as low as 2-5% on average.
From 2005 to 2010, Opportunity International loaned out approximately $3 billion to assist people in growing their enterprises and supporting their communities. The ultimate goal of this organization is to achieve unpoverty, which is the total eradication of poverty, throughout the world.
Mark Lutz is the Senior Vice President of Global Philanthropy at Opportunity International. He began his philanthropic journey at a very young age raised by missionary parents in South Africa for twenty years during apartheid rule. Returning to the United States for college, he received a Masters degree in cross-cultural communications from Wheaton College.
Through his work, Mark has visited over fifty countries, interacting with and learning from the locals. UnPoverty serves as a voice for these people as it tells their incredible stories and calls the world to action. He focuses on ten key areas that represent the most valuable lessons he learned from those who live in the simplest means: justice, family, community, gratitude, persistence, self-reliance, faith, innocence, ingenuity, and awareness.
In South Africa during apartheid rule, 75% of the population consisted of non-white people who were forced to live in poverty on the outskirts of town. Their children received little schooling from teachers who were hardly trained in extremely overcrowded schools with little to no educational resources available. The graduation rates were considerably lower than students in the white population.
The cycle perpetuated with each generation and those who lived in poverty could not escape. Some in privileged lives justified the treatment of the poor, as in this case, by claiming that they are lazy or simply should just find a way out. Contrary to that belief, those in poverty were kept in that state due to unjust, inhumane ruling.
The majority of the worlds poor are born into poverty. Often it is a result of unfair systems that rule the areas people live in, as seen with the apartheid rule in South Africa. This takes the form of people not having property rights, access to an established banking or legal systems, and various other barriers that force people to live in an extremely impoverished state and keeps them there. It can also be that the area one lives in merely cannot provide for those who inhabit it.
We view justice in the developed world as only necessary and enacted when a crime is committed. On a global scale, justice is simply ensuring that every human being has access to their basic needs. Injustice progresses
further when those who are privileged choose to sit back and not take action. Those in the poorest conditions do not seek charity or handouts but yearn for a fair chance to thrive.
On the outskirts of Manila, a community called Castle City sits at the foothills of the city dump. There are various microenterprises throughout, as well as churches, schools, and clinics for the residents. In this city, a mother of four, Jody Caceres, owns her basket-making microenterprise in which she employs several other women.
Unlike most in this community, she graduated from college and even had a highly sought-after office job. At first, one may be confused about why she left this job to make baskets from home in one of the world’s poorest communities. For Jody, however, the answer is simple. She chose to live and work in this environment so that she could stay home with her children during their most formative years.
It was an easy decision for her; family always comes first. In the Western world, many justify long absences from their family and important life events because they believe it is more important to provide them with a comfortable life. For many of the world’s poorest, the needs of the family, especially of children and the elderly, trump everything else.
Every human being deep down desires love, independence, and family. Family units are the foundation of a strong, well-functioning society. They develop dignity, security, emotional support, and a sense of value. Those with nothing only have each other so they value one another above all else. Accumulated wealth and possessions do not replace the family that everyone yearns for.
Increasingly more common in the West are impoverished relationships, broken families, and heartbreak. In having nothing, the poor understand the need for strong family ties better than those who have everything. Families do not need more material goods. They simply need each other.
In a small hillside community of Bogotá, Columbia, Margarita Avila received a loan of $100 to open a beauty shop. As she experienced success with her microenterprise, she served as Treasurer of her small required co-op group. During this time, she discovered a fellow community member, Juanita Tolosa, and her family were greatly suffering from illness and Juanita could not properly feed her family.
Margarita returned to her group requesting that they give Juanita a loan and welcome her into the sisterhood. When others resisted, she reminded them that when anyone in the group had been desperate for help that other group members had chipped in. The group decided to give her a $70 loan from their collective savings.
With this money, Juanita began making and selling plastic cabinets in which she made approximately $6 a day. She paid for her daughter’s medicine, fed her family 3 meals a day, and quickly paid off her debt to the group. The co-op celebrated her success and welcomed her with open arms.
The culture of the West allows people to essentially become hermits. We do not have to interact with each other, so the interaction has instead become something one must be deliberate in seeking. At an early age, parents encourage kids to play with each other and teach them to share. As we grow up, we unlearn the notion of community.
Adults put up walls between themselves and others and actively choose what they show the world. Why each person does this stems from their own individual experiences, but the fact is the same: we do not readily rely on one another for survival.
Separating themselves from others in the community is not a choice the poorest of the poor have. They rely on each other for survival and work towards a common goal to better their families and community. When one succeeds, they reach out to others and work to widen the influence that the community had on their success.
They understand that more is accomplished when people work together, and everyone receives friendship and camaraderie in the process. This is a lesson that we can undoubtedly learn from the world’s poorest. Continuing to live in an isolated culture means people will fail to experience the true benefits of sharing friendships, laughter, joy, and tears.
When humans come together as a community, especially on a global scale, the world is stronger and undoubtedly better.
In a small farm in Ghana, James Kwame lives with his wife and children. After working two jobs as a clerk and taxi driver, he saved enough to purchase a piece of land and took out a loan of $70 which he used to buy chickens and some feed. As his chicken enterprise grew, James created jobs for six others and provided one worker both food and shelter in his home.
With his success, one of his biggest joys was his ability to donate a goat to his church for their Christmas celebration. For him, sharing his bounty with God and his community provided him with immense happiness. While visiting with Mark, James gave him both a soda to help him cool down in the extreme Ghana heat and three dozen eggs at the end of their visit as a parting gift. His humble act of giving to his guest allowed him to express his gratitude for what blessings he had received in life.
In a world where people have so much, the majority of those in the West do not know or understand sincere gratitude. The materialistic culture teaches and enforces that happiness and fulfillment are a direct result of how much fame or wealth someone has. It is easy for us to feel entitled to things because they have always been readily available.
On the contrary, the poor express ardent thanks for even the smallest of blessings in life. When they receive these blessings, they seek to multiple them by investing in others who need a fair chance. It is through this act that a small amount of money in the form of a loan can fully transform an entire community. Those in poverty truly understand and show gratitude in any capacity they can.
Two residents of Manila, Reynard, and Chara, lived much of their married life apart from each other. Reynard took jobs in Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Chara worked jobs at their home in Manila and then in Hong Kong. At one point, they went four years without seeing one another. They worked in order to provide their children with a better life and to give them the opportunity to get an education.
Finally, after saving enough they purchased some land and returned to being together with their children. Their unconditional love of their family gave them the motivation to persevere through the hardships and never give up, even when they were apart.
In our developed Western culture, whenever we decide we need or want something we are usually able to get it and quickly. We resent obstacles that challenge us and easily become impatient and frustrated when we experience them. The majority of those in our culture want and expect an easy path in life because that is what they are familiar with.
The developing world has a much different reality. People who live in extreme poverty have an unmatched willingness to get done what must get done. A task as small as getting water to drink turns into an incredibly complicated, extended process. Those in these circumstances must persist and continue to do so each day.
A Honduran priest sent a good friend of Mark’s back to the United States with a simple message: “tell American contacts not to be so generous.” After being probed for more information, he shared the fact that multiple churches throughout the United States often send huge donations of clothes collected through clothing drives in their communities.
As the majority of the Honduran community lives in poverty, almost everyone receives a handout from these donations. Soon after, seamstresses, tailors, shoemakers, and store owners who stock these items go out of business. Without any income, they are unable to provide for and feed their families or buy products from other stores, which causes other store owners to also lose income.
This has a drastic impact on the extremely delicate economy in this interconnected community. A simple well-intentioned handout takes away from the community it desperately sought to help by taking away the local’s self-reliance.
Spending time with those in poverty and listening to what they wish for shows that they simply want to be able to successfully provide for themselves and their families all on their own. They do not want to live off the generosity of others through handouts and be dependent on care.
Becoming self-reliant gives them dignity and builds self-esteem. The long-term solution to the issue of extreme poverty is fostering the development of self and community. While it seems like it is doing good from the outside, handouts can destroy and fail to empower people that need it most.
One of the most striking intangible differences between the developed and developing worlds is the role and practice of faith in one’s daily life. The West often views faith as a silo of oneself – physical self, emotional/mental self, and spiritual self. As individualism and affluence define the culture, faith is not something often viewed as a necessity, but more of a convenience. A vast majority of the world’s poor holds an unfaltering belief and trust in God.
With so little, they completely trust in Him for everything and firmly believe all blessings in life directly result from their faith. They trust in God with their whole being to provide for them. Faith is not just a small part of an individual, but crucial to the core of the entire person. Ingrained in every part of their daily life, the poor do not see the spiritual world as elsewhere as the West typically does, but live present in it.
Eduardo Voltran, a tailor from El Salvador, lost everything when a terrible earthquake hit his village. Determined to keep going, he received a large $1,000 loan to rebuild his business due to recommendations from others and his prior experience. His business grew to even larger than it had been before with five workers employed and serviced both walk-in customers in the shop and large companies that needed bulk orders of uniforms.
During the day, his home served as his place of business, but, most importantly to him, at night it served as a church for his neighborhood. Eduardo delightedly used his home to worship and give back to God since his talents and blessings came from Him.
As seen with Eduardo, those in developing countries strongly hold the belief that all blessings and what little possessions they have to belong to God. In this sense, it is up to us to cultivate those blessings to sustain ourselves and our families, better our future, and use our blessings to advance others. Without distractions of an overwhelming amount of material things and an individualistic culture, those in poverty experience much more of a personal relationship with God than we tend to in the West.
These distractions keep one from trusting completely in God, which takes away from a relationship with Him. Learning from the spiritual lives of the world’s poor would allow people to develop a closer, more meaningful relationship with God no matter what faith one chooses to live.
Roaming the streets of India are groups of boys known as rag-pickers. Young boys deserted by their parents’ group together to live and survive in the streets. With only each other, they must be ingenious and hard-working just to survive. A boy named Rachid digs through the garbage each day to gather whatever he can salvage to sell or recycle.
Each morning and evening he heads to the recycling center if he has collected enough material to exchange his findings for a meal. If he does not get enough, he does not eat. Without any education, shelter, or safety, he lives his life constantly moving with no hope of a future.
One of the hardest lessons that we are not familiar with in the West is that innocence is a luxury. While our Western culture seeks to shield our children from despair, issues, or challenges we face, children in the developing world learn of these at a very early age.
They know and experience the fight to survive, which inherently destroys their childhood innocence. Eradication of extreme poverty is the only hope to give these children back their innocence and allow them to experience the unbridled joy of being a child.
On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Setiawan received a $500 loan to buy tools and hired thirty-five people to help him dig shallow pools on his land. He filled the holes with fish and, at the peak, harvested over one hundred
pounds of carp a day. Taking out another loan of $1,000, he bought chickens and lumber to build chicken coops over the pools of fish.
He developed a system where the droppings from the chickens would become feed for the carp. Through his chicken and fish microenterprise, Setiawan provided his children the opportunity to attend college, supplied his family and community with food to eat, created jobs for others, and trained those interested in raising their own chickens. He soon realized a threat to his business – a low supply of chicken feed. Not only was this issue a single threat on its own, but also as the demand for chicken feed would be increasing due to those he trained starting their own enterprises.
There was no short supply of corn in the area, but a shortage of processed feed due to a disconnect in the supply chain. He realized that by processing corn into feed he could not only feed his own chickens and grow his operation, but also sell the feed to those he trained. With a $1,500 loan, he bought a corn milling machine for his business, which provided him even more opportunity.
If something breaks or becomes run down, we often replace it with a newer, better version and toss the old one aside. We are quick to disregard something once it no longer serves its purpose to us. Ingenuity is a lesson we can, and should, learn from those in poverty. In their communities, resourcefulness allows them to grow and thrive. It is a driving force.
A lack of possessions forces people to think creatively and utilize every inch of space and piece of scrap available to them. Nothing is useless and opportunity is seen in everything. Instead of giving in to the temptation of constant consumption, let us adopt the ingenuity of the working poor and seek solutions where we previously overlooked the opportunity.
It is well known that the wealth gap between the world’s richest and poorest continues to worsen. Three billion people in the world live on only $2 per day, while 300 individuals collectively own $1.5 trillion. The three richest people have wealth equal to the combined GDP of the poorest 48 countries.
This gap affects people in a variety of ways in areas of education, healthcare, nutrition, and things as simple as clean water. There are three key trends that paint the picture of the situation in our world today:
- Technology is escalating awareness by the poor
- The gap between the richest and poorest is widening
- Those with the most are sharing very little with those with the least
Our global world is more connected than ever due to the internet and related technology. The developing world sees our TV and watches as people live and spend extravagantly while they continue to live in dreary conditions. As huge multinational corporations come into their countries, they watch the rich getting richer from the cheap labor and manufacturing being exploited in their homes.
It is not surprising that many become concerned when it is announced these corporations are moving to their country. As the poor are increasingly aware with how our culture lives, they see and are upset by our disrespect for authority, the emphasis placed on physical attributes, erosion of family units, abuse of natural resources, and political issues.
Our offensive culture and failure to act sets a solid foundation for an uprising – those in dire circumstances can easily be manipulated by people with terrible agendas as persistent oppression leads to further hopelessness.
The world’s poor are not an issue to fix, but rather incredible assets that can thrive with proper development as done through microfinance. As evident through programs in the developed world, welfare does not establish dignity and self-esteem, but rather dependency in many cases. We are aware of the situations the world’s poorest are in and must act.
Knowing all that we know about the extreme environments so many people in our world live in, what can we do to help? Mark provides a list of actions one can take as a call to action.
- Pay attention: Do whatever you can to learn more about the poor in both your local community and in our global world. Work to develop compassion and understanding for those in their situation.
- Expand your boundaries: Do not only consume media that tells stories of just your community. Seek media outlets that report on the global community and tell stories of people from around the world.
- Travel: Go off the standard tourist path of places you travel to and meet the locals. Make sure to talk with them, see where they live and work, and learn from them.
- Become an informal advocate: Use your voice to speak up for the poor. When someone decides to talk down to or about them, step up to defend their honor and dignity.
- Help a new arrival: In every community in America, there are small groups of recent immigrants trying to acclimate to life in our country. Find these groups, learn from them, and speak with them about where they are from.
- Write a letter: Write to your Congressman and inquire about what actions they are taking to eradicate poverty. Encourage them to stand up and be an advocate for the poor and thank them when they act.
- Adopt a nation: By yourself or with others, select a country in the developing world and learn everything you can about it through your own research. Consider sponsoring a child in this country. If the means are available, take a trip to that country one day to experience its culture firsthand and meet its people.
- Examine your lifestyle: Look closely at how you and your family spend money and be diligent about frivolous spending. Any money you save by doing so can be given away as a charitable donation to agencies that work to eradicate poverty.
- Join an international trip: Step out of your comfort zone and go on sponsored trips to poverty stricken areas. When you come home, be the voice of the people and spread awareness.
- Partner with professionals: There are several credible organizations that exist to eradicate poverty. Each one focuses on a different area, so you can pick one to donate to that most aligns with your interests. These organizations include: Opportunity International, Compassion International, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International, International Justice Mission, Living Water International, MAP International, and World Relief.
- Plan for your second half: If you are at a point in your life where you are looking for a career change or are approaching retirement and want to continue to stay active, look for jobs that hold significance. You can align your skills and knowledge from your career with your interest in helping the poor. This can take shape in many ways and is discussed in the book, Half Time, by Bob Buford.
Mother Theresa famously taught that every person living in poverty is Jesus in disguise. With this mindset, one sees the poor as God does – overflowing with dignity and deserving of our upmost respect. In learning from their immaterial richness, we honor them. It is important to keep in mind that the world’s poorest are simply in their situation due to where they were born and the conditions they were born into.
They, like everyone else, hold the same desires and capabilities, but unjust circumstances keep them locked in poverty. Getting rid of poverty means justice will be achieved in the world as a level playing field would exist and each person would have access to basic human needs.
The world holds enough wealth to do so. It is not impossible if everyone takes Mark’s suggested steps and opens their hearts to give. Nothing is more rewarding than knowing you gave someone a chance at a better life.
Britt always taught us Titans that Wisdom is Cheap, and the principal can find treasure troves of the good stuff in books. We hope only will also express their thanks to the Titans if the book review brought wisdom into their lives.