Is the seemingly impossible possible? Muhammad Yunus and the idea of a ‘poverty museum’

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Debris in the streets of the Port-au-Prince ne...
Streets of Port-au-Prince following recent earthquake: comparatively, the loss of child mortality is equivalent to an incident like Haiti occurring every 10 days.

Professor Muhammad Yunus who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, during the Skoll World Forum of Social Entrepreneurship held at Oxford earlier in 2006 spoke of his idea of a ‘Poverty Museum’ to be built in the future when extreme poverty is finally eradicated. As I listened to him speak, I remember thinking that this was an interesting idea, but maybe too fanciful, even impossible. But think again: we can now read Charles Dickens and learn about a form of poverty that is all but historical in the UK, or we can visit a museum in South Korea and learn about the poverty experienced after the 1953 Truce across a country which had a GDP the same as Ghana in 1960, and is now recognised with a strong economy.

Much has been written about this issue. Not everyone agrees with each other.

Five years short of the 2015 reporting date for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and how is our progress?

In 2008, 8.8 million children died before their 5th birthday. 0.1% of these deaths were in the “Industrialised World”. A staggering 50% of the deaths occurred in  sub-Saharan Africa alone.

This equates to more than 24,000 children who tragically die every day.

The silent killer is preventable illness caused from the effects of extreme poverty.

What might this be compared with?

To put this into some perspective, consider that this might be seen as equivalent with:

  • 1 child dying every 3.6 seconds
  • More than 16 children dying every minute
  • A 2010 Haiti earthquake occurring every 10 days
  • A 2004 Asian Tsunami occurring every 10 days

(Source: UNICEF The State of the World’s Children Special Edition: Celebrating 20 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, November 2009, p.18-19)

It is not all bad news either. Taking a longer term view, since 1960 (when child mortality numbers were first being recorded) the annual number of child deaths has more than halved, from 20 million in 1960 to just 8.8 million in 2008. However, even though child mortality figures have shown a declining trend across the last 25 years, the situation which the world faces compounded by multiple systemic crises is still nothing short of outrageous: the effects of climate change mixed with the hyperinflation of world food prices, complicated by a looming economic stagnation of the West…

Progress has been made, but it is unevenly distributed. We continue to live in an imperfect world. Neither the UN nor the G20 has any magic wand to solve problems. The allocation of aid on its own will not solve this problem. Money makes a difference, but it is far from all there is. This year, natural events in places like Haiti and Pakistan show the constant demand for aid and support. Realistically, how much of this issue will be tackled by the G20 in the short space of time the leaders have together? How much impact might a ‘pictorial petition’ have with leaders meeting around an agenda influenced by complex issues with significant momentum? We could always do nothing and just complain about what a mess the world is in…

Let me provide an alternative and suggest you join us and become a bridge builder. Contributing a photograph while this crazy ’10 City Bridge Run global endurance challenge’ is being conducted might not seem like much, and might well represent nothing more than a symbolic act. However, what is the cost to you? It takes no time, and besides it is free. So snap off a photo and send it to us for inclusion in the book. And while you are at it, maybe open a conversation about this issue with others. More than likely, this is already something you are working on or have contributed towards. We recognise that many excellent initiatives are being undertaken by humanitarian workers quietly and selflessly making a difference. We would love to hear you thoughts.

Read about the outcome we hope to influence and the outputs we will be crowd-sourcing and co-creating through crowd-funding the necessary financial resources to make this work.


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