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Self-Reliance is the Key to Eliminating Poverty

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Like many people, I have thought a lot about the subject of poverty. Growing up in Oakland, California, I lived in relative wealth, while just down the hill people struggled to put food on the table. The contrast bothered me. As I grew older and was able to understand the scope of global poverty, I felt overwhelmed. It felt insurmountable. Should I send money to one of the charities that advertised with heart-wrenching photos on television? What about the administrative corruption in some of those organizations I'd read about? Or government leaders who embezzled funds away from the people, stashing it away in foreign bank accounts for their own personal gain?

A couple of years ago a friend introduced me to a man who had worked for USAID in Africa. I had always assumed that any position through a US government would be nothing more than a bureaucratic desk job - making studies and writing reports. But to my surprise, over his many years of service, this man was actually out "in the field," on the ground, working with farmers, trades people, women with small cottage creations, as well as government officials. As a result, he had transformed the lives of many thousands of people by helping them add value to the products and practices they already had in place Rather than simply giving aid, in the form of money or food, the team showed people how to use their own skills and resources to increase their standard of living.

I was inspired and began to wonder why more organizations didn't seem to realize that building independence and showing people how to create lives, if not wealth for themselves, is so much more effective long term than giving aid. It turns out there were actually many such groups who understood this -- really successful ones. But it also seemed like their work wasn't receiving much attention from the media. I knew there were individuals like me who wished to reach out and give something, but wanted to make sure that whatever they gave would actually make a difference. They just needed more information.

I contacted my friend, publisher, and social media expert Warren Whitlock. In addition to having all of those talents, I knew he believed strongly in a life of service. We decided to team up and do some more investigating of what appeared to be a new paradigm for philanthropy. So began our global exploration. We founded Billions Rising, Self-Reliance Foundation. Our mission was to learn as much as possible about these programs, organizations and projects that promote "self-reliance" as a means to alleviate poverty, and then to share that information as widely as possible. What we have discovered is far greater than we had ever anticipated: the world is alive with new, creative ways to end poverty and hunger. A lot of these programs and projects still need a handout as a catalyst to giving the hand-up needed. But with a small amount of research, it's easy to discern which ones connect a financial donation to a clear plan of action.
  • Non-governmental organizations - (NGOs) who reach out globally to support social entrepreneurs, pioneering innovations, grassroots programs and local groups who are educating children, teaching sustainable agriculture, building schools and housing, and teaching job skills that lift people out of poverty.
  • Crowdfunding - Many projects are funded by people who join online and donate whatever amount of money they choose. Thousands of such projects are posted and many thousands of people are givers to these projects.
  • Micro-Lending - There is a worldwide network of microfinance institutions. Tiny low-interest loans create big opportunities for those who wish to start a business. Entire local economies are thriving, thanks to these low or no-interest loans.
  • Collaborations - We are seeing collaborations of all kinds. NGOs are teaming together rather than competing. Corporations are joining with non-profits to support a specific cause. Talent pools are combining to swap their skills and expertise, in the age-old tradition of bartering.
  • Competitions - Big cash prizes are being awarded for innovations in technology, education, and groundbreaking entrepreneurial ideas.
A confluence of historical developments contributed to these trends. The Internet and cell phones have opened an enormous doorway, connecting the worlds of givers with those in need. Online placement allows them to find each other as never before. This technology also allows for collaborations among people from far-flung areas of the globe.

In addition, the global recession caused a major shift in the structure of funding. We can no longer depend on the top-down model of getting money from large institutions. Necessity has encouraged us to reach laterally to find one another, to collaborate, trade, and assist one another at an entrepreneurial level. As a result, creative solutions to the problem of poverty are being developed in many sectors around the globe. As this happens, the self-reliance movement will continue to grow, and billions will rise.

I will be posting stories of success as we continue to explore the many paths out of poverty and into self-reliance.