Baltimore's Lessons Have Global Resonance

05/19/2015 12:25 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

The horizons of my professional life have always extended beyond our borders. This global perspective has shaped my views on the best ways to address some of the world's most intractable issues -- education, poverty, economic opportunity, health care. It's a point of view that also has provided a context for how I see our own challenges at home. Through this dual lens, I have grown to appreciate the similarities that exist across all continents, both in the nature of our collective problems and the answers to them.

Last month's disastrous violence in Baltimore is an example. Peaceful protests over the death of a young black man in police custody were eclipsed by riotous behavior among many of the city's youth. Commentators decried and condemned the wanton destruction while others used the episode to draw attention to what they described as the disenfranchisement felt by a generation of Baltimore teens. The refrain from many within that community -- as well as those who have observed similar situations throughout urban America -- is that a lack of economic opportunity was the impetus for the unrest. When life in poverty snuffs out all hope for a better tomorrow, the consequences -- though rarely justifiable -- can be tragic.

What we have witnessed in Baltimore has global parallels. At ChildFund International, we have long recognized the essential place of economic opportunity. In fact, it lies at the heart of ending the cycle of poverty that exists throughout the developing world. While much of our work involves helping improve the educational foundations of children, enhancing their access to quality health care and ensuring that they are protected from insidious forms of abuse and neglect, we also focus on putting some of the world's poorest people onto a path to self-sufficiency. Our goal is to ignite in them a flame of hope that will sustain them, and ultimately their children, for generations to come.

In Ethiopia, where 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, we are proud to be partnering with many nonprofits on a program that provides support and financial incentives for adults whose challenges have been compounded by the fact that many of them have been affected by HIV and must deal not only with various health problems but the stigma that goes with the virus. The program also supports family members who have been impacted in other ways by the disease.

Overall, the Yekokeb Berhan program works on many fronts: economic strengthening, food and nutrition support, health care, shelter, psychosocial support, education and legal protection. ChildFund's work within Yekokeb Berhan focuses on two areas: economic strengthening activities, to help families become more resilient, and early childhood development programs for HIV-affected children in more than 40 early childhood development centers throughout the country. Since the program's beginning, enrollment rates for 3- and 4-year-olds are up from 4 percent to 75. The goal is to reach as many as a half million children of all ages throughout Ethiopia.

While tending to the developmental and educational needs of children is critical for the long run, the economic piece of the program is making an immediate and tangible difference. Adults are receiving vocational and fiscal management training, essential building blocks for securing work and meeting financial obligations. In Zenebework, one of the poorest communities in Ethiopia's capital city, where the municipal dump looms prominently as a ubiquitous reminder of the residents' plight, an ambitious woman named Adanech has taken full advantage of Yekokeb Berhan. After receiving training in business development and micro-enterprise - and using a program loan of about $500 -- Adanech opened a small textile business that employs five people and is poised for additional growth. She clears $150 in profit each month, which she can use for continued investment in the company.

With economic opportunity have come prosperity and the permission to imagine a future beyond anything she could have dreamed before. And these dreams are infectious. Her 9-year-old daughter hopes someday to become a doctor.

To be sure, Ethiopia is not Baltimore, and there are deep-rooted complexities that exist in each place. And yet, there are lessons from both places that resonate across the miles. When you give people the seeds of opportunity and the training and resources to help those seeds grow, ambition will displace alienation, and despair will give way to the promise of a better tomorrow.