01/30/2012 03:44 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2012

A Revolution of Attention

A great percentage of the world is plagued by severe poverty and inequality. More than three billion human beings subsist on less than $3 per day. Clearly, the human economic system we have thus far created is not working. Perhaps a billion or so people can claim to be participants in the connected information economy, trading stock tips and Twitter tweets through the miraculous Internet that serves us. These billion are a lucky bunch, and well educated too. Technology serves us, academics publish studies that further our understanding of the human condition, and that vast and powerful engine of business known as capitalism has increased our wealth to an extraordinary degree. Many people are suffering now, we say, and of course we're referring to our American or European brothers and sisters who are and have been jobless for quite some time. Their plight is very real, and is not to be ignored. Of course, it isn't ignored -- we face this reality on our television news broadcasts, and Occupy Wall Street Tumblr accounts -- it's very clear that many of us in developed society are getting the short end of the stick.

I don't write this to be facetious or to undervalue the claims of the 99 percent. There is a real issue in the structure of our political institutions as corporations have claimed a "voice" through political donations that condition the political system to respond to their needs over the needs of the "common" American or European. We know about this plight, and we focus on it. And for those that are employed, the work we do contributes, one would hope, to a better society. To a society that works for the majority, and that creates wealth that actually improves our lives. That type of economic system, Umair Haque has argued, is one we will need in order to weather the extraordinary changes we are currently undergoing. And he's right -- we are in an economic period where systemic change is needed in order to improve the plight of the less fortunate of the developed economy.

Of course, there is another economy out there, perhaps less formal, but no less real. And three billion participants of this economy work for pennies to the hour, earning roughly $3 or less per day. Yet we don't hear about these folks, as human as you or I, and surely as deserving of some form of human attention, whether economic or non-market-oriented. I'm going to repeat that first statistic that I pointed out in the beginning of this piece and just before, because it is a point that bears reading more than once. More to the point, it bears your attention. Three billion human beings on planet Earth, the same Earth we all occupy, survive while earning under $3 per day. For nearly one billion of them, the same population of our global first world, that number is closer to $1 per day or less, meaning that their hourly work rate is roughly five to 10 cents per hour.

That their problems are real is an incontrovertible fact. And yet in our society, they lack our focus, our time, and our attention. They are cast aside, or perhaps more accurately stated, ignored. It is time for our ignorance to come to an end.

A revolution is needed, and not of the Tahrir variety. It is to be a revolution of inclusion more than a revolution of freedom, or increased liberal rights. As a human society, this revolution is needed, to face the reality of all of us, to honor the notion of our connectedness, and to embrace our fellow man with a minimum level of dignity -- a dignity of recognition.

What we need is a revolution of attention at the core of our institutions -- at the core of capitalism itself. Capitalism and its participants need to refocus attention toward the plight not of the third world, because that term serves to separate us - imagine, that one lives in a different world from another! - but rather to refocus our attention to the problems of our common humanity. To create capital, human capital, and social capital, and brotherly and sisterly capital, by honoring the poorest amongst us with our attention.

Never again can we turn a blind eye to those poor souls who earn in a day what most of us earn in minutes, sometimes seconds. We have to recognize that those three billion $3 earners are part of the same economic system that we occupy, and we have to begin to interact with them, either through market or non-market action, to recognize not only their existence but their fundamental equality to us, at the core human level. We have to begin to pay attention to them, with our designers designing products that the poor can afford to buy, with companies focusing on job creation opportunities that can lift a person earning $1 a day to $5 dollars a day, instantly bringing that person into the middle class of their society.

I recently read a remarkable book on ending poverty aptly titled Out of Poverty by Paul Polak, a man who dedicated 25 years of his life to serving the poor through providing market opportunities for them to increase their income. As he states, the reason poor people are poor is that they don't have enough ways to make money. We must restructure our interaction with the world at large to include these people, and serve them by providing ways for them to double, triple, and eventually increase their income at exponential levels.

In Paul Polak's book, the author noted that 90 percent of the world's designers focus on the top 10 percent of the world, the wealthiest among us, in designing products that the comparatively wealthy (that means us) want to consume. Imagine the possibilities if 90 percent of designers focused on designing products for the bottom 90 percent of us, those requiring access to sanitation and clean toilets, to clean water, and to employment opportunities that offer dignity and a hope of reaching the middle class.

The top billion of us, of which you are certainly one, have lived for too long in a silo -- a silo of attention. We have focused on quarterly earnings, and consumption, and material desire, at the expense of a forgotten population that is equal to us in that core human way. We must destroy that silo, and embrace the fact of the existence of our common man currently outside of our scope. We must hone that scope, and focus our attention squarely on them. What we need, what the world needs, is a revolution of attention -- a drastic shift in focus on the three billion of us that make less than $3 per day. From a world that spends $450 billion every year on advertising to us, the wealthy billion of the world, we must emerge a society that spends its time, money, and attention on the three billion people who earn $3 a day or less. Our attention for too long has been focused on ourselves. It is time to move beyond our own egocentric gaze, and focus on our human brothers and sisters in China, and India, and Bolivia, and Indonesia, who have become accustomed to our ignorance. We must revolutionize the way we pay attention to the world, to focus on the rest of us, who are inextricably part of us. We must eschew "us" versus "them" thinking for it puts human beings into illusory silos of difference. Imagine if we of the top billion focused ten percent of our daily attention of improving the lives of those three billion earning $3 a day or less. Surely we are capable of creating solutions to their problems, just as we have proven to be capable of solving every considerable need and desire of those of us in the top billion. This revolution of attention begins with you, and as a human being, I can only ask that you will be amongst those who revolt.