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Give the Urban Poor Opportunity, Not Just Charity

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Providing the poor and marginalized with employment is the best way to help them lift themselves out of poverty. In addition to creating jobs for the marginalized, handicapped, or incarcerated, some programs can reduce the barriers the poor face when it comes to successful employment. Providing them with the tools to help themselves is in many ways more compassionate, and certainly more empowering, than any charity program. Check out these reports from five megacities -- then join us on urb.im to continue the conversation.

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Rio de Janeiro is in the midst of preparing to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. In order to have more skilled workers available during the mega events, the government has put in place two significant initiatives. It is expanding childcare facilities to encourage both parents to take work opportunities as opposed to just one of them. And it is promoting free skill-formation courses in partnership with several training institutions and NGOs, including English courses. By improving employability and skills during these big, global events, the government is also creating long-term capacities to help families overcome poverty.

Information and communication technologies are unevenly distributed across Jakarta, meaning that the poor have limited technological access and tech skills needed to be employable. IT activist Onno W. Purbo has pioneered a computer network system that allows for very affordable Internet access. With online access, the poor are empowered to bridge the digital divide and hopefully increase their employability.

In Lagos, the spread of technology has been key in leveling the playing field in terms of access to information. For example, the innovative @Gidi_Traffic Twitter account provides up-to-date information on Lagos' traffic conditions. In a city well known for its crawling, bumper-to-bumper traffic, this local initiative has identified a challenge (lack of information on traffic conditions) and found a way to address it through social media. @Gidi_Traffic saves people time, money, and gas, and helps them get to work on time.

Many of the blind in Mumbai face a double stigma of economic and social exclusion, as disabilities perpetuate a poverty trap and push the poor further from access to education, employment, and healthcare. One effective program is a spa called Mettaa ("loving compassion" in Hindi), which employs only blind people to give reflexology massages. Employing the blind lets them be self-sufficient and provide for their families, which also raises their sense of belonging to society.

There are 40,979 prisoners in Mexico City, most of which have no way to make an income. A recent Reintegration Program offers prisoners a second chance through remote employment. Employing prisoners has shown to create positive habits like discipline, responsibility, and commitment. By developing skills and supporting their families, prisoners lower their chance of recidivism, thus breaking the cycle of poverty and crime.

As these examples show, innovations, such as childcare facilities, technological innovations, or skills training, can help the urban poor with employment. Do you know of other successful tools? Please join the conversation about work innovations on urb.im, the global community for just and inclusive cities.