Breaking the Cycle of Extreme Poverty Starts With a Focus on Children

11/13/2014 02:49 pm ET Updated Jan 13, 2015

Universal Children's Day takes place on Nov. 20. First proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954, it was established to promote the welfare of the world's children, something I have dedicated a lifetime's work to.

This day should not just be a day for celebration, but instead it should serve as a reminder that too many children around the world suffer from extreme poverty, violence, disease, lack of opportunity, exploitation and discrimination.

If we can lift a community of children out of extreme poverty you can prevent an entire future generation from suffering. This is why targeting child poverty and prevention must be a key focus for those drafting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next year. The SDGs will determine how the $2.5 trillion in development aid is spent up to 2030 and any decision must be made through the lens of how it will affect the world's poorest children.

A big focus for FXB International is to protect future generations from living lives blighted by extreme poverty, and the hardships that come with that. My goal was to break the cycle of extreme poverty for good, and it became clear to me that no one single intervention in isolation would ever be enough to target these diverse, but interconnected challenges -- interventions had to be integrated.

As a result, I developed the FXBVillage programme to deliver the five drivers of poverty eradication at the same time and in an integrated way: healthcare, housing, education, nutrition, and business. Each of these drivers relies on the others to help break the cycle of poverty and secure long-lasting change the world's poorest children and their families.

At the time of setting up FXB International 25 years ago, AIDS was ravaging the African continent, leaving orphans in extreme poverty with little hope for their future. The Ugandan government was one of the few that acknowledged the existence and extent of the AIDS epidemic. I began long discussions with the population of Semuto in the Luweero Province of Uganda, where I decided to start my work supporting orphans and vulnerable children.

In Uganda, as would become the norm for the FXBVillage programmes worldwide, FXB International made both a professional and financial investment in communities with large numbers of children in extreme poverty. The professional investment came in the form of three members of staff who could provide the five drivers, through the work of a medical professional, a social worker and a logistician, along with a 4x4 car.

Together, we selected up to 80 families who would participate in the FXBVillage programme. An average investment of up to $250,000 per FXBVillage programme ensured that sufficient healthcare, education, nutrition and housing was provided and maintained. We chose the route of investing in the participants, rather than offering them micro-credit, which often proves difficult for them to pay back.

It was then for the participants to decide what businesses to start, as this would not only provide an ongoing income but also, over the long-term, cover the costs of maintaining the other services provided. FXB's investment was scaled down each year as the participants began to make a profit from their businesses, eventually becoming completely autonomous. After three years of aid and training within the programme, households 'graduated' with the expectation that they would be self-reliant, able to maintain a steady income and raise their families without any further help.

This successful model has since been rolled out all over the world, and, to date, 86% of FXBVillage programme participants have become self-sufficient, bringing themselves of extreme poverty and giving them hope for a better future. Over the last 25 years, I'm proud to say that our FXBVillage programme has helped 12,000 families and 800,000 children out of extreme poverty, in Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, Burundi, India, China and Colombia.

One inspiring story, of many from Uganda, is that of Kabiite. The second of a family of eight children, she suffered extreme poverty as a child. Her parents struggled to raise their children, including four nieces and nephews who had been orphaned by AIDS and war. Tragically, Kabiite's mother passed away and her father became very ill. FXB International supported Kabiite's father by giving him the means and guidance to open a small retail shop in Semuto, thus providing the family with an income. FXB International also provided Kabiite and her siblings with a range of services including psychosocial counselling, career guidance, HIV/AIDS prevention, and life skills development.

As a result of this support, Kabiite decided to become a social worker and went on to complete a bachelor degree in Social Work at Uganda's Makerere University. Today, she is studying for a PHD in Children Studies in Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Her dream is to go back to Uganda to help other children realise their potential.

Kabiite shouldn't be one of the lucky few. Integrated interventions, like those championed by FXB International, are giving some of the world's poorest children hope for a better future. As the Sustainable Development Goals are being drafted, Universal Children's Day 2014 is an important day to remember the potential that sits within the future generations, and that we must do everything we can to make sure this potential isn't lost by the cruelty of extreme poverty.