3 reasons why we can win the fight against poverty | Andrew Youn

Updated : Feb 14, 2020 in Articles

3 reasons why we can win the fight against poverty | Andrew Youn

I’ve been living in rural East Africa
for about 10 years, and I want to share a field perspective
with you on global poverty. I believe that the greatest failure
of the human race is the fact that we’ve left more than
one billion of our members behind. Hungry, extreme poverty: these often seem like gigantic,
insurmountable problems, too big to solve. But as a field practitioner, I believe these are actually
very solvable problems if we just take the right strategies. Archimedes was an ancient Greek thinker, and he taught us that if we lean
on the right levers, we can move the world. In the fight against extreme poverty,
I believe there are three powerful levers that we can lean on. This talk is all about those levers,
and why they make poverty a winnable fight in our lifetimes. What is extreme poverty? When I first moved to rural East Africa, I stayed overnight with a farm family. They were wonderful people. They invited me into their home.
We sang songs together and ate a simple dinner. They gave me a blanket
to sleep on the floor. In the morning, however,
there was nothing to eat. And then at lunchtime, I watched
with an increasingly sick feeling as the eldest girl in the family
cooked porridge as a substitute for lunch. For that meal, every child
drank one cup to survive. And I cannot tell you how ashamed I felt when they handed one of those cups to me, and I knew I had to accept
their hospitality. Children need food not only to survive
but also to grow physically and mentally. Every day they fail to eat,
they lose a little bit of their future. Amongst the extreme poor,
one in three children are permanently stunted
from a lifetime of not eating enough. When that’s combined
with poor access to health care, one in 10 extremely poor children
die before they reach age five. And only one quarter of children
complete high school because they lack school fees. Hunger and extreme poverty curb
human potential in every possible way. We see ourselves as a thinking,
feeling and moral human race, but until we solve these problems
for all of our members, we fail that standard, because every person
on this planet matters. This child matters. These children matter. This girl matters. You know, we see things like this, and we’re upset by them, but they seem like such big problems. We don’t know how
to take effective action. But remember our friend Archimedes. Global poverty has powerful levers. It’s a problem like any other. I live and work in the field,
and as a practitioner, I believe these are very
solvable problems. So for the next 10 minutes, let’s not be sad
about the state of the world. Let’s engage our brains. Let’s engage our collective passion
for problem-solving and figure out what those levers are. Lever number one: most
of the world’s poor are farmers. Think about how extraordinary this is. If this picture represents
the world’s poor, then more than half engage in farming
as a major source of income. This gets me really excited. All of these people, one profession. Think how powerful this is. When farmers become more productive,
then more than half the world’s poor earn more money and climb out of poverty. And it gets better. The product of farming
is, of course, food. So when farmers become more productive,
they earn more food, and they don’t just help themselves, but they help to feed healthy communities
and thriving economies. And when farmers become more productive,
they reduce environmental pressure. We only have two ways
we can feed the world: we can either make our existing farmland
a lot more productive, or we can clear cut forest and savannah
to make more farmland, which would be environmentally disastrous. Farmers are basically
a really important leverage point. When farmers become more productive, they earn more income,
they climb out of poverty, they feed their communities and they
reduce environmental land pressure. Farmers stand at the center of the world. And not a farmer like this one, but rather this lady. Most of the farmers I know
are actually women. Look at the strength and the will
radiating from this woman. She is physically strong, mentally tough, and she will do whatever it takes
to earn a better life for her children. If we’re going to put the future
of humanity in one person’s hands, then I’m really glad it’s her. (Applause) There’s just one problem: many smallholder farmers
lack access to basic tools and knowledge. Currently, they take a little bit
of saved food grain from the prior year, they plant it in the ground
and they till it with a manual hand hoe. These are tools and techniques
that date to the Bronze Age, and it’s why many farmers
are still very poor. But good news, again. Lever number two: humanity actually solved the problem
of agricultural poverty a century ago. Let me walk you through the three
most basic factors in farming. First, hybrid seed is created
when you cross two seeds together. If you naturally pollinate
a high-yielding variety together with a drought-resistant variety, you get a hybrid that inherits
positive traits from both of its parents. Next, conventional fertilizer,
if used responsibly, is environmentally sustainable. If you micro-dose
just a pinch of fertilizer to a plant that’s taller than I am, you unlock enormous yield gain. These are known as farm inputs. Farm inputs need to be combined
with good practice. When you space your seeds
and plant with massive amounts of compost, farmers multiply their harvests. These proven tools and practices
have more than tripled agricultural productivity
in every major region of the world, moving mass numbers of people
out of poverty. We just haven’t finished delivering
these things to everybody just yet, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. So overall, this is amazing news. Humanity actually solved
agricultural poverty a century ago, in theory. We just haven’t delivered these things
to everybody just yet. In this century, the reason
that people remain poor is because maybe they live
in remote places. They lack access to these things. Therefore, ending poverty
is simply a matter of delivering proven goods
and services to people. We don’t need more genius types right now. The humble delivery guy is going
to end global poverty in our lifetime. So these are the three levers, and the most powerful lever
is simply delivery. Wherever the world’s companies,
governments and nonprofits set up delivery networks
for life-improving goods, we eliminate poverty. OK, so that sounds really nice in theory, but what about in practice? What do these delivery networks look like? I want to share the concrete example
that I know best, my organization, One Acre Fund. We only serve the farmer, and our job is to provide her
with the tools that she needs to succeed. We start off by delivering farm inputs
to really rural places. Now, this may appear
initially very challenging, but it’s pretty possible. Let me show you. We buy farm inputs with the combined power
of our farmer network, and store it in 20 warehouses like this. Then, during input delivery,
we rent hundreds of 10-ton trucks and send them out to where farmers
are waiting in the field. They then get their individual orders
and walk it home to their farms. It’s kind of like Amazon
for rural farmers. Importantly, realistic delivery
also includes finance, a way to pay. Farmers pay us little by little over time,
covering most of our expenses. And then we surround
all that with training. Our rural field officers
deliver practical, hands-on training to farmers in the field every two weeks. Wherever we deliver our services,
farmers use these tools to climb out of poverty. This is a farmer
in our program, Consolata. Look at the pride on her face. She has achieved a modest prosperity
that I believe is the human right of every hardworking person on the planet. Today, I’m proud to say that we’re serving
about 400,000 farmers like Consolata. (Applause) The key to doing this
is scalable delivery. In any given area, we hire
a rural field officer who delivers our services
to 200 farmers, on average, with more than 1,000 people
living in those families. Today, we have 2,000
of these rural field officers growing very quickly. This is our delivery army, and we’re just one organization. There are many companies,
governments and nonprofits that have delivery armies just like this. And I believe we stand at a moment in time where collectively, we are capable of
delivering farm services to all farmers. Let me show you how possible this is. This is a map of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a map of the United States for scale. I chose Sub-Saharan Africa because
this is a huge delivery territory. It’s very challenging. But we analyzed every 50-mile
by 50-mile block on the continent, and we found that half of farmers
live in just these shaded regions. That’s a remarkably small area overall. If you were to lay these boxes
next to each other within a map of the United States, they would only cover
the Eastern United States. You can order pizza
anywhere in this territory and it’ll arrive to your house
hot, fresh and delicious. If America can deliver pizza
to an area of this size, then Africa’s companies,
governments and non-profits can deliver farm services
to all of her farmers. This is possible. I’m going to wrap up by generalizing
beyond just farming. In every field of human development, humanity has already invented
effective tools to end poverty. We just need to deliver them. So again, in every area
of human development, super-smart people a long time ago
invented inexpensive, highly effective tools. Humanity is armed to the teeth with simple, effective
solutions to poverty. We just need to deliver these
to a pretty small area. Again using the map
of Sub-Saharan Africa as an example, remember that rural poverty is
concentrated in these blue shaded areas. Urban poverty is even more concentrated,
in these green little dots. Again, using a map
of the United States for scale, this is what I would call
a highly achievable delivery zone. In fact, for the first time
in human history, we have a vast amount of delivery
infrastructure available to us. The world’s companies,
governments and non-profits have delivery armies
that are fully capable of covering this relatively small area. We just lack the will. If we are willing, every one of us has a role to play. We first need more people to pursue
careers in human development, especially if you live
in a developing nation. We need more front line health workers,
teachers, farmer trainers, sales agents for life-improving goods. These are the delivery people
that dedicate their careers to improving the lives of others. But we also need a lot of support roles. These are roles available
at just my organization alone, and we’re just one out of many. This may surprise you, but no matter
what your technical specialty, there is a role for you in this fight. And no matter how logistically possible
it is to end poverty, we need a lot more resources. This is our number one constraint. For private investors, we need
a big expansion of venture capital, private equity, working capital,
available in emerging markets. But there are also limits
to what private business can accomplish. Private businesses often struggle
to profitably serve the extreme poor, so philanthropy still has
a major role to play. Anybody can give,
but we need more leadership. We need more visionary philanthropists and global leaders who will take
problems in human development and lead humanity to wipe them
off the face of the planet. If you’re interested in these ideas,
check out this website. We need more leaders. Humanity has put people on the moon. We’ve invented supercomputers
that fit into our pockets and connect us with anybody on the planet. We’ve run marathons
at a five-minute mile pace. We are an exceptional people. But we’ve left more than one billion
of our members behind. Until every girl like this one
has an opportunity to earn her full human potential, we have failed to become
a truly moral and just human race. Logistically speaking,
it’s incredibly possible to end extreme poverty. We just need to deliver
proven goods and services to everybody. If we have the will, every one of us
has a role to play. Let’s deploy our time, our careers, our collective wealth. Let us deliver an end to extreme poverty in this lifetime. Thank you. (Applause)


  • The problem is that 50% of the wealthy or successful people in the world believe poverty is punishment for laziness.

  • so basically he is just promoting a business. There will always be poor people because most businesses' goals are to make as much profit as possible. The quality of life of people will increase and then the cost of goods and services will increase as well. Capitalism doesnt care about lives but about money.

  • I think it's weird the way you made a point to say that hybrid seeds are naturally crossed in perhaps contrast to GMO seeds which can do better than hybrid seeds. There are seeds right now that reduce farm inputs needed, resist weeds, pests, and blights thus increasing yields. But we just want to ignore all that? How can you ignore that?

  • There's a lot of good in this idea, but it seems over-simplistic. It certainly won't hurt to try and then see what the long term results are.

  • You forgot about the corrupt government leaders and the many minor warlords that have thugs who will effectively thwart these efforts that are in these areas. It's the same problem we ran in to in Somalia in the early 90s.

  • Try this. If you are an adult man and women and you can't take care of yourself. Don't have any children. It is just that simple.

  • "Humanity solved the problem of agricultural poverty over a century ago. We just haven't delivered the solution to everybody yet." Awesome

  • It's a good point that we should supply modern farming to these improvised areas. But:

    The rest of the world does not need food, so they cannot practically come out of poverty just with farming.

    We have not solved the rest of the poverty problems. The US and other industrialized countries have many poor people, and we don't know how to fix it.

    That said, the extremely impoverished farmers are an easy target that we might as well hit. Another interesting thing is how the introduction of smartphones has helped 3rd world workers escape poverty.

  • Mi idea for a long term solution is that the centers that give humanitarian aid to the poor would mix the food with some kind of contraceptive. The people receiving the help would know there is an ingerable presertive there and would choose to receive the food or not. The same people recivong the aid could work in the production of the food. After all, if they don't have enough food for themselves, why involve an innocent children into that condition?

  • We have a war on just about everything becuase there's money to be made… war on drugs, war on child abuse, war terror, etc. But for some reason you just don't see investors lined up to fight the war on poverty.

  • As good as this is, it should consider that there's a political context where there many institutions of power, especially in the western hemisphere, who have a vested interest in keeping many sub-Saharan African countries from achieving economic stability.

  • That talk starts with saying that farmers are poor, but mostly describes areas where the birth rate is totally over the top, like in Subsaharian Africa, 6 children by woman average, these birth rates are totally unsustainable.

    Traditional communities were not really "poor", but had enough to eat, have some provisions, and everything they needed for clothes, tools etc. Helping them with some infrastructure and instruction is a positive action from these organizations.

    Also remember that high civilizations are based on inequalities : how can you build pyramids, colyseum or skyscrapers if you don't have masses of poor people ready to work for low wages, usually provided by massive immigration ?

  • farmer get more food means more people then more to become poor but they may become farmer again and just a cycle but these things are a cycle of disaster they may destroy environment in fact those bronze age tools are enough if the land is good enough but it isn't so then we need to go through cycle again and more poor people will pop out

  • Human nature is one reason that when all is said and done prevail, sadly. Until we can change that, and its not happening anytime soon, poverty and many other nasty things like war will continue to thrive.

  • ALL of the world's poor have ONE thing in common: They are too stupid to understand that you do NOT have children that you can't afford to raise. If they REALLY wanted to have children, they would have gotten their act together and created a world of their own that is WORTH raising kids in. Oh, and by the way, these scumbags are TOO STUPID to know how to use contraception.

  • Many reasons why Africa is starving, one War, they like to kill each other, and distroy crops and kill farmers, that's why women are farmers, the men are dead, also bugs insects they have issues with large amount of insects eating plants, clean water, etc,over coming poverty is easy, stop them from killing each other impossible,

  • Yeah it's easy to share, but American doesn't like it. They let the rich control everything then whine about how their lives are bad. And when their chances come, they vote Hillary. Oh well have fun with Trump, it is a change after all.

  • Legalize Drugs Worldwide. Socialize International Business. End Poverty.

    The rich are people who don't know compassion. It takes living the struggle to relate to it. Distribute wealth by giving opportunity to the needy and not just the privileged.

    The poor can save the poor.

  • Better strategy would be leave them alone and they can handle themselves. Stop selling them war equipment and affect their politics by helping their killer governments. That is the very least thing you can do to stop hunger and immigration.

  • He said it well… the problem is the will… and also the barriers… I am from a third world nation and its very difficult for me to join volunteering in Asia where I would like to work… all about money and visas and all sorts of nonsense…Want my help? So make it easier for me to do so… dammit…

  • if we believe that we are not 3 days from beaning mean, do not feed you or your kids for that time and see how that works for you. smile each day, something some never get

  • THANK GOD! Finally an intelligent speaker. YES! Property rights is where ALL wealth begins. Give people their property and let them plant their seeds and they will reap what they sow. My hope for TED has finally been restored.

  • As long as you call it a "fight" it's not any good I'm afraid. Simple consideration of the facts, an analytic approach with a holistic perspective will lead to conclusion that it's a complex system problem coming directly out of our unsustainable approach to the organization of our society.

  • 3? I can do it in one. Because rich people love having more than everyone else. You ever listen to rich people talk to one another? Nearly everything that comes out of their mouths is about money, coupled with their attempts to one up each other.

  • उपकर्तुं यथा स्वल्पः समर्थो न तथा महान् ।
    प्रायः कूपस्तृषां हन्ति न कदापि तु वारिधिः ॥
    – सुभाषितरत्नसमुच्चय

    upakartuM yathaa svalpaH samartho na tathaa mahaan |
    praayaH kUpastRuShaaM hanti na kadaapi tu vaaridhiH ||
    – subhaaShitaratnasamuchchaya

    Meaning of the subhAShita:
    In the way a trifle can be of assistance, the great may not be able to. Probably a well can quench the thirst, but never the (mighty) ocean.

    Each in its own space and time. The purpose of one can not be served by the other.A doctor uses knife. A butcher also uses knife. A doctor uses knife for earning his livelihood. So also a butcher uses knife to earn his livelihood. So, the instrument in both the cases remaining the same, viz. knife, but the intentions in using the instrument by the doctor and the butcher is diametrically opposite. A doctor surgeon uses the knife to increase the lifespan of a patient whom he is operating. Lo! whereas the butcher uses the knife to shorten the life of the animal allotted by God. So it is all the intention one entertains in his thoughts and minds that differentiates a butcher a butcher and a doctor a doctor. An ocean may be all mighty and magnificent. But when a thirsty man comes to it, he will look for a different source of drinking water. Although the ocean is a store house of the most percentage of water available on earth, although torrential rains are an ounce in the face of its capacity, not a drop of it is useful in quenching the thirst of a weary traveler! But then, a well, which is a minuscule speck in comparison to the ocean, may very well be a heavenly sight to the parched throat of a tired hiker.

    Same holds good in all aspects of life. Each person can not be the leader of the world! Politicians think of the next elections. Whereas statesman thinks of the happiness, welfare, wellbeing, safety, security, peace and prosperity of not only the citizen of a nation but also the next generation and all the generations yet to come. If that is true, then who will they lead?! As much as leaders are required, people that need to be lead are essential as well. Every man can't be an chartered architect, chartered accountant, mucision, artist, painter, dramatist, advocate, administrator, etc., there needs to be someone to build the structure as well. That means, the builder can not become the architect either. One person's shoe can not fit another. Like a boat cannot traverse on the road nor the train cannot traverse on the sea nor the aircraft cannot fly on either traversing media, it can fly only on the air because all of them have a different designs for its operation. At the same time, the existence of each and every being is very important.

    For that matter, the existence of every grain of sand and blade of grass is crucial. If it wasn't required to be there, He would have already made sure that it was not there! If it is there, it already is important and essential. So are beings. If they weren't special and essential, the Lord wouldn't have made them!!

    Never disrespect anything or anyone based on their pervasiveness. All are indispensable in their own unique ways! Value for what they essentially are. A great man once said, 'Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.'!! What a profound statement that is!

    pada vigrahaH:
    उपकर्तुं यथा स्वल्पः समर्थः न तथा महान् ।
    upakartuM yathaa svalpaH samarthaH na tathaa mahaan |

    प्रायः कूपः तृषां हन्ति न कदा अपि तु वारिधिः ॥
    praayaH kUpaH tRuShaaM hanti na kadaa api tu vaaridhiH ||

    bangalore india 07/07/2016

  • "We just lack the will…" as he show a picture of a bag of money. Why is it so hard to understand that scarcity is an inbuilt function of money? We do not lack the will. The market will assign a price to the things that are most valuable, and to increase profit, act to make those most valuable of things increasingly scarce. This is the primary reason to implement a resource based economy. As long as we continue to use a market to assign value to the things we need to survive, (water, food, healthcare, housing, education, security from violence) these resources will continue to become more and more expensive and scarce.

  • I truly wish i could live in the liberal utopia that this guy has created for himself. I admit that his hart is in the right place but the reality is that the minute these people have any thing worth taking, ether the government or bandits will swoop down and take it from them. The amount of poverty that a country has i directly related to the type of government that it has. Capitalist Democracies are the only thing that have consistently created prosperity for all economic classes.

  • 1:37 – if everyone in the world could understand this (it's not really rocket science, it's basic f***ing biology), there would be a lot less people blaming poverty on 'laziness' and 'lack of grit'

  • Did anyone else noticed that teachers were among the world's poor, that just unbelievable.They should not be there.

  • 4:34
    Am I the only one who sees the ignorance glooming in the eyes of some of the older men sitting there?

    This is the problem that this generation will never overcome. Stuck with stupid role/gener identifications they dont take a single word the presenter says to their heart …
    Its incredible frustrating to see this kind of stuff.

  • GM Crops, combined with the Haber process, have already solved the problem of world hunger. Now, we simply have to wait for necessity to overcome prejudice. I, however, do not share the speaker's optimism that it will happen in our lifetimes, but eventually, it will.

  • I think conflating poverty and starvation is not a good idea. The 10% of any group will be in poverty if that's how one defines it. Lack of food is a much better metric, and while I agree that it exists, environmental concerns and opposition to biotechnology on effectively religious grounds are what keep progress from being made on this front.

  • 9:36 by that logic, not to all, but to 50%… just pointing that out, not trying to be negative, loved the talk

  • I am sure you realize that the lever example is wrong. There is no place in space to put the pivot of the lever. If you want to move the earth by one centimeter, you may have to push the lever for trillion miles, and you will be dead by that time. Earth is not fixed, constantly moving, etc. Just kidding.

    If you cannot solve poverty in USA, then you cannot solve it anywhere else. No lever will work in USA. Capitalism cannot survive without poverty. Capitalism is a bar magnet. The strength of the north pole (richness) is same as the strength of the south pole (poverty). Where you put the red line is meaningless. The US data will show that rich is getting richer and poor is getting poorer. So rich is constantly stealing wealth from the poor. This will happen all over the world. Poverty cannot be removed; it is an integral part of capitalism, and is so by design.

  • good sales speech for non profit. but his dress is a classic proof that asians do not care about dress: his neck is long, so he need to wear a collar-shirt to make himself look less distractive to his excellent speech. speaking of image, I can't care less, I mean, I don't really care

  • The speaker is wrong about farming more global corporations with psychopaths running them want that land especially in Africa Latin America, they buy off their governments and pay off warlords. To bugger up peoples ability to feed themselves so they only buy their food and water from these same global corporations, GMO foods is not the answer at all. All poverty is contrived scientific innovation that threatens to get rid of poverty is stopped in it tracks people are poor because of decisions made in more powerful nations. There is no money in curing disease or getting rid of hunger this speaker can continue to keep deluding himself nothingh as truly changed since the 18Th century, only the technology to change it is now available and I'm not going to repeat.

  • I like a lot your idea. I understand your enthusiasm as you can see how the families improve, and the children growth healthier. Maybe it is important to go further, and maybe help these farmers to find a way to make their own fertilizers…. and improve the way to distribute their harvest… And you can begin the work with new areas…. I´m really interested in One Acre Fund, I would like to help and contact you. Congratulations for your great work!

  • As noble as are such efforts, the cause of poverty is systemic. Poverty is one of the tragic outcomes of our systems of law and taxation. This connection was identified in the late 19th century by the American journalist, political economist and social philosopher Henry George. From his predecessors and by his own insights, Henry George traced the cause of poverty to monopoly privilege, particularly landed privilege, the conversion of earth — our commons — into private property. For this privilege those who control land and natural resources return to society a small portion of the full value of the benefits received. Every parcel or tract of land has some potential annual value, a value that is not created by the individual owner but by the community's investment in infrastructure and other public goods and services. Henry George argued simply that this value should be publicly collected in lieu of taxes on the incomes we earn, the goods we produce and the commerce in which we engage. What Henry George wrote rings as true today as it did when he wrote.

    George's campaign to end poverty failed. The powerful saw to it that the movement he started never threatened their privileged position. Yet, he reached many thoughtful people with his message, including Leo Tolstoy, Sun Yat-sen and John Dewey.

  • Thank You, Mr. Andrew Youn. AN important talk. Because of the title you choose, I expected something a tad bit different … you do tend to focus in one direction for resolving a very complex problem … it will take more than this … but this sounds good on the surface … I'm not sure, at all, if hybred seeds are a good thing … there needs to be more research into this approach. Love & Peace to All

  • Poverty can definitely be solve but none of the solutions which is being applied as of today is able to do it..

  • This is very simplistic really. Many farmers are poor because they can't own land (especially women), hence no possibility to get a credit and invest because they can't use their land as collateral. There are so many other reasons behind poverty (he also conveniently forget about urban poverty which is way more widespread and complex than rural poverty)

  • Andrew Youn at least did something with what he experienced in East Africa. What are you and I doing to help those in poverty, or at least help solve the housing, health problems in our communities? Some of us are on the other hand part of the problem. Instead of hating his approach to fighting poverty, bring yours to the table for the world to see. Too much talk, yet no action.

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