Zen Habits Simple Productivity How We Can Help Alleviate World Poverty in Three Easy Steps

In this guest blog post from Zen Habits, learn about three easy ways to help the world's poorest.

Alleviate world poverty? Isn’t that impossible?

There is so much grinding poverty in the world – how could just one of us possibly make a difference? The reason it seems so impossible is that we tend to focus on the immense number of people suffering from poverty – and on how little we can do individually. So we give up trying.

But there are two points to remember when we think about global problems:

1. Every action counts;
2. We are not alone.

Taking action is like planting a seed. Watch this short video to see how small thing can become big: (Here’s a link to the video if you can’t see it below.)

Every action counts
Whenever I get disheartened because there is so much suffering in the world, I remember one of my favorite stories. Here it is:

One day a man was walking his dog along the beach after a storm. The tide had washed thousands of starfish onto the beach. They were still alive, but only just. A woman was making her way along the shore, throwing starfish into the sea, one by one.

“Hey, ” the man called out. “there are thousands of starfish on the beach. You’re not going to make a blind bit of difference!”

The woman stooped, picked up a starfish and threw it back into the sea. Then she smiled at the man and said,  “Made a difference to that one!”

I love that story! It reminds us to think about individuals, and not about the big picture. Of course the big picture is important if you are part of an organization. But I find that looking at the big picture just gets me down and stops me from actually doing something about a global problem such as poverty.

We are not alone
All around us are people who are willing to lend a hand. It’s easy to forget this when you live in a big city, but rural communities still know about the power of concerted effort. Here’s an example: I was recently riding in a collectivo, a local bus on in the remote Corcovado Peninsula of Costa Rica. The bus carried school children and people with goods for the local market – all jammed together on iron-hard seats welded to a cattle truck. The road was knee-deep in mud and pitted with craters.

Suddenly the driver jammed on the breaks. We had just passed a farmer who was trying to catch a bunch of horses that were escaping down the road. We all hopped out spread around to stop the horses from escaping. The farmer was able to lasso his horses and we all got back into the bus, slapping each other’s backs in high spirits. That kind of thing doesn’t happen in cities!

If you and I and many others reach out and hold hands across the oceans – we can achieve the impossible: We can start to alleviate world poverty. But how?

Give a hand-up, not a hand-out.

When I was in Costa Rica, I met an inspiring woman leader, called Petronella. She belongs to the Bribri tribe, a small group of indigenous people in the Limon Province. She and her family suffered a lot. They were thrown off their ancestral land three times by land-hungry white Latinos, lived in grinding poverty, and had to cope with their daughter Priscilla’s debilitating illness.

Four years ago, Petronella decided to lead her family out of poverty, come what may. She started a small tourist enterprise showing visitors how her ancestors made chocolate. And someone gave some English language tapes and a player to Priscilla.

Fast forward 4 years…
Now Petronella employs five people and buys handicrafts and chocolate from other members of her tribe in order to sell them to tourists. Priscilla (who is extremely talented) has learned to speak impeccable English and her health has improved with medication.

You can see how an enlightened leader like Petronella can make a difference, not only to her own family, but to her whole community – with a little help. And that gave me the idea of how to start alleviating world poverty…

How we can alleviate world poverty together

Together with Arvind Devalia of Make it Happen,  I’ve launched the Blog with Heart Challenge . Which blog community has the most compassion and will to act? Each blog is invited to join a friendly challenge to alleviate poverty during the month of December 2009. The top ten will be the nominated winners of the Challenge.

The best ways to alleviate poverty is to give people a hand-up, not a hand-out. That’s why the Blog with Heart Challenge 2009/2010 uses Kiva, a highly respected non-profit microlender.

Kiva is a non-profit, internet based organisation which allows you to lend as little as $25 to a specific low-income entrepreneur in the developing world. You choose who to lend to – whether a baker in Afghanistan, a goat herder in Uganda, a farmer in Peru, a restaurateur in Cambodia, or a tailor in Iraq – and as they repay the loan, you get your money back.

How the Blog with Heart Challenge works.

Each blog can form a lending team at Kiva. Once you are part of the team, you can choose to have a loan on Kiva “count” towards your team’s impact. The loan is still yours, and repayments still come to you – but you can choose to have the loan show up in your blog team’s collective portfolio, so your Zen Habits’ chance of winning the Blog with Heart Challenge will grow!

The top ten winners of the Blog with Heart Challenge will be the blogs who have the biggest Kiva portfolio, relative to their number of subscribers by the end of December 2009.

The good news is that Zen Habits is the first blog to join the Blog with Heart Challenge! It’s great to see leaders like Leo take compassionate action and I’m sure Zen Habits readers will follow his example.

Here’s how YOU can alleviate world poverty with 3 easy steps.

Step 1: Sign up for Kiva here
Step 2: Log into your Kiva account. Go to your Zen Habits Lending Team and click the “Join Now” button.
Step 3: Go to the Kiva lending page and choose someone you want to lend to. When you get to the checkout, you’ll see that your loan has been added to the portfolio of your Zen Habits Team.

Done! Your loan has changed a life. And when your loan is paid back to you, you can re-lend it and change another life. Great, eh?

You can read more about the Blog with Heart Challenge or watch some cool videos about Kiva, collected by Arvind Devalia.

I’m very excited about this project! So excited, in fact, that I just went and lent $25 to Susan Obire in Nigeria. She sells kerosene at retail prices to her customers. Her greatest joy is the one-on-one interaction that she has with her customers. She hopes for a loan of $400 to purchase more kerosene to sell.

Let’s crank this thing up.

Please write to other bloggers and urge them to join the Blog with Heart Challenge. You can point them to more about how to join the Challenge.
Tweet like crazy and get everyone on board. Here is a shortened link that leads to info about the Challenge.  You can use for your Tweets: http://bit.ly/SLNyU

Let’s do something about world poverty – together.

All it takes is the three steps above.

Please go ahead and complete them, then email your friends and urge them to follow your example.
Let’s make it happen!

Read more from Mary on her blog Goodlife Zen By Mary Jaksch from Zen Habits

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