To Achieve SDGs like Hunger and Equality, Start By Fighting Poverty


To Achieve SDGs like Hunger and Equality, Start By Fighting Poverty

The global community has less than eight years left to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — an ambitious set of targets that include eradicating poverty, eliminating hunger and taking action against climate change. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact communities, a report issued last month reveals the world is on track to achieve almost none of the SDGs by 2030.

Even worse, global poverty is on the rise for the first time in decades, which will make achieving any of the other SDGs even more difficult. 

At Street Business School, we’re on a mission to help 1 million people lift themselves from poverty by becoming entrepreneurs, and we partner with like-minded organizations to deliver our entrepreneurial training programs in 27 countries around the world. But these organizations don’t only focus on fighting poverty. They represent a variety of missions — from improving access to healthcare to protecting the environment, touching on 16 of the 17 SDGs. Yet they all share an understanding that uplifting people from poverty is key to progress on the issues they are seeking to resolve.

So, how does poverty connect to the other global challenges we face? Let’s break it down.

Reducing poverty will… safeguard human rights

Many argue that — in and of themselves — the conditions in which the world’s poorest are forced to live constitute human rights abuses, making the elimination of extreme poverty under the SDGs a human rights mission. “When a person isn’t able to feed themselves or house their family, if they can’t access clean water or a decent job, or when kids have no choice but to drop out of school or get married because they’re living in poverty, these are all examples of human rights abuses,” Komala Ramachandra, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, argued in a 2020 interview. “But when you challenge structural inequities and improve access to essential goods and services, people can live with dignity, which is fundamental to upholding human rights.”

Specifically, families facing extreme poverty are more likely to have children who are exposed to child labor or child marriage. And those in poverty are more vulnerable to human rights abuses like human trafficking and forced labor regardless of age. SBS Founder Devin Hibbard spoke with Jeremy Floyd, co-founder and CEO of the anti-human trafficking organization EverFree, an SBS partner, about the connection in an interview published earlier this year on End Slavery Now

“The vast majority of the survivors we work with were trafficked while in the process of looking for employment,” Floyd told Hibbard. “They were desperate, took chances that were risky, and it didn’t work out for them, but it was that economic vulnerability that drove them to make those risky decisions.”

Providing people with a pathway out of poverty and toward sustainable income and employment is key to helping them to escape trafficking, forced labor and inhumane working conditions. “When you ask survivors what they want, they won’t say a shelter or counseling — they’ll tell you they want a job so they can support themselves and their families,” Floyd said. 

Improve local and global health

Woman business owner and childIncome stability and health are so closely linked that one study found poverty reduction to be as effective as medicine in preventing tuberculosis. Poverty not only limits people’s access to preventative treatments like vaccines and means they’re less likely to seek care when needed, but living in poverty also leaves people more vulnerable to conditions that can result in poorer health. 

Most prominently, a stunning 1.7 billion people globally still do not have access to basic sanitation services, such as private toilets or latrines, according to the World Health Organization, and 829,000 people die as a result of inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene each year. 

Further, around 45 percent of deaths among children under 5 are linked to undernutrition, with most occurring in low- and middle-income countries. As a result of rising poverty amidst the pandemic, the prevalence of undernourishment (what global agencies refer to as PoU) rose from 8.4 percent to 9.9 percent in 2020 after staying flat over the previous five years, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. By July of this year, advocates warned that 345 million people globally were facing acute food insecurity. 

The vast disparity in global access to COVID-19 vaccines further illustrates just how closely poverty intersects with health — and how far we as a global community need to go in pursuit of greater equity.

Protect the environment

Globally, an estimated 70 percent of people in poverty depend on natural resources for most of their livelihoods, according to the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP). These men and women respect the lands, forests, and waters that support and sustain them, but they also need to feed their families. When their farms or fish stocks don’t produce enough to do that, they’re left with no other choice but to convert land, clear forest or overfish local waterways in order to survive. In the long term, this only exacerbates their poverty as local ecosystems collapse and resources degrade. 

Helping people to build their incomes can break this cruel cycle, as recognized by the UNEP and U.N. Development Program with the creation of the Poverty-Environment Action initiative in support of the SDGs. 

Promote gender equality

Women and girls face higher rates of poverty globally, and they were also nearly 20 percent more likely to fall back into poverty as a result of the pandemic compared to men and boys. 

“These insights are troubling, to say the least — particularly because realizing zero poverty and gender parity are key levers to achieving all of the SDGs and creating the better, more equitable world we all wish to see,” Hibbard wrote on the blog last year. 

Considering that working women invest 90 percent of their income back into their families and communities, compared to 35 percent for men, helping more women to rise from poverty could have a ripple effect felt around the world. 

“This is a tipping point for women’s rights and gender equality as we approach the half-way mark to 2030,” Sima Bahous, executive director of U.N. Women, said in a September statement. “It is critical that we rally now to invest in women and girls to reclaim and accelerate progress. The data show undeniable regressions in their lives made worse by the global crises — in incomes, safety, education and health. The longer we take to reverse this trend, the more it will cost us all.”

Join us in pushing past poverty in support of the SDGs

Of course these are only some of the ways poverty intersects with the other global challenges outlined in the SDGs. Achieving goals like equitable access to education, clean water, and energy also crucially depend on ensuring vulnerable communities have access to employment, steady income streams and a quality of life that allows them to live with dignity.

Click here to learn more about how Street Business School can support your organization’s mission by increasing incomes and ending poverty in the communities you serve.  

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