ENDING POVERTY WITHIN OUR GENERATION: BOBBY BAILEY INTERVIEW

By Nekia Lane and Joseph Natividad

Staff Writers

On April 13, the Global Poverty Project launched its mission in San Diego to fulfill the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and to eradicate world poverty within the next generation. There are currently 1.4 billion people in the world living on less than $1.25 per day, and with a concerted effort to spread awareness among governments, organizations and individuals, the advocacy group believes that achieving such goals will become a foreseeable reality.

Bobby Bailey, co-founder of Invisible Children and Global Poverty Project USA, shared the 45-minute multimedia presentation “1.4 Billion Reasons” at the Robinson Auditorium at UCSD’s School of International Relations/Pacific Studies (IR/PS). Looking to engage audiences to make conscious lifestyle changes and become a part of the solution, he argued that extreme poverty could be slowed down through simple lifestyle changes such as purchasing Free Trade products, writing to editors and government officials, and experiencing life under $1.25 for 5 days with the “Live below the Line” campaign.

“1.4 Billion Reasons” shared ongoing progress taking shape in countries like South Korea, Ghana and Zimbabwe, where meaningful steps to invest in good governance, education, infrastructure and the eradication of HIV/AIDS have spurred steps forward in combating world poverty. However, barriers persist in developing countries plagued by corruption, lack of resources and trade. With “1.4 Billion Reasons,” Bailey and the Global Poverty Project aimed to illustrate why extreme poverty matters to us and what we can do about it.

After his presentation, Bailey sat down with PROSPECT.

PROSPECT: How did you get involved with the Global Poverty Project and “1.4 Billion Reasons”?

BAILEY: I met Hugh Evans [co-founder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project] at the Millennium Campus Network in New York last September, and then we continued to have a dialogue. I wanted to learn this information personally. Also, we have to invent other ways in which we can translate these messages to the public and let them translate it to their friends. It’s a challenge to see the bigger picture of why poverty exists.

PROSPECT: In what ways are your goals with “1.4 Billion Reasons” similar and different to the ones you dreamed of accomplishing with Invisible Children?

BAILEY: Both of them had to do a lot with storytelling as a mechanism of understanding the world, the community that we live in, and how flat the world has become. Both of them have to do with rallying a generation that has the capacity for great change. There are so many similarities. With Invisible Children, they are very focused on security and communication issues. The difference is, it’s only awareness and advocacy, so your donation’s going to a campaign — it’s not going to necessarily translate on the ground. In some sense that is more difficult. It’s more of a hurdle to overcome because instant gratification is part of our culture. I’m learning a lot about that. But still, it is on the same level of how we communicate ideas. Of course, Invisible Children started me down this road. There is no way I would be a part of the Global Poverty Project if I hadn’t encountered children in Northern Uganda that were facing such obstacles.

PROSPECT: It seems like such a daunting task going from focusing on raising awareness for Ugandan child soldiers to trying to break down global poverty.

BAILEY: It’s a gigantic task but a good task to spend time on and to try to figure out ways not to be personally overwhelmed. A billion is a crazy number, isn’t it? If we can start taking what we’re doing in America and depicting it for normal, everyday actions, then we will start moving forward. It’s a huge challenge. Why not take on challenges? People naturally want to be involved with success stories if we continue to press in.

PROSPECT: The fundraising campaign “Live below the Line” is a movement encouraging people across the US to step into the shoes of one of the 1.4 billion people living in poverty – and live on $1.50 a day for 5 days. In a nation infamous for excess and lavish living conditions, in what ways do you think this experience will change people’s perspectives?

BAILEY: If someone is willing to commit to 5 days of living a life that’s different from themselves, a life that’s forced economically to live consistently in the global south, it will move them along the rung of charity, activism, empathy. Empathy is important because they are taking on a part of the burden. If they make it through, then they will have a story that they can share with people. It’s helpful for people’s own personal journeys, which I’m so much about — building your own story. Travelling is so important, if you can, especially if you’re young and can see how other people live. And then, reminding ourselves with these kinds of experiences and empathetic events. What we hope to raise is about $200,000, which is kind of ambitious given that we’re just starting. But the reason why is because we need to create these communication mechanisms. We need to start campaigning a lot more heavily on these issues. If we can help audiences, even youth and older adults, start giving towards campaigns, then we will see traction. We won’t see $8 billion cut from the State Department, specifically USAID [United States Agency for International Development]. I mean, that’s more money than we can raise and when you translate it out we can really see a huge difference like they did in Australia; but we’ve been going backwards.

PROSPECT: Governments, philanthropists and the average citizen in the western world — who or which is the most capable of bringing about measured success in impoverished countries?

BAILEY: Do I have to choose just one?

PROSPECT: Well, how would you rank them?

BAILEY: Well if I could possibly create a piece of media that galvanizes the general public, I would always choose to do that. Because by and large I can sit with congressmen, I can sit with governments and they will say “the constituency just doesn’t care.” Philanthropists are awesome, but they can take their money and build development programs. What I am interested in is that heart/mind/cultural shift, or else we’re going to see problems continue to perpetuate. That’s why I am going to continually err on the side that the most powerful investment is in the one-to-one relationships or general population, and that they in turn will affect the governments, affect the philanthropists. You need them all, but if I was to say where I was putting my money, it would be there, [with the average citizen].

PROSPECT: How powerful can social media and the Internet be as tools in helping to push your cause forward? Do these have limitations?

BAILEY: If you can use it effectively and people are informed. I have to be honest, I’m not an expert on social media. But the fact that so many people are plugged in, spending an hour and a half of their day on Facebook — if you’re able to translate a story there quickly then you are able to create a buzz. But that comes back to the story telling. I don’t know about these sound bites, how effective they are. I like to move to more substantial conversations. So in that sense Facebook and Twitter are door-opening.

PROSPECT: Is that why you are doing these personal presentations all across the country?

BAILEY: Yes. And they don’t all have to be as long as this one was, and they can be more entertaining. But it is important that people get a good sense of where we’re at and what are the barriers, and you can’t do that just over Facebook. You have to say, hey listen, on a Wednesday take an hour and a half of your time to come see a presentation about how we can maybe see the end of extreme poverty. And at the end of it, if you’re serious about it then you know that this will be a consistent journey that you’re going on. And if you’re serious about it and we’ve done our job right then you’re down. You’re down for it. If not, then we have to come up with other ways, because you should be down.

PROSPECT: So what can we as college students do individually?

BAILEY: I think that taking those ideas of communicating with the general population is important. One of the best things you can do is innovate on what’s out there right now. So if foreignaffairs.gov is there with graphs, now, take those graphs and make them mean something to the general public. And then figure out a way to take that and market it so that you can connect even products to it so that you can fund an engine that’s going to work. That’s the kind of stuff that I’m interested in: I’m interested in people addressing the fact that there’s a huge communication gap, and stepping in to solve that gap. Not just with presentations but with online technologies. We would need to do some cross-fertilization partnerships between IR, macroeconomics, engineers, architects and system planners and policy planners, to start those dialogues and figure out a way. It’s looking at your community and saying what can we collectively do to push this idea forward that ending extreme poverty is possible. I’ve given you one, which is communication, but if you want to go the development route, there’s tons of organizations there. For Global Poverty Project we’re asking people to live below the line and take that first experience and then after that hopefully they’re more involved in getting up to share their story and maybe helping us build those technologies.

PROSPECT: What is your view on theories which argue that foreign aid to African nations perpetuates the cycle of poverty and hinders economic growth (Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid)? Does limitless development assistance to African governments establish dependency and facilitate corruption? In what ways can our resources be better placed in developing nations? What is the alternative to the current situation?

BAILEY: Jeffrey Sachs talks a lot about how aid is necessary to development, and I would have to agree. Aid successfully prepares countries to tackle future problems. U.S. aid to India in the 1960s paved the way for India’s takeoff afterward. It’s not just India, it’s countless countries. Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Israel and Egypt are on that path right now. Rwanda, some of these other countries in sub-Saharan Africa will be continually on that path and we have to make sure that that’s going into infrastructure, education, some of the MDGs, and we have to be able to translate that readily, so that a book like Dead Aid can’t just fly by the culture with these ideas that are damaging for a lot of people that want as many excuses as they can not to get involved. I think it’s inflammatory, and I don’t think it’s healthy. The rhetoric in the field is that she is using it more as a publicity stunt. I have not read the book so I can’t speak to it, but there are other academics, Sachs and Paul Collier, who are engaged in the conversation a little more, who say we need to press in, we need these certain things to happen. They are way up here [raises his hand], and we need something for the general public [motions lower] so that a book like hers can’t just slide by culture and wipe out a lot of progress. It’s definitely discouraging when you see that going on.

But to address your question, aid is so important in these things — credit markets are good. For example we can get loud over trade all we want, but, if a poor family isn’t able to feed themselves, while they’re developing some technologies or products to be able to sell in the international market, then they’re not going to be successful. And if a country doesn’t invest in these things like infrastructure, we know that aid is one of the ways this is done historically. Also when it’s in the United States’ best interests too, like South Korea or Japan. When we build up these countries, we are a part of that. We make that happen for a lot of countries, and then in some countries we haven’t been successful in making that happen. So there are more and more people out there saying why haven’t we been successful or let’s try to be successful, and take some of these lessons that we have learned. So I think we are learning lessons towards that end. And social entrepreneurship is booming as well, which is nice. As long as it’s not really capitalized on and doing things like dumping products on places then I am for it.

PROSPECT: You are such an inspiration for people who want to take action and bring awareness to extreme poverty. Do you have any parting words for PROSPECT readers, or advice for students who are passionate about making real change?

BAILEY: Yes, well, what do you want to do? I mean, you’ve been asking me questions, but what’s the goal here? Maybe we can we work on a project together. Do you see what I’m seeing a little bit from my vantage point, when I say that miscommunication to the pop culture is a problem? Is that something you are interested in, or do you see it from a different vantage point?

PROSPECT: Well, coming out of college, we have this ideal that we want to change the world. Then again, in the economy we are going into it’s so hard to find a job. It’s hard to be optimistic and seek change in the world when you have to figure out what you’re going to do for yourself first.

BAILEY: Sure. I’m so interested in that too; did you know that this is the first time in American history that our parents’ generation will be more monetarily successful than our generation? The income gap is especially widening, you have 1% of the population that is capturing a lot of the income right now. Even in our own country there is a problem there.

PROSPECT: It’s scary to imagine that perhaps our generation is going to be highly educated, but severely unemployed.

BAILEY: Yes, well, that is what Egypt ran into. They are highly educated folks but they couldn’t find employment and that led to revolution. I think we are going to need to turn over some serious leaves in this country. In one sense I’m doing the Global Poverty Project because I am very curious about the disparities between the global north and global south and how we can press into that. But that begs the question, like these kinds of conversations when people are saying we can’t do anything for the world if we can’t put food on our own tables. Well, you know, keep the faith, if you can. Be inspired everyday. Wake up with a positive idea that you were meant for this day and this moment, and your life counts and has significance beyond what you think, because I know that can be discouraging. But then also sometimes you just have to be an entrepreneur, maybe you just have to go for it. I’m telling you, if we can convince USAID to turn a leaf and give money towards programs that are informing the public in creative ways, then we win. And there’s a lot of ways in which we can approach that. So keep in touch with me, and let’s do it.

Read more about the Global Poverty Project and “1.4 Billion Reasons” at www.globalpovertyproject.com.
Find out more about Live below the Line at www.livebelowtheline.com.

Photo courtesy of ONE DROP Foundation.

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