Thursday, 25 March 2010

What is the point of the Global Poverty Project?

Last term Cambridge was full of leaflets and posters for the newly launched Global Poverty Project. It aims to end extreme poverty, which is defined as people living on the equivalent of less than $1.25 per day, within a generation. This is the situation 1.4 billion people find themselves in, so, says the GPP, we have 1.4 billion reasons to do something about it.

I admit I haven't been to one of their ninety minute presentations, “1.4.billion reasons.” The trailer for this begins with shots of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and the Berlin Wall coming down. So does the GPP advocate a campaign of mass civil disobedience (King), a combination of violence and non-violence to overthrow reactionary governments (Mandela) or a mass uprising along the lines of 1989? Nope. They're setting their sights rather lower:

“To make sure that we get it right, we are working closely with advisors from NGOs, government, multilateral agencies, academics and civil society, who you can meet here. The presentation answers five big questions that people have about extreme poverty:
What is extreme poverty?
Can we do anything about it?
What are the barriers to ending extreme poverty?
Why should we care?
What can I do?”

The GPP doesn't want your money, it wants to raise awareness. It wants to “catalyse a movement to end extreme poverty.” The implication is this: people are heart-shatteringly poor because we haven't got around to doing anything about it yet. If only more people knew that poverty existed. The closest GPP comes to acknowledging a structural problem is when, during the presentation, we are told that one in seven people go hungry every night even though there is enough food in the world to feed everyone one-and-a-half times over. Does the GPP advocate a radical redistribution of wealth or changed political system to deal with this? Well, their online How-To guides tell us to buy Fairtrade and write to politicians. So no.

We've been here before. The GPP is a direct continuation of the Make Poverty History campaign (remember that?) Hugh Evans and Simon Moss, the people behind the GPP, were both leaders of Australian MPH. Simon Moss “has contributed on development issues at some of the world's leading conferences including the G20, the World Economic Forum and the Clinton Global Initiative.”

The ideology behind the GPP is good old fashioned development. More roads need to be built to allow aid to be effective, and so on. Why not volunteer overseas and teach kids English? So much more useful to them than learning one of their own languages. In fact, the GPP seems to write off the agency of the world's poorest all together. This is all about speaking for them. Indigenous peoples' movements and trade unions can make way for Western corporate-wannabe grad students and PR men.

Sitting on the “Global Activation Advisory Panel” of the GPP is Joe Talcott, head of marketing at New Ltd in Australia, a media group owned by that well-known champion of the poor, Rupert Murdoch. More worryingly, the former CEO of Levi's Australian operation, Peter Murphy, is also there. Levi's record on workers' rights in the past has been pretty appalling. And their environmental record, to put it kindly, leaves a lot to be desired. In this interview while he was still CEO, Murphy says “The cost differential currently today between imported and local manufacture is some 25 to 30 per cent.” In other words, we need to ship production to places where we can afford to pay people much less, and put people in Australia out of a job while we're at it. Surely someone committed to ending global poverty would have wanted to pay workers in poor countries at Western rates?

The GPP is a step backwards. If you're a liberal concerned with global poverty, why not just get involved with Oxfam? If you're a liberal concerned with human rights, why not just get involved in Amnesty? Is it cynical to suggest that there might be a bit of CV building going on? Fighting poverty with patronising platitudes has never worked in the past. What makes the GPP think it will work now?


  1. As someone deeply involved in GPP and its work in Cambridge, I got a bit of a thrill when I saw the title of this article, and read it with interest. I am genuinely interested to hear the views of all people about GPP and prepared myself for a critical assessment. Critics often make justified points and their views should be (and are) taken on board within a process of constant self-assessment and improvement.

    This article, however, is a complete waste of 700 words and the authors mental efforts. For someone who starts by admitting 'I haven't been to one of their ninety minute presentations', I question how on earth do you qualify to give any kind of assessment of GPP and its work? This article asks many (sometimes good) questions, but the author is arrogant enough to answer each of them without knowing what we are about or conducting research beyond a browse of the website and a quick viewing the trailer. I would not presume to critique a movie on this basis, let alone a social movement.

    I was going to spend some time correcting the wrong answers you have presumptuously given to your own questions, but I have decided I can't be bothered. You clearly have your own agenda, and inconveniences like nuisance or truth won't deter you. If, however, you decide that you want some real answers to all the very good questions you have raised, I recommend you come and talk to one of Cambridge's 50 GPP volunteers. Or even be so bold as to go to a presentation.

    One point of fact that I cant resist but to highlight - If you had come to our event you would have been able to meet with reps of BOTH Oxfam and Amnesty at our charities fair, and you could have arranged to volunteer with one of them (or both, given how committed you clearly are to these issues). We exist to facilitate that relationship, and people are now volunteering all over Cambridge with those and other organizations because of our work. I don't think this article will produce the same result, so perhaps you should reassess how you are using your voice.

    The fact that the 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty DOES INDEED give us 1.4 billion reasons to respond. GPP says so, as does the call of justice and humanity. I would rather live a life rising and failing to meet that challenge than one characterized by your ill-informed negativity and cynicism.

  2. Well, Laura... I went today to a GPP meeting and they DID what exactly the author exposed. I guess you didn't have to go to a meeting to get the feeling of United Benetton ;P I felt so cheated, BUT the funny part was talking about 'independence', 'micromanaging', and all the quick fixes of capitalism behind an Obama billboard. That was hilarious or was Bono, the funny bit? When you look at the history of my country: Puerto Rico, you will know exactly what will happen to 'successes' such as: South Corea, Singapur, Ghana, etc. After all, we were the FIRST 'guinea pigs'. Oh, brother, turns out that living in a USA colony makes you more sassy and more alert to the schemes such as: GPP. Keep on rocking, autor!