Global Poverty: ‘This Is Our Crisis’ by The Humanitarian Blog
People lead busy lives, and fighting poverty is hardly an extracurricular activity to which most can devote time – unless, that is, you’re Anne Liu ’08 (Course 7; iHouse).
It was about three weeks ago that I found myself standing outside the doors to Boston University’s Metcalf Hall. Along with the hundreds of others who were in line, I anxiously awaited the chance to hear Muhammad Yunus speak. Dr. Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his work in microfinance: Basically, banks give small loans to poor people who want to set up businesses or avail themselves of other economic opportunities. He began his amazing journey in 1974, loaning $27 to a group of 42 women in his native Bangladesh. Since then, his Grameen Bank has loaned some $6 billion to seven million Bangladeshis, 97% of whom are women.
Everyone left the auditorium that afternoon feeling energized, but I couldn’t help but think that that enthusiasm would evaporate shortly thereafter. People lead busy lives, and fighting poverty is hardly an extracurricular activity to which most can devote time – unless, that is, you’re Anne Liu ’08 (Course 7; iHouse).
At the beginning of her sophomore year, she developed a strong interest in international development (ID) issues by way of completing an extensive study of the famine that gripped Niger in 2005. After taking a few classes at MIT that focused on ID – for example, “SP.721: D-Lab” and “21A.338J: Gender, Power, and International Development” – she became convinced that MIT students have the ingenuity to address global poverty.
Thus did the Global Poverty Initiative (GPI) come into being.
I first heard about Anne in a conversation that I had with a friend early this term. She told me that Anne had established GPI, but we both had to leave before I could get more details. By coincidence, Anne and I both enrolled in Zahir Dossa’s class (see my last post), “SP.233: Think Tank: Global Solutions.” After she told me about GPI, I decided to get involved as one of the Directors for the Academic Relations Team.
GPI is easily one of the most organized and sophisticated initiatives that I’ve seen. Anne’s recruited 50 students, predominantly underclassmen, to launch Global Poverty Week (GPW) and the first intercollegiate Millennium Campus Conference (MCC) at MIT. Her goal is to make poverty an Institute priority, just like energy (check out http://web.mit.edu/gpi/ to see a detailed overview of these projects).
To give you some of the highlights, GPW and MCC will bring together hundreds of students from around the country to learn about poverty and, ultimately, connect with each other and professionals in the field to develop innovative and effective solutions. The conference will feature lectures by some of the world’s foremost authorities on poverty, as well as documentary screenings and interactive panels. It’s the first effort of its kind in the Institute’s history and, if the interest that it’s thus far generated is indicative, it’s going to be huge. While GPW will remain GPI’s flagship event every year, Anne wants the group to dig deeper – in particular, she wants poverty to occupy a more prominent space in MIT’s curriculum and global initiatives.
As impressive as GPI is, it’s her optimism – that poverty can be defeated, and that each person can contribute to that end – that I find so inspiring. She’s always talking about an interesting paper that she’s read or lecture that she’s attended or new GPI initiative that she’s undertaken, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s gotten a hold of one of Hermione’s Time-Turners.
Most people understandably don’t get involved in tackling global issues, especially one that’s as multifaceted, complex, and entrenched as poverty. According to MercyCorps, over one billion people live in extreme poverty (living on less than $1 a day), and eight million people die each year because they don’t have enough money. How does she keep her hope alive?
Having connected with like-minded individuals at colleges throughout Boston, she reminds herself and her fellow GPIers that “even students” can institute sustainable change. When you talk with Anne, you recognize that the fight against poverty is not just a laudable goal; it’s an urgent imperative. As she often says, “This is our crisis.”