Is There a Wrong Way to Address Poverty?

Sometimes I'm not quite sure if the first half of my life was real or just an odd dream. I'd have to lean towards odd dream if there weren't pictures to prove it actually happened. 

I grew up in West Africa in the 10/40 window, which is an area of the world that contains 85 percent of the world's poorest of the poor. The people that live here have the least access to resources on the planet. 

Why was I out there? Great question.

My dad was top of his class in engineering at Virginia Tech and decided to trade it all in for a life pursuing what God asked of him. When the department learned of his plans, the dean of the school sat him down and said, "Jay, you are throwing your life away."

What he really did was trade a large paycheck at a firm in California for an alternative - saving thousands of people's lives by establishing clean water systems, and at the same time, spreading the Gospel to an entire unreached region in Africa.


Yes, my dad is probably the most incredible person I know. 

I remember reading a quote in To Kill A Mockingbird in eighth grade, "Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets." And I thought - that's my dad. His integrity, compassion and leadership that he shows in public is exactly who he is at home. 

My childhood was very unique. It was filled with some crazy stories - both funny and scary - and we went from one adventure to the next. Filled with secret waterfalls and rebels who attacked us and cobras, alligators - hand built rollercoasters and ziplines, learning a tribal language - the list goes on and on. 

When I came back to the US at the age of 11, I started to realize how bad the situation was for women in Ghana. For my friends. My girls that I grew up with.

Actually, I came to realize - it was much worse than I thought.


It's an epidemic dubbed the kayayo women - and though little work has been published about it, the BBC did release some images on it here

  • When women can't find work in the northern region of Ghana, they're shipped to the South to live on the street. Here they carry large items on their heads for 8-12 hours a day, making less than $1 total for the days wage.


The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in Ghana. According to related data for 2010 by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, in almost every country, worldwide business formation by women lags behind that of men – of the 59 countries investigated, Ghana was the notable exception.

The problem - there are so many barriers to overcome. Access to technology and capital (to purchase a sewing machine) are two of the largest obstacles. When you are making barely enough to feed yourself, how could you even think of saving for a sewing machine - or even more, going to school?

  • Ghanian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse said, “You are stuck in a hole in a village with all your skills and all your talents, and that’s just unfortunately the way it is…the people here are not stupid, they’re just disconnected from global trade.”


Here's what I learned - there's a right and a wrong way to address poverty.

Doing "good" is not always good.

Let me explain. 

Well, let Peter Greer explain. He does a much better job:

"After the Rwandan genocide, a church from Atlanta started sending over eggs, and ended up just distributing eggs in a small community outside of Kigali. And this seems like a great thing to do, right? The church wanted to help after the genocide, but Jean, a few years before, had started a small egg business himself.

Every social need is a business opportunity. 

Solving poverty - in a sustainable way - isn't through a handout. It's through investing in talent and beauty. 

Until next time,