National Edition

5 ways to end poverty: Why it's not a matter of money

Published: Wednesday, April 9 2014 6:00 a.m. MDT

A young girl holds a watermelon while searching for recoverable fruit that was discarded as her sister hides behind the container at the central market in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Paraguay is one of the countries in which Paul Godfrey has researched the factors of poverty. Over the past eight years, he has also traveled to Ghana and the Navajo nation in Arizona.

Jorge Saenz, Associated Press

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Paul C. Godfrey is a business professor, but he has spent the last eight years traveling to Ghana, Paraguay and visiting the Navajo nation in Arizona. He has inspected corn grinders in the Painted Desert, visited a dairy school in the Chaco region, and sat down with single mothers in Salt Lake City.

Godfrey is a professor at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management, and associate academic director of the Melvin J. Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance, a university-based think tank for solutions to poverty. Godfrey, whose early work was on corporate social responsibility, has always been interested in ways that "formal organizations can make a better world."

After eight years of far-flung research, he's published his ideas on how to make that better world in “More Than Money: Five Forms of Capital to Create Wealth and Eliminate Poverty” (Stanford Business Books, 2014).

Is poverty inevitable? No, says Godfrey. But the answer is a lot more complicated than throwing money at the problem. The Deseret News interviewed Godfrey on his book, self-reliance, and where organizations and individuals go wrong with good intentions.

DN: In your book you differentiate between "Big P" poverty — poverty that's at a country-wide level, and "Little p" poverty — poverty that affects individuals and families. What's the difference and why is it important?

"Big P" poverty is the kind that needs education, financial institutions, business activity, major changes before a middle class can form and people can exit poverty. "Little p" poverty is experienced by individuals and families in the form of hunger, lack of work, lack of medical care. It matters because the longer I'm in this game, the more I realize that we will never completely resolve problems of "Big P" poverty in my lifetime or your lifetime. We can make progress, but these are big, historically entrenched, and complicated.

DN: Bill Gates recently said that we can end poverty by 2035. Are you saying that you don't buy it?

Gates is being over-optimistic. The number is always 15 to 20 years out — the Millennial Development goals said that by 2015 we would reduce poverty by half. Fifteen years is great because we can think that’s reasonable, we will still be alive then. Think about where you were in 1994 and how much the world has changed since then. What Gates says could be true, if everyone in the world wanted to eliminate poverty, but that's not the case.

However, in the case of "Little p" poverty, we can help individuals and families by identifying those that are willing to become self-reliant and leverage the capital to get out. What's realistic is to help people who want to improve their lives — we can do it.

DN: Doesn’t everyone in poverty want to improve their lives? You write about the importance of self-reliance as a character trait for getting out of poverty. But isn't that a little like blaming the poor for being poor?

That's not what I mean in terms of self-reliance. When I talk about poor people, it has no moral connotations. You can find yourself in poverty because you live under a totalitarian regime that screwed up the economy, or because you grew up in a home fractured by alcohol abuse, or in a place where the schools are really bad. But I do believe self-reliance is what psychologists would call a trait, and to some people it comes naturally, and others have to learn it or adopt it.

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