I think many of us could name the individuals featured at the top of the Forbes 100 rich list. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Carlos Slim... Here in Australia, the rich -- Gina Reinhardt, James Packer -- are similarly all household names. Our society glorifies wealth to the extent that we can all name at least someone in the global rich list.
But what about the other end of that list? I'm not talking about number 101, but rather number 6,000,000,001. I suspect that many of us would struggle to name someone who was at the other end. When we think of "the global poor", it tends to be an amorphous, impersonal, collective of people that many of us in developed countries will rarely, if ever, meet.
Why does this matter? Why does it matter if we never meet a person facing extreme poverty?
If we cannot put a face to an issue, if we cannot humanise an issue, we can become cold and numb to it. Just think about some of the hottest political issues that we as a society deal with. When it comes to an issue like healthcare, or care for the aged, it is personal for us, because we think of our gran; or if we're going to be really self-interested, we'll think that might be me one day. But either way, it's personal.
But let's think of an example like refugees. On the evening news, we might see boats full of terrified migrants being plucked from the oceans, but how many of us will meet a refugee, or really get to know a refugee? Or truly understand their life and what drove them to leave everything behind, risk their lives on the high seas, put their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers, headed toward an uncertain future?
When it comes to making policy on an issue such as refugees, it is easy for governments to treat refugees callously because, let's face it, many voters cannot easily put a human face to the issue, and so we become numb to it.
Poverty is no different. And in a materialistic society such as ours, that glorifies wealth, there is a tendency to praise those who have "made it", and to imagine that for someone who cannot "make it", there must be something wrong with them. And it's incredibly easy to write someone off -- or even an entire group -- if we just think of them as being lazy, or not that smart, or riddled by alcoholism or drug addiction -- or in American parlance, unable to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps".
And if we write people off, because we cannot identify with them, then we are never going to feel compelled to do anything to improve their lives.
That's why we created The Bottom 100 and why we're launching it during World Refugee Week.
The Bottom 100 is a completely new initiative that tells the personal stories of one hundred of the world's poorest individuals across the globe. While 'Rich Lists' detail the wealthiest individuals, their assets, investments and net worth, The Bottom 100 highlights individuals and their families facing extreme poverty caused by war, ethnic, religious, or social persecution, climate change or forced displacement.
The aim is to tell the stories of some of the world's poorest. We need to understand what leads someone into poverty and spread the understanding that much of the world's poor are impoverished through circumstances not of their own making, often the victims of conflict and displacement. We want to put a face on this issue so that it is no longer someone else's problem, "over there".
The Bottom 100 is not a scientific study. It is not a ranking. It does not aim to bring forth any sort of landmark discovery into the issue of poverty. But it does aim to tell a story, and to make us think.
The stories also provide insight into how people become deeply impoverished. What all the stories of the Bottom 100 have in common are circumstances -- it is circumstance that has led people to experience the abject poverty they face. Violence. Conflict. Disaster. Displacement. Discrimination. Exclusion. Intolerance. Persecution. Illness. A loss of control over their own lives and their own destinies.
The Bottom 100 is not about "the world's poor". It's about Zaheed Bajwa. It's about Said and Medina Hamadi. It's about the Karime family. It's about Sunshila. It's about Luis Panilla and Victoria Sepulveda. It's about Thick Mawiet Chang. And it's about Anonymous, a 15-year old girl from Afghanistan, whose identity we do cannot share so as not to risk her life.
All individuals, with hopes and dreams just like us. And all of them, possessing an enormous amount of dignity and resilience, all despite the challenges they face.
So what do we do about it?
The Bottom 100 reminds us that poverty alleviation should not be siloed. Poverty alleviation should be part of a broader policy approach, that recognises the role that conflict, violence, discrimination, and exclusion plays in driving poverty. And in a time of cutbacks to foreign aid spending by some of the world's richest governments, we find ourselves pursuing policies that are pennywise and pound foolish. We find ourselves cutting back on programs that aim to address the key underlying drivers of conflict and poverty and instead spending billions of dollars more on defence or "turning back the boats".
By publishing the Bottom 100, we hope that people will recognise the humanity of poverty, and to understand how and why people find themselves in severe poverty. It is that understanding that we hope will lead you all -- and everyone who reads these moving stories and sees these incredible photographs -- to take action on this issue.
But I recognise that for some people, they are still not going to be convinced. Sure, the stories are moving; sure, the photos are breathtaking. But so what? Why should I do anything about it?
So what can you do?
Use your voice. Make clear to lawmakers that programs that not only tackle poverty, but more specifically the underlying causes of poverty -- are a high priority. Advocate for foreign aid -- remember what I said before, that we can be smart about how we spend our resources. We can spend a little on programs that seek to tackle the problems at their source, or we can spend a lot on defence and security to tackle the problem when it comes to our doorsteps.
We encourage you to write to your elected representatives. Share the stories of the Bottom 100 to humanise the issue for them. And ask your friends and your social networks to do the same.
If you want to do more, you can help local organisations. And if you are so inclined to donate to the cause, you can find NGOs that are working to address many of these underlying causes of poverty, such as through conflict mitigation programs or projects that aim to fight social exclusion or violence against women and girls.
We can make a difference. And through the Bottom 100, we are able to better understand the difference we can make -- and who we are making that difference for. Take a look at the 100 profiles to get to know the real people we have profiled, to get to know about their lives, their challenges, and their hopes and their dreams.
For more information visit The Bottom 100 website.
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