I recently watched a recording of rock legend Bono giving a rousing TED Talk filmed at the 2013 TED conference. The topic, which he framed in the context of a brief ten minute presentation, was on the current state of world poverty. I think that, if you’d asked me to comment intelligently on the topic before I saw the video, I’d say that extreme poverty worldwide was “pretty serious.” That’s what we hear, right? It isn’t a stretch to say, objectively, that poverty is a major issue and that people are suffering its ravages the world over. Surely, any one of these celebrity-fronted campaigns to “end” the problem could only hope to maybe make a small dent. The scope is so large that we backpedal in futility, assuming that nothing we do is going to make a difference.
Bono’s enlightening stance, however, was that extreme poverty is improving. He is the head of one of those shiny Hollywood initiatives, the One movement, through which “hard-headed […] people around the world fight the absurdity of extreme poverty,” and claims that it drives him “nuts” that people don’t seem to realize that yes, we are making headway in the global fight against poverty. Referring to himself as a “factivist,” or fact-based activist, the U2 front man called upon grassroots volunteers to embrace the advances we’ve made and stand firm against the threat of losses stemming from corruption, inequality—and, sadly, our own apathy.
The facts speak for themselves—malaria deaths are down by over three-quarters in Africa! Over 8 million people infected with HIV and AIDS are now receiving retroviral drugs, up from less than a quarter-million ten short years ago! The rate of child death in eight extremely impoverished nations has plummeted since 2000!
So why aren’t we cheering these facts, and reconvening to take the next triumphant step forward?
Probably because we are so accustomed to sighing over that aforementioned perception of futility that we can’t see the forest for the trees.
It’s easy to look at the problem of world poverty as a monolith, something that we dare not approach lest we bite off more than we can proverbially chew. And yet, plucky organizations the globe over—of which ONE is one—are proving the Davids to poverty’s Goliath, chipping away at the burden of pain and suffering to slowly carve out a better life for those born into hunger, disease, and pain. Bono said that this “factivism” is the key, a viral movement that challenges all of us to “join [Bono] and countless others in what [he] truly believe[s] is the greatest journey ever taken—the ever-demanding journey of equality.”
Take a look at the video and let me know what you think about Bono’s assertions that we’re overlooking the progress being made.