One of the explicit goals of the 2$/day challenge was to encourage dialogue regarding global poverty.  In that spirit, I find it unfortunate that the conversation was so narrow, and that important points were so conspicuously absent from the discussion. In its essence, the debate at Northwestern and other locations centered around whether small, well-intentioned activities (microfinance, social entreprenuership, etc.) would be effective at ending global poverty, or whether larger, government-coordinated programs are the panacea to ending global poverty (the Millennium Development Goals, for example).  What disappoints me about this discussion is that it is fundamentally about money.  The idea seems to be that as long as we throw enough money at the problem, and raise enough awareness, everything will eventually and magically be okay: No more poverty, access to essential medicines, water & food for all, living wages, sanitation, and all other proxies of “development” will reign supreme.

This discourse, however, neglects power.  Specifically, it lacks any analysis of who has the power to make the decisions about access to resources, who structures the poverty-reduction programs, and who mandates policies in our trade, democratic, and social structures.  Where was the discussion about how NAFTA’s led to the loss of 1.3 million jobs in the Mexican agricultural sector, laid the seeds of the global food crises, and is one of the main causes of the desperate migration northward made by thousands of displaced farmers each year?  Where was debate about Joseph Stiglitz’s claim that “Trade restrictions [tariffs, subsidies, and quotas] in rich countries cost developing countries around $100bn a year—twice as much as they receive in aid.”  Where was the talk about how social inequalities are often predicated upon gender based violence and discrimination, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo—where rape is used as systematic war tactic—or in the flower industry in Ecuador, where more than 55% of the women have been sexually harassed and face forced pregnancy tests?  Why does the U.S. spend 60 cents of every dollar of food aid destined for countries in the Global South on subsidies, transportation, and contracting to U.S. corporations?  Certainly these examples are ultimate causes of poverty; indeed, they are systems and policies put in place that perpetrate cycles of poverty throughout the world.  And certainly the debate needs to be widened to include an analysis of their impact.

The 2$/day challenge was meant to serve as a gateway:  It was designed as a novelty activity to engage students, allow them the creative space to think about poverty, and then foster discussion about the policies and systems to perpetuate poverty.  Instead, much of the conversation focused around the tired exercise of fighting for funding.  To provide an analogy, as a friend of my recently recounted to me, organizing for fair trade goods is not solely about fighting over whether the coffee we drink is fair trade or not.  It is, instead, about justice, environmental sovereignty, and power.  As one farmer in the Global South so eloquently put the issue, “when we talk about fair trade, we are not talking about consumerism; we are talking about equity.  We [the Global South] are not growing your [the Global North] food any longer.”  Similarly, the discussion about global poverty must be about more than appropriations, allocation, and spending—that is, more substantive than a discussion of money—and more fundamentally about the social and economic inequalities that make money seem like a tempting, but ultimately misleading solution to these problems.