Solving the Poverty Problem


Professor of sociology Scott Sanders discusses poverty and the effectiveness of foreign aid in light of the movie Poverty, Inc.

PROVO, Utah (September 20, 2018)—We see non-profit organizations everywhere: on the news, in our social media feed, even in advertisements. For decades, they’ve told us about the world’s crises and what we can do to help relieve them. We give them money and time, but does donating to non-profit organizations really do anything to solve the worldwide poverty problem?

BYU’s International Cinema club featured Poverty, Inc., a documentary that interviews people in over twenty countries. The film highlights the effects of foreign aid on local economies, and how charity has become a multibillion-dollar industry. Many of the film’s participants agree that the current model of foreign aid does more harm than help.

Assistant professor of sociology, Scott Sanders, agrees with this ideology. In his post-screening discussion of Poverty, Inc., he noted how the negative, long-term effects of continual foreign aid have been largely ignored. Sanders explained how most of us have the desire to help, but get caught up in the paternalism and inequality that permeates the industry. The exchange between donor and recipient is not reciprocal, which creates a crippling image of the poor as helpless and incapable of bettering their own situations.

Sanders suggested a few simple things we can do to start breaking the cycle: first, we must acknowledge the implicit biases we have as products of our own cultures. Sanders reminded his audience that this does not reflect on us as individuals, but that it does show the mentality our culture has fallen into. Once we recognize that our image of the needy as weak and helpless proves inaccurate, we can begin to change it. Sanders went on to explain how this is perhaps the most important step. As long as we are willing to work for change, it can happen in a single generation.

In concluding his remarks, Sanders stated that the rest of the steps are up to the individual. He recommends getting involved, but only after doing sufficient research. The companies that are most likely to have a positive influence in people’s lives, Sanders explained, are those who have a long-standing connection with the local people. They know what the community needs and they’ve seen the ebb and flow of those needs. By working with organizations that know the environment and the people they are serving, we can avoid unintentional side effects.

For information about future IC lectures and show times, click here.

Jensyn Eubank (English ’19)