"Where the End of Poverty Begins"
transcription of speech by Peter D. Bell
president of CARE USA
2003 recipient of the James Madison Medal
Coverage of Bell's speech
February 22, 2003
Fellow graduates of Princeton, ladies and gentlemen, good
morning! Dean Russel, thank you for those kind words. To be
given the opportunity throughout my career to work for causes
in which I truly believe -- and to see the difference that
it has made in people's lives - has been its own reward. To
be honored by Princeton for that work and to be here in your
company is a great bonus.
Over the years, I have met thousands of people in extreme
poverty. Each one has a story of endurance, determination
and remarkable resourcefulness. I think of a bright-eyed young
girl whom I met in Afghanistan in June 2001. Her name is Katra. Despite Taliban
prohibitions against the education of girls, she had the courage
to attend a home school supported by CARE. Katra was determined
to become a doctor. She wants to contribute to the future
of her country.
I also think of Herath Banda, a hardworking farmer I met
in Sri Lanka. With CARE's help, he had increased the productivity
of his small farm, so that he could sell a portion of his
harvest in the market. To complete his family's one-room house,
he had been acquiring bricks for six years. With pride and
glee, Herath informed me that he would finish the house in
just one more year.
If Katra and Herath are able to nurture hope for their
future, surely I can, as well, and so can we all.
Difficult though it may be to fully grasp, half of humanity
is eking out a living on two dollars or less a day. Of this
population, 40 percent, or 1.2 billion human beings, try somehow
to survive on one dollar or less a day (1) -- about as much as
we would pay for a cup of coffee.
Because the poorest people have such scant resources, the
choices that confront them in their daily lives are very basic:
whether to purchase food for the whole family or medicine
for a sick child; whether to send a child to school or keep
her at home to care for a parent with HIV/AIDS.
Just last week, I received an email from CARE staff in Iraq,
telling me about a teacher whose salary is barely enough to
support his family and to make the payments on his second-hand
pair of trousers. He is paying for the trousers on installment.
People in extreme poverty live in a world severely circumscribed.
They reside in the flimsiest houses on the most precarious
sites; they are hit hardest by natural disasters; and they
are most exposed to infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria
and tuberculosis. They are balanced every day on a razor's
edge of crisis.
In the U.S., we face our own kind of crisis. We are uncertain
about the security of our American homeland; we are engaged
in a war against terrorism around the world; and we are transfixed
by the prospect of war in Iraq. In these circumstances, I
know that a challenge to work collectively as global citizens
to end poverty may encounter great skepticism.
Nevertheless, I am convinced that the world already has the
knowledge, technology and wealth to end poverty. If we had
the collective will, we could find the way. There is nothing
more important that we could do to make the world better --
Today, I want to talk with you about why it is important
to end extreme poverty, how it can be done, and where, in
fact, the end of poverty begins.
Why is it so important for us to fight global poverty?
There are three arguments to consider. The first is that
reductions in poverty will benefit not only the less developed
countries but also the industrialized countries. For example,
the economic and social development of poor countries will
reduce global population growth, restrain illegal immigration,
and control the spread of infectious diseases. Advances in
transportation, communication and globalization are rapidly
shrinking the world. In a world that is becoming ever smaller,
it is in the interest of the United States to spread the benefits
The second argument for combating global poverty has surfaced
in the aftermath of September 11. It suggests that terrorism
somehow grows out of extreme poverty. Nothing in CARE's experience,
working with thousands of the world's poorest communities,
indicates that poor people are predisposed to become terrorists.
The people behind the hijackings and killings of September
11 were neither poor nor uneducated. The most that can be
said is that fanaticism often preys on a sense of social injustice,
hopelessness and desperation. Poverty is not itself the cause
of terrorism; yet to the extent that people around the world
enjoy greater social justice and inclusion, America as a nation
will be more secure.
The third argument -- and the most compelling reason for
combating global poverty -- is a moral one. It is based on
the dignity inherent in each human being and on the oneness
of all humanity. Poverty is, first and foremost, an assault
upon the dignity of a person, and each of us bears a responsibility
to affirm and protect the dignity of others. That so many
people are so poor in such a prosperous world is an assault
on the dignity of us all!
As I travel the world, I am struck by the closeness I feel
to the people whom I meet. That closeness can be heartbreaking.
It was for me last September when I visited villages in Malawi
in the middle of a massive drought and talked with mothers
who were cradling their malnourished infants. And in November,
when I visited southern Sudan. People talked with me about
the men who had been killed by the civil war, the women and
children raped and kidnapped, and the livestock stolen. They
had lost their loved ones, their livelihoods and their very
But that is only part of the story. Almost always, when I
visit places of distress, I am also inspired -- and even energized.
I see examples of incredible determination to keep body and
soul together and to persevere in the most adverse circumstances.
During that same trip to Malawi, I saw men who were taking
proactive steps to prevent a food crisis. With help from CARE,
they had learned how to tap into underground springs, build
small dams, and irrigate their land. Women were cultivating
the land and turning it into gardens of lush vegetables. Together,
they were turning a brown, parched landscape into a green
oasis. And in southern Sudan, the men and women who had lost
their loved ones and their livelihoods to the war were starting
all over again. They were training their few remaining oxen
to pull a plow. And, in the process, traditional pastoralists were
turning themselves into effective farmers. If I were in their
place, I wonder whether I could muster the same courage and
During my years of public service, I have been privileged
to feel intensely close to people in distant places, and to
know that we share the same conviction about the power of
human interconnection. I remember a woman I met in a remote
village of Honduras right after Hurricane Mitch. The local
matriarch, wrapped in a shawl, threw her arms around me and
said, "Only CARE and God visit here." People in her
village appreciated our material assistance, but they also
valued our companionship -- our solidarity.
Why is it important for us to fight global poverty? At the
end of the day, it is because of that sense of interconnection,
combined with our sense of the dignity inherent in every human
being. Or, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it: "In a real
sense, all life is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes
the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We
are inevitably our brother's keeper because we are our brother's
Drawing strength from our human interconnection, how do
we end global poverty and build a better world for all?
I will focus my response on Africa simply because it is so
often regarded as the hardest development case. If you follow
the news through television, you can hardly be blamed if you
see Africa in a state of mayhem. And, in fact, 20 countries in
sub-Saharan Africa are poorer now than they were in 1990. (2)
What is disappointing is that our media rarely put these problems
into context or explain how underlying causes interact. How,
for example, drought, HIV/AIDS and poverty have reinforced
one another to produce the food crisis in Southern Africa
-- that region's version of what my UNICEF colleague Carol
Bellamy calls the "perfect storm."
The list of causes is long and their interactions complex.
Yet understanding these underlying causes and how they inter-relate
is critical to fighting global poverty. Let me touch on some
of the most pervasive challenges facing Africans today.
First, the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Of the 42 million people
in the world with HIV/AIDS, nearly 30 million live in sub-Saharan
Africa. (3) HIV/AIDS is not only a health problem. It wreaks havoc
on national productivity. It ostracizes the people infected
and excludes them from critical social networks. It robs entire
communities of the most productive members of society, including
teachers, health workers and farmers.
On a visit to Lesotho in southern Africa, I met a national
soccer star who is working for CARE -- training teenagers
to educate their peers on how to prevent the spread of AIDS.
What had motivated him was the realization that the soccer
leagues throughout Lesotho had been disbanded. Why? Because
so many teenagers were attending one, two, three or more funerals
on Saturdays that the coaches could no longer field complete
teams. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is the most devastating humanitarian
crisis of our time and perhaps of all time. Stopping it is a precondition for development
A second underlying cause of poverty is lack of access
to basic education. One-hundred-twenty million children
-- a majority of them girls -- never enter a classroom or
learn to read or write. (4) Yet, research has shown that no social
investment brings greater returns than basic education, especially
for girls. Each year of schooling for girls is associated
with increases in family income; decreases in fertility rates;
and decreases in infant, child and maternal death rates. Not
to mention increases in self-confidence and knowledge.
A third underlying cause: lack of access to clean water.
More than a billion people in the world, 495 million of them
in sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to clean water.(5)
In the poorest communities, diarrhea is the biggest killer
of children. Clean water, when accompanied by sanitation and
hygiene, reduces disease and saves lives.
There are other root causes of poverty. At the top of my
list are poor governance, discrimination, civil conflict and
harmful trade policies that block entry of goods from developing
countries to markets in industrialized countries.
Development organizations like CARE are committed to doing
more than treating the symptoms of poverty. We seek not only
to identify root causes but also to learn how they reinforce
one another and to devise ways to attack them individually
and collectively. We recognize the need to focus not only
on top-down, but on bottom-up approaches; not only on growth
but on equity; and not only on physical infrastructure but
on human resources, civil society and governance. Drawing
on our global experience, we support local aspirations and
capacities, so that poor communities can create their own
lasting solutions. The beginning of wisdom is understanding
that the exact combination of causes and solutions must be
specific to each setting. Now, this is an ambitious agenda, but
we have, overall, learned a great deal about how to be effective
in reducing poverty.
That learning has translated into real progress. Each time
I visit an African village where CARE is working and see the
resourcefulness, ingenuity and determination of the people,
I see how development assistance can be effective. People
are getting at the root causes of poverty. Development assistance
can support the basic values and motivations of poor people,
and make their fight to build better lives more effective.
In Tanzania, women are gaining access to opportunities and
choices that they did not have before. Last year, I visited a CARE
project called Hujakwama, which in Swahili means "you are
not stuck." The name conveys to women that they have the power
to improve their own lives. The project focuses not only on
improving women's access to water, but also to sanitation,
health care, education and income-generating activities.
All told, the project has trained more than 1,200 women so far in
And in Burundi, CARE is helping Hutus and Tutsis -- ethnic
groups with a long history of conflict -- labor side-by-side
to rebuild houses destroyed by war. When I visited Burundi
last year, I met an elderly man named Andre. Eight of his
children had been killed in the ethnic conflict. Five children,
including an orphan he was caring for, were living in the
remnant of his tiny home. Andre proudly showed me the foundation
that had just been laid for his future home. "I am too old," he said,
"so the younger, stronger people are helping
me." Working together, members of the community -- Hutu
and Tutsi -- completed Andre's house in just two weeks.
Development assistance can be effective. With local leadership
and commitment and outside support, advances are occurring
in communities all across Africa. Each case is important in itself.
It also contributes to a larger transformation. Though change
may be slow and grudging, we need to remind ourselves that
the results are worth the effort. Despite the enormous toll
that poverty continues to take, all around the world, we have seen
progress on vital fronts.
National leadership and grassroots
support in Uganda have cut the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in half
since the early 1990s.(6)
Dramatic increases have been achieved
in agricultural productivity. India, for example, is now self-sufficient
in grains. Between 1980 and 1990, immunization rates increased
from five to 80 percent, (7)
and helped save the lives of 4 million
infants each year. (8)
Eight-hundred million more people have
obtained access to safe water since 1990, (9)
and illiteracy rates among adults has been cut almost in half over the last three
You see, it can be done! For many millions of people, the
world has gotten better. Still, there is much more work ahead
of us, and we must continue until we overcome extreme poverty.
If ever there were a challenge that cries out for American
leadership, it is the fight against global poverty.
In visiting Senator Bill Frist's Web site, I noticed a quote
from Elton John, with whom the senator made common cause in the fight
against AIDS. "To look after our own at home is a sign of
strength. To reach out to others around the world is a sign
of greatness." Just imagine the impact of an America that
put ending poverty at the top of its strategic agenda!
Imagine the impact of a U.S. president who pursued the fight
against global poverty with the same vigor that President
Bush has led the campaign against the regime in Iraq!
When it comes to reducing global poverty, the United States
could make a powerful contribution on many fronts. Let me just
cite two of these fronts, and then discuss a third.
First, let's look to trade. Opening the markets of the largest
economy in the world could give a critical boost to the export
growth and economic development of poor countries. In the
year 2000, Congress virtually eliminated tariffs on textiles
coming into the U.S. from some African countries. This has
been a positive advancement. On the other hand, President
Bush also signed a Farm Bill last year that will award subsidies
of tens of billions to American farmers over the next decade.
The new law makes American sugar and cotton cheaper than
African sugar and cotton, effectively keeping them out of
our market. A political strategy to phase out U.S. agricultural
subsidies would provide big opportunities for African economies.
Second, let's look to diplomacy. Violent conflicts are underway
in some 35 countries around the world. (11) Most of these conflicts
are internal; almost all are in developing countries. And
in every case, the conflicts take their heaviest toll on poor
people. Where the United States is prepared to give sustained
diplomatic attention, it can often contribute to resolving
these conflicts. For example, the Bush administration has
quietly but effectively supported talks aimed at ending the
civil war in Sudan -- a war that has gotten little coverage
in the U.S. media, but that has killed two million Sudanese
and displaced four million. If successful, the peace process
could make a huge difference in Africa's largest country.
Diplomacy is an under-appreciated resource in fighting poverty.
A third front in fighting poverty is U.S. development assistance.
That assistance is vital in helping the poorest countries
to build the capacity to be more self-reliant and to engage
in the world economy. Roughly 80 percent of Americans strongly
support cooperation with the poorest countries.
Americans view hunger as a world problem of the first order,
and think the U.S. should do more overseas to address poverty.
Americans typically believe that 20 percent of all government
spending goes to foreign aid. (12)
They are astonished to learn therefore
that the actual amount of U.S. spending on foreign aid is
less than one percent!
Americans express concern that the U.S. is carrying more
than its fair share of the burden of assistance. But, even
though we contribute the most in absolute numbers of
dollars, the U.S. is actually dead last among the 22 industrialized
democracies in percentage of GNP spent on international development.
There is so much more that we could do!
In his first two years in office, President Bush's international
agenda was dominated by the "harder" issues of military
security and economic policy. He struck a different note last
March at a UN conference on development. He reaffirmed "the
commitment of the United States to bring hope and opportunity
to the world's poorest people." "We fight against poverty,"
he said, "because faith requires it and conscience demands
it. And we fight against poverty with a growing conviction
that major progress is within our reach."
Specifically, President Bush proposed the creation of a new
Millennium Challenge Account. By 2006, $5 billion will have
been added to the core U.S. budget for development assistance
-- a 50 percent increase. All $5 billion would be channeled
to developing countries that meet certain thresholds in terms
of economic freedom, political liberty and the rule of law.
I have some concerns about this initiative, including a worry
that it could be subverted by narrow geopolitical objectives,
especially during a time of war. But we do not want to lose
sight of the bigger picture: the Millennium Challenge Account,
if enacted by Congress, would mark the most significant expansion
of development assistance since the 1960s.
In his State of the Union message, President Bush came forward
with another bold initiative. To join the global battle against
AIDS, especially in Africa, he proposed a $15 billion program,
$10 billion of it in new money, over the next five years. I am heartened
by the president's proposal for two reasons: first, because
it marks the true beginning of a U.S. response to the AIDS
pandemic that is in keeping with the scale of the problem.
And second, because it has received support from such a broad-based,
politically-diverse constituency. We can all take pride in
the role that Senator Frist has played in building that constituency and
in making the case to the President.
In 1970, the U.S. and other leading industrialized democracies
agreed on a common goal of allocating point 7 percent of their
gross national product to international development. If approved
by Congress, these two presidential initiatives -- the Millennium
Challenge Account and the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief --
would be important steps in the right direction. It would
still be a very long stretch to meet the goal of point 7 percent
of GNP. But increasing the U.S. contribution by even one-tenth
of a percent of GNP would be a great start. To get all the way there
will take truly visionary leadership by a succession of presidents.
It will also take a tremendous surge of activist support from
the American people.
How much of the global fight against poverty can the U.S.
take on? I cannot wait for this debate to get underway.
It is impressive that countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway
and Sweden have met their goal of point 7 percent of GNP.
I recognize that the U.S. has other responsibilities in the
world, but I also believe strongly that we must achieve a
better balance between defending ourselves from our enemies
and providing hope and opportunity to others. Our contribution
to the fight against global poverty would be a true measure
of this country's greatness.
So where does the end of poverty begin?
It begins with an idea -- an act of imagination and the embracing
of a vision. At a global level, the end of poverty begins
with the idea that a world without poverty is both morally
necessary and actually achievable. At the level of families
in poor communities, the end of poverty may simply begin with
the conviction that their lives -- or the lives of children
-- can be made better.
The end of poverty must begin with the governments of developing
countries. They bear a special responsibility. Effective governments
create policy environments that respect human rights, encourage
meaningful political participation, promote development, and
foster civic pride and entrepreneurial spirit. These governments
give priority to education, health and other services, which
are essential investments in people living in extreme poverty.
It begins with leadership. I am impressed by the recent display
of leadership by the newly elected president of Kenya. One
of President Kibaki's first acts in office was to abolish
fees for public schools, and parents have literally flooded the schools with
Of course, good intentions can only go so far. To actually
reduce extreme poverty, it is also important to set goals,
lay out strategies, mobilize resources, assign accountability
and measure progress.
The end of poverty also begins with poor communities, local
leaders and grassroots organizations. They must be the owners
and organizers of their own development. People in communities
that work together can overcome conflict, share the costs
of bringing clean water to everyone, rebuild schools torn
down by war, raise children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and press
government authorities to be accountable.
The end of poverty begins with Katra in Afghanistan and Herath
in Sri Lanka.
The end of poverty also begins with each of us. Given the
interconnectedness of the world and the oneness of all humanity,
we can and must play a role.
There is a very real sense in which each of us -- in this
hall and around the world -- must be part of where the end
of poverty begins. The moral arguments to end poverty have
long been there. But today, for the first time, we have the
knowledge, technology, and wealth to get the job done. We
could actually put an end to extreme poverty in a matter of
Our enlistment in this cause starts from the realization
that we are citizens not only of our own country but also
of the world. We have an obligation to be knowledgeable about
the world and about the engagement of the United States within it.
We should develop views on trade policies, agricultural subsidies,
and whether it makes sense for the United States to have a defense
budget equal to that of the next 22 largest defense budgets
in the world combined. (13)
We should also educate ourselves on the humanitarian consequences
The end of poverty begins with the leaders in this audience
seeing how the institutions in our lives -- where we work,
where we study, where we worship -- can help in the fight
against global poverty.
It begins with each of us casting a ballot for political
leaders with a broad view of the world. It begins with each
of us sending a fax or making a phone call to our representatives
in Congress in support of President Bush's Millennium Challenge
Account. It begins with standing up in our corporations and
urging that social responsibility applies not only in our
home community but in the world community. It begins with
volunteering at a nonprofit organization to help poor people
in our home community. Or, it may begin by making a donation
or serving on the board of an international relief and development
organization. Be forewarned, however, that is how I began
at CARE, and look at me now! Once you get into this kind of
work, it is hard to know when to stop!
It may be tempting to conclude that the task of ending poverty
is too overwhelming and too long-term. In the end, it must
be done one individual, one family, one community, one country,
one region at a time. But we have learned a lot about how
to scale up our efforts, partner with others and increase
our collective impact.
Last year, CARE made a direct difference in the lives of
31 million people. Compared with the 1.2 billion people in
extreme poverty, 31 million may seem like drops in a vast
ocean. But, each one of those drops is a human being who seeks
dignity and security -- the same dignity and security that
we seek, and find, every day in this country.
Herath, the farmer I met in Sri Lanka, believed that, with
persistence and resourcefulness, he would acquire enough bricks
to build a home safe and secure enough for his family. So
I believe that we, in partnership with many thousands of others,
can muster the will and the resources to build a better world
for our global family. It begins by our taking that first
step, acquiring that first brick -- and the next -- until
a stable foundation is laid. With ingenuity and commitment,
we can and we will build a world where extreme poverty has
been overcome -- where everyone sleeps in safety and awakens
Where does the end of poverty begin?
It begins with each of us. It begins here. And it begins
1 UNDP, Human Development Report 2002,
and World Bank, World Development Report 2000/2001.
2 UNDP, Human Development Report 2002.
3 UNAIDS, AIDS Epidemic Update, December
4 UNICEF, State of the World's Children
2003, and World Bank, World Development Indicators
2002. UNICEF, SOWC 1999.
5 World Bank, World Development Indicators
6 UNAIDS, AIDS Epidemic Update Report -- June
7 UNICEF, Progress of Nations 1998.
8 World Bank, Millennium Development Goals
Web site, 2003.
9 UNDP, Human Development Report 2002.
10 World Bank, World Development Indicators
11 Project Ploughshares, Institute of Peace
and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel College, Armed Conflicts
12 Bostrom, Meg, Public Attitudes Toward
Foreign Affairs: AN Overview of the Current State of Public
Opinion, October 1999.
13 The Center for Defense
Information, 3 February 2003.