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What is Global Poverty?

Global poverty is defined as the number of people worldwide who live on less than $1.90 a day.

A person surviving on less than $1.90 a day lives in extreme poverty, as defined by the World Bank. More than 736 million people – or one out of every ten people on the planet – currently live below this poverty threshhold,1 and children, a highly vulnerable segment of society, account for more than half of the world’s poorest citizens.2

The Story We Tell About Global Poverty

It’s normal to look at a huge problem like global poverty and feel overwhelmed. So many people with so much against them, and when disaster strikes, whether it be an earthquake, a hurricane, or a global pandemic like COVID-19, the world's poor suffer the most. But the way we tell the story of poverty in the world (i.e., what contributes to disparities in income and opportunity and gender inequality, and how we can reduce the number of people trapped below the global poverty line) matters a lot. In the process of measuring poverty and evaluating what causes poverty, it's clear that there are effective ways to make a difference in the fight to end extreme poverty.

Comprehensive and Holistic Measures are Needed to Reduce the Global Poverty Rate

Problems, particularly big ones, don’t usually come out of nowhere. They build over time.

Similarly, problems aren’t usually solved in a single day or a single conversation. They take time and perseverance. It often takes a series of decisions and actions, made consistently, day after day over the long term for progress to be made. That's why our approach to fighting poverty is built on holistic whole-life care.

Reducing the number of poor people currently in the world as well as the rate at which people slide into poverty requires a comprehensive and holistic approach to conquering the problem, which is why our holistic child development model delivers comprehensive care to children in poverty.

Our approach to releasing children from poverty means we offer assistance to children in need beginning with prenatal care, in some cases, and extend our involvement and care all the way through young adulthood. It means we take a long-term approach and provide opportunities that encourage healthy spiritual, physical, social and economic development for the beneficiaries of our programs, to help address all of the potential effects of poverty on children.

Global Poverty Around the World

Poverty around the world is not equally distributed. Although extreme poverty rates vary by country, clustering does occur regionally. Thirty-three of the 47 countries on the United Nations' list of Least Developed Countries are in Africa, and over 400 million of the global poor live in low- and middle-income countries* on the continent, with the vast majority living in Sub-saharan Africa.3 Another 24 percent of the global poor live in India.4

Despite the concentration of poverty in Africa and Asia, the abuse, despair, and inequality of poverty is a global problem.

Because of the coordinated efforts of the global community to reduce poverty the percentage of the world's population living in extreme poverty has decreased significantly in recent decades.

In 1990, almost 1.9 billion people lived on less than $1.90 a day. At the time, that was over 35 percent of the world’s population. Now, just ten percent of the world’s population live under this poverty line.1 But that's still hundreds of millions of people. The work isn't done yet.

Graph showing a decline in poverty rates since 1990

How Does Globalization Affect Poverty Rates?

Globalization refers to the integration of economies and societies around the world. The connectedness inherent in globalization helps drive economic growth but also exposes and exacerbates inequalities in society. And from a health perspective globalization can play a significant role in the spread of infectious diseases such influenza, Ebola, and coronaviruses like SARS, MERS and COVID-19.

Globalization is not inherently good or bad. Like any system, how it is applied and the way it is used is what matters.

For example, when women in a village in Africa make jewelry from local materials, and a fair trade company works with a global shipping company to transport that jewelry to other countries where it’s sold, that supply chain gives the poor access to the global market, and is a tool for economic growth.

International trade, or the exchange or selling of goods between countries, can offer people beneath the poverty line an opportunity to sell more goods, often at higher prices. When the system works well, the poor who made and sold those goods earn a higher income.

For someone living on less than $1.90 a day, an increase of $1 exponentially improves his or her standard of living. It can mean an end to food insecurity and better nutrition. It may mean living in a safer home, one with access to clean water and proper sanitation.

When globalization is combined with respect for human dignity and a desire to empower others, globalization can free hundreds of millions of people from poverty.

Partner with Us to End Extreme Poverty

Compassion International exists because of one man's clear, God-given vision. Because of his compassion and desire to embody the meaning of compassion — to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help — we now serve millions of children in poverty in some of the world's poorest countries.

As part of our holistic approach to child development and poverty reduction we provide age-appropriate and culturally relevant education and vocational training for children and youth who live in extreme poverty, all in an effort to equip children with the skills to succeed tomorrow and end poverty in their lives.

Our Child Sponsorship Program fights global poverty at the grassroots level.

Thousands of organizations worldwide attack the issue of global poverty from a variety of angles. However, we are unique in that our approach is a grassroots, church-based approach that is Christ-centered and focused on the child. That's what makes us distinct.

In 25 countries around the world, we address the massive issue of global poverty at the micro level — through local, indigenous churches that minister to those in desperate need.

Local church leaders are able to reach out to individual families in a personal and intimate way and address each family’s specific needs. Conversely, families in impoverished communities know the names and faces of their local church leaders and have confidence that the child development centers of our church partners are safe places for their children.

While a broader, more general approach of community development is often favored in the fight against global poverty, our personal and individual approach produces massive ripple effects and effective change.

Changing the life of an individual child doesn’t affect just the child. That child changes his family. His family changes his local community. His community changes his country, and enough changed countries change the world.

As a whole, the sheer size of the global poverty problem can cause feelings of paralysis ("I don’t know where to start") or despair ("I can’t make a difference"). Our Child Sponsorship Program scales the problem down to a smaller, more manageable level and offers a practical way to change the life of a child in need and start a lasting ripple effect.

You can make a difference in the lives of children living under the thumb of global poverty. Start by making a donation to one of the funds on this page or by sponsoring a child. Sponsoring a child right now will profoundly change the future for your child; and it’ll also change your life.

A young woman learning to cook
Youth Development

Support youth ages 12 and older with customized training and educational paths for their unique potential. Learn More >

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Educational Needs

Children receive tutoring and resources to attend school such as uniforms, books, fees and supplies. Learn More >

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Income Generation

Provide those in poverty with business training to help sustain their families. Learn More >

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Sources:

1 Poverty & Equity Data Portal, povertydata.worldbank.org/Poverty/Home.

2 "Child Poverty." UNICEF, www.unicef.org/social-policy/child-poverty.

3 "Accelerating Poverty Reduction in Africa: In Five Charts." World Bank, www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/publication/accelerating-poverty-reduction-in-africa-in-five-charts.

4 "Half of the World's Poor Live in Just 5 Countries." World Bank Blogs, blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/half-world-s-poor-live-just-5-countries.

* In 2015, the World Bank began phasing out the term "developing world" in its publications and databases. The use of the developed countries and developing countries categories was "becoming less relevant" with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and their focus on targets for the whole world.

Questions?

Please call us at 800-336-7676, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. MT to speak with a Compassion Representative.