Reasons to be cheerful


Nearly 1 billion people have been taken out of extreme poverty in 20 years.

The Economist, June 2013

This is an amazing achievement. It still leaves 1.1 billion below the $1.25 per day definition of extreme poverty,* but it shows what can be done. It is a reason to be cheerful.

This was how I started a presentation of Tearfund’s work to a meeting of business people, investors and other charities in 2013. I wanted to start with what could be achieved rather than with what they were expecting – a litany of depression, injustice and guilt. I got their attention.

My next task was to explain Tearfund. This was more tricky. We are a complex organisation of more than 1200 staff working in 50 countries, with hundreds of partners in the areas of emergency response, advocacy, community development, and church and community mobilisation. We are hard to get down to a soundbite (though feel free to try – you can find out all about us here)!

This was my attempt to communicate this amazing organisation through four words all beginning with ‘P’ (what can I say – I’m a preacher!).

We believe that 1.1 billion people living in extreme poverty is a scandal – to say nothing of the next billion living in abject need. Those statistics bounce off us, but what they mean is mothers deciding which child to feed and fathers deciding which child to sell so that the others can be fed. This is wrong. And if we are fortunate enough not to be part of the bottom 2 billion, then we have an obligation to make a difference.

We concentrate on getting the basics right – in management, finance and activity. We do high-quality work in tough places with committed local organisations and staff. We are constantly evaluating and learning and changing. We are building an organisation on the foundation of professional excellence and spiritual passion.

We are committed to being with people in need in the places of need for as long as it needs. We work with committed staff and long-term local partners who know their worlds. We learn from our beneficiaries.

Our work is made possible by our partnership with thousands of UK Christians. Churches, governments and trusts provide money, prayer and action for our global partnership of local organisations, staff and networks.

This mix of passion, professionalism and a commitment to presence and partnership is what makes us hopeful at Tearfund. One billion people liberated from poverty in the last 20 years is an amazing global achievement. It shows that things can change – that we can make a difference. The next billion will be liberated by:

  • getting the basics of relief and development right
  • bold innovation to meet a rapidly changing world
  • effective partnerships between charities, governments and business.

I ended my presentation by showing a short clip from a video of one of our Inspired Individuals, Theresa Malila. Here is the full thing. It is only five minutes long and it will blow you away.

*[Editor: Since this blog post was first published in 2013, poverty rates have continued to fall. In 2015 the World Bank updated its international poverty line to $1.90 a day to incorporate new information on the cost of living across countries.]

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