What if we have wealth and poverty defined wrong — what if it has nothing to do with money and ease of life?

One concept that was challenged for me on the trip to Rwanda, was poverty. As it is defined; how I measure it; and what it really means for a person or society. You see, in Rwanda I saw “poverty” as I initially defined it. Yet I didn’t see people that were unhappy, feeling without, or those who were not cherishing life.

In Rwanda I saw — people that were enjoying life. That had meaning in their community, and happy. They were in the villages, on the streets, and everywhere we drove. It was something I feel, unfortunately across the globe, that is in small quantities in the world — specifically happiness.

Now let me be clear there absolutely were those without enough food. There were plenty who needed more medical attention. Even there and in those cases, those involved were still working to find the best path forward — taking ownership and acting as best possible in their conditions.

Poverty and wealth defined by $$$

Poverty as I hear defined has to do with MONEY. If some family has less than a total income, they are poor. If they have more they are wealthy. Yet, I feel the measure of money being the defining characteristic of humanity and an individual’s place in it to be fundamentally wrong.

Poverty in my mind should be multidimensional. It should include happiness, contentment, self-sustainability of the people and the community, access and USE of current medical capabilities, nourishment, and shelter. Individually when you think of these characteristics you can see a spectrum can exist within it. Yet, I was quick to make mistakes here in these characteristics.

Your perspective & assessment is biased, mine too

You see — there is subjectivity that can be introduced, caused by the individual who is measuring and their PERSPECTIVE (read: opinion) that they are right and the other’s are wrong. For instance… let’s play with shelter.

Shelter — merely needs to be sufficient to protect the person / family from the elements and provide a space to be healthy and enjoy privacy. (Privacy one could even say is also a subjective perspective) Why isn’t a simple clay brick house on a hill without power or water enough? What if everyone has that type of home, and it does more than listed above, but also keeps away predators and allows to raise kids safely. The counter argument here I heard was centered on “needing” running water and electricity, yet they do not. It is a preference but also a slippery slope.

To change the culturally acceptable, enjoyed, and community self sustained housing in any society has several huge risk factors that I don’t think have been thoughtfully played out.

  • If families are forced / convinced they need ‘modern’ homes … then they can no longer build them or maintain them on their own / with the local community… now they require more experts, special “heavy equipment”, money to support all that infrastructure, and more.
  • Families now need to PAY with money they don’t use (barter is more popular and sustained in these regions), on power and water bills
  • The community aspect of shared water, shelters, power, etc.. leads to people coming together creating important cohesiveness and empathy together vs isolation.
  • Governments will have to lay the foundation and give / tax those for this upgrade in housing

So, by forcing an upgrade in ‘living standard’ to someone else’s definition results in the local population:

  • having higher taxes
  • buildings and infrastructure they cannot maintain
  • industry / government required to pay and build out
  • communities are now dependent upon other’s from outside the region
  • Other world standards and materials introduced into a region that can lead to contamination of the ecosystem and
  • the added materials (buildings, cleaning, welding, etc..) also are not being made in the region, thus completely imported (creating a crux for that very country)

If someone is happy, are they not wealthy where it matters? It is fact that the happiest countries are not the wealthiest (from a dollar perspective). It is this mindset of happiness, community, healthy families, and being open to other culture perspectives that has led me down these thoughts.

Poverty and Wealth to be redefined

Poverty need not be measured by money, and shame on us for thinking it is something to be fixed. Ensuring health (medical practices, sufficient food) and a great life (longevity, shelter, meaningful part of the community) are areas I feel we should rethink and refocus on — at home and abroad.

For all those in need, I hope we all will continue to take the necessary actions to set our neighbors around the world to be healthy and happy forever.

For your business and products

This highlights and reminds us that one way is not always the right way for all. This applies to how you do business; how you serve your customers, and how you do everything to create wonderful products. The opportunity today with technology and customization is that we CAN be nuanced. We can be empathetic and reflective of the end consumer. Whether that is building a hospital in Rwanda that is sustainable and utilized, or that is institutionalizing cybersecurity within your devops processes. 

Being adaptive to achieving the goals appropriate to the environment is the unlock for sustainability, speed, and ultimately happiness.

(Please note this is an excerpt from a deep discussion I had where we challenged this idea from all corners. There is a huge potential for us to help those truly in need, but also, just maybe, perhaps we should listen and learn from them too. Happiness and community for our neighbor should be our North Star.

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