A powerful documentary that challenges commonly held assumptions

by Martin Hafer

The thrust behind the documentary Poverty Inc. might seem counter-intuitive. The film contends that all the well-intentioned aid that’s been coming from the First World to the Third World is actually NOT helping all that much. The film insists that instead of taking folks out of poverty, it has had a tendency to keep folks poor and dependent on aid and may actually undermine domestic industries. While this sounds crazy, the film does a good job of explaining…using the analogy of giving a man a fish OR just giving him a fishing rod and letting him then help himself. So, by giving money to countless agencies and allowing dictators to control the donations (only 16 of 54 African nations have democratic elections), it keeps the dictators in power and inhibits local farmers and businesses.

Now the film is NOT against helping the poor. Instead they offer a newer model…sort of a leg-up program. They propose that instead of traditional charity or government program where they send food or clothing, the emphasis instead should be on helping to encourage small businesses in these impoverished nations. For example, instead of giving the money to a president-for-life (such as Mugabe in Zimbabwe), the money should be given or loaned directly to eager entrepreneurs…poor folks who want to start their own small business. The idea is that they can pull themselves out of poverty and thereby help their children, their village and, eventually, their nation…one step at a time. Sounds crazy or undoable? Well, see the film…they make a very compelling argument.

Poverty, Inc.
Directed by
Michael Matheson Miller
Robert Sirico
Release Date
Out Now
Martin’s Grade: A

Overall, the film is very well made and offers many interviews with folks who work in various aid agencies, live and work in the developing world. It also has nice graphics and a nice professional look. And, I agree with the basic idea in the film as I have a hard time understanding why governments and aid groups keep doing the same old thing again and again…somehow hoping THIS time it will all somehow work! Africa, Haiti and many other places around the globe which have been poor for as long as we can remember are still poor…so perhaps this new model might just be the key to improving millions of lives permanently. The film presents a great case and really makes you think differently about poverty.

Finally, I have never done this with one of my reviews before, but since it is the holiday season I am encouraging the readers to consider helping one or more of these micro start-up companies. With all the money we spend on ourselves and our friends and families, wouldn’t it be nice to also consider doing something to make others’ lives just a little bit nicer during this time of giving? After watching Poverty Inc., I became a sponsor with kiva.org, an organization that does NOT simply give away money…but makes small business loans to people all around the globe who are poor but very hard working. My family is now sponsoring two families of farmers in Kenya, a woman with a small grocery store in the Philippines as well as a lady with her sewing business in Kazakhstan. Loans can be as small as $25…an amount nearly all of our readers could afford. And, if you want to give more, by all means do! Below is their web address as well as an excellent article which discusses a wide range of similar charitable funds.