July 18th marks Nelson Mandela International Day. Everyone who is familiar with Nelson Mandela’s story recognizes him as a symbol of freedom. Today, more than a billion people around the world are desperately in need of freedom—freedom from poverty. Ask any number of people for a definition of freedom, and you will probably get just as many answers. One thing that the majority of people would agree on, though, is that it is difficult to feel free if you are living in poverty.
All around the world, people are fighting to break free from the chains of poverty. Too many of them cannot express themselves or fully develop their gifts because they spend most of their time hacking away at the shackles of poverty. This is not a new problem, and in fact many attempts have been made to curb its growth.
In the year 2000, several world leaders came together at the United Nations to address some of the major problems affecting mankind. As a result of that meeting, eight goals were created that are today known as the millennium development goals, or MDGs. On the very top of the list was one major goal, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. I know what you are thinking—how can it be possible when 2015 is now just a few months away?
According to the United Nations, “The global poverty rate at $1.25 a day fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate. 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990. However, at the global level 1.2 billion people are still living in extreme poverty.” Although huge strides have been made, I am sure that you will agree that 1.2 billion is still a lot of people. It is more than the combined population of the United States, Canada, and the European Union, with an additional 200+ million people on top of that.
Of those still living in poverty, the greatest percentage are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is made up of the countries that lie south of the Sahara desert. I happen to have been born in one of those countries, Nigeria. It is a place where I still have a lot of family and friends. Like most of Africa, it is home to people of contrasting fortunes. On one end, there are those living in extreme poverty—and then there are the billionaires. An example is Aliko Dangote, who according to Forbes magazine’s 2014 ranking of the richest people on the planet is in the top 25 with an estimated net worth of $25 billion.
I have thought long and hard about what it would take for the average African to make the shift from poverty to financial independence. I have often wondered if such a thing was even possible. To put my thoughts in focus, I think about the people I knew growing up in Nigeria. I think about a friend whose husband suddenly passed away and is now left to raise three children all on her own. I think about another friend who struggled through college to obtain two degrees but for years has been unable to find a job.
I think about these people and others and ask myself, how would they best like to be helped? Is it through a monetary gift? Perhaps by giving them enough money to last them for a week? How long will any of this last before another need develops? A monetary gift might help them temporarily, but it would not be enough to sustain them throughout their life. What if there was a way that I could give them hope? What if there was a way that I could help them stand on their own two feet so they never have to rely on somebody else for money? What if it was possible to help them unleash the abilities that I know lie within them?
The solution, I believe, lies in some form of self-empowerment. I made a decision that whatever I did, it must meet at least three objectives. It should be easy to understand, easy to implement, and provide long-term solutions. So just how can this be achieved? I have several ideas, which leads me to my first initiative—providing a road map to act as a guide. My upcoming book, Wealth for All Africans: How Every African Can Live the Life of Their Dreams, was written with the goal to help every African develop his- or herself to the point of self-sufficiency.
Every year on July 18th, Nelson Mandela International Day, we are encouraged to devote 67 minutes to help others. It could be something that affects the life of one person, 100 people, or 1.7 billion people. You are encouraged to help wherever and however you can. Maybe you, too, have come across an area of great need. Perhaps you have even thought that the need was too big for you to handle. I want to encourage you to dig deep within yourself for answers. I believe there are powerful solutions that lie within you that the world needs. I will leave you with this quote from Nelson Mandela: “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.”
Now, let’s go out and make a difference.
“United Nations Millennium Development Goals.” UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 14 July 2014.
Kroll, Luisa, and Kerry A. Dolan. “Inside The 2014 Forbes Billionaires List: Facts And Figures.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 03 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.