Aug 4, 2014

More that Solving Poverty

I was catching up with a friend last week who share the same opinions that constantly checking your phone in the middle of a conversation with friends is so bastos and posting everything on social media, and heavens, selfies, are signs of mental illness. A warm cup of coffee led us to talk about what we love in our jobs despite the many frustrations. As I was explaining how loans help the poor, he plainly asked me, "how do you solve poverty?"

Well, uhm, I wasn't able to speak for like ten seconds. It's as if my brain got short circuit. With the question coming from an electrical engineer, I wasn't sure about the best way to answer. I tried to think of his motivation in asking. Does he want to help? Maybe I should start defining the different types of poverty, its characteristics, the multidisciplinary approaches to lessen it and how the government, civil society groups and the private sector contribute to its reduction. I even remembered a school of thought saying that zeroing out poverty will take a toll on our environment as consumption will go overboard. Is he really interested in an answer or is it one of those questions that you throw to keep a conversation going?

To keep it simple, I just said, it's complicated.

But he insisted, so I shared the stories of individuals, advocacy groups and corporations who make a dent in the lives of the less marginalized. Then I added that not everyone is "called" to solve poverty, which reminded me of a quote often used my one of my mentors, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

I think the more important question to ask ourselves is, how can I contribute to nation building? Regardless of our occupations, whether you're an engineer, call center agent, banker, domestic helper, priest or a sari-sari store owner, putting our daily tasks in the context of how one contributes to his country is something that more people can relate to and something that will keep us going "despite the many frustrations." More than solving poverty, we are called to continue building the nation. How often do you meet a computer programmer, a doctor or a security guard who is still passionate about his country?

I observed that a good part of our conversations with friends revolve around the frustrations we have at work - impossible deadlines, long working hours, impractical bosses, work politics - but if you put those challenges in the context of a bigger picture, struggles to build the Philippines, then it seems more bearable. I guess then that a perspective like that solves our own psycho-career-emotional poverty.