Investing in Opportunity

In the opening presentation at the CORE Group’s spring meeting, one of the interesting findings from the research that went into One Illness Away was how common it was for youth living in poverty to create their own glass ceilings. They often don’t believe they have the ability to obtain the education or other necessary skills to become a software developer or university professor, instead aspiring to simply have employment.

While Dr. Krishna, the book’s author, said if he had money to invest in poverty reduction he would first put it toward universal health care, his second major investment would be in career training for impoverished youth. Many don’t even know what channels they would need to go through to obtain proper skills and training; until that happens, they will continue to impose their own glass ceiling.

In sharp contrast, here in America many youth have education, opportunity and promise handed to them without a second thought. They complete elementary and secondary schools, many go on to university, and we have the luxury of delaying choices like marriage, childbirth, and other rites of passage into “adulthood” until we’ve deemed ourselves ready. Thus the invention of emerging adulthood as a distinct phase in developmental psychology, and the rising average age of marriage in America.

Krishna’s research also showed found the most common paths out of poverty were through success in agriculture or in urban employment, not in a regular, salaried job. Can we not work to provide opportunities for children from Kibera and other slums to move up through skills, education, and sound employment? Or at lease help them believe in that possibility?  He argued, and provided supporting evidence, that people do not choose to be poor, contrary to the beliefs of some who preach about the laziness or tendencies towards drinking among the poor (myths debunked in Krishna’s research). The poor are often remarkably resourceful, and, given the proper training and circumstances, can move themselves up.

You can purchase Krishna’s book on Amazon or wait until the paperback comes out in July 2011. To my technical friends:  you can also read more about his methodology (“Stages of Progress”).

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