In a recent poll from Oxford University’s Our World in
Data, a majority of
Americans said that the share of the world population living in poverty is
increasing—yet one of the trends of the last 50 years has been a huge reduction
in global poverty. In fact, per
World Bank data, the
proportion of the Earth’s population subsisting on about $2 a day or less has
dropped by more than 75 percent over the last four decades—from 42 percent in
1981 to 10 percent in 2015.
Just as remarkable,
annual worldwide deaths of children under 5 have plummeted since 1990. Thanks
to health interventions in respiratory infections, diarrhea, and preterm birth
as well as massive success in vaccinations for measles, tuberculosis, and
malaria—global child death rates have dropped by more than a half. We also are approaching
90 percent adult literacy and seeing large gains in girls’ education.
So why are so
many Americans unaware of these tremendous global gains?
One reason is
that whereas poverty, health, and educational outcomes are improving in
developing nations, in the U.S. poverty shot up to 1960s levels in 2009 and the
cost of health, housing, and higher education is thwarting socioeconomic
mobility for too many Americans. The regional,
racial, and class details of this phenomenon are constantly in the news. In
fact, in America— thanks to our always-on, click bait media—we are drowning
ourselves in bad news.
Yet here on the
UC Berkeley campus and at the Blum Center, we find students are not just well informed—many
are brimming with hope and commitment to continue to fight extreme poverty in
developing nations and to reduce inequality and work for social and economic justice
in the United States. We also finding that in addition to students lending their
energy and intelligence to established organizations, some are seeking to form
news ones through startups and through incubators and accelerators like Big Ideas, CITRIS Foundry, and Skydeck.
There is also
growing understanding among Blum Center faculty, staff, and students that
higher education must adapt to the future of work. As my good friend Carnegie Mellon
University President Farnam Jahanian pointed out in a recent World Economic Forum article, “There
is an undeniable need to train the next generation in emerging digital
competencies and to be fluent in designing, developing, or employing technology
responsibly. At the same time, 21st-century students must learn how to approach
problems from many perspectives,
cultivate and exploit creativity, engage in complex communication, and leverage
In this issue of the Blum Center’s Innovation Chronicle, we invite you
to read about students combining these skills sets for a fairer planet. Please read about Kaloum Bankhi, a
sustainable housing organization in Guinea led by Big Ideas winner and recent
UC architecture graduate Aboubacar Komara. We also have an article
about the forest economics research group led by Professor Matthew Potts, who is Vice Chair of the Graduate Group in Development
Engineering. And we invite
you to listen to our Global Poverty & Practice students about their poverty action fieldwork in
the Philippines, San Francisco, India, and Colombia.
All their efforts, combined with the larger story of global poverty reduction, make me think that 2020 is a year for great hope and hard work for global progress.
Shankar Sastry is Faculty Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies and NEC Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.