Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. -Nelson Mandela
Experience with something does not guarantee one is an authority and correct in their understanding of that thing. Having cancer doesn’t make you an expert on its cause or solution!
The late Nelson Mandela may have experienced and worked with impoverished circumstances, but his understanding of it is completely wrong.
Mandela sits down at his dinner table for a meal. He looks down and sees his plate is empty. “Hey!” he says. “Who took my food!?” He expects food to be there—it is “naturally there”—and the only explanation that it’s not there is that it was removed. Perhaps accidentally, perhaps mistakenly, perhaps maliciously. Mandela thinks he is owed some dinner.
Consider a parallel situation of someone who just washed up on a desert island after a plane crash like in the movie Castaway. He doesn’t say at dinner time, seeing there is no food, “Who took my food!?” He knows claiming a “right” to dinner is ridiculous. He knows he is starting from scratch.
Mandela’s way of thinking and speaking assumes a backdrop of a well-functioning society, prosperous economy, and some amount of wealth as a “right.” This is wrong, and it obscures our vision of the only path to truly solve the problem of poverty, because it inclines the mind to look for the solution to poverty in the wrong place.
Thinking of poverty as unnatural and unjust inclines us to look to already-existing wealth (in someone else’s hands), rather than in the power of human creativity.
It makes us think of relocating existing wealth rather than creating new wealth.
It fosters envy rather than determination.
No one “made” poverty through unjust taking or withholding (at least the global, pervasive, enduring sort of poverty). So the problem is not how to go and acquire the wealth that is a supposed “right”; the problem of wealth is how to make it.
This is what Frontier Development aspires to do.