It seems fairly obvious to me, but I was recently asked by a close friend if I thought the Greater Impact Foundation might be misnamed. He was referring to our mission relative to our size and our ability to really have a greater impact. Of course, he was pointing, justifiably so, to the fact that poverty is so significant that our ability to have a measurable impact was minimal. He is right. That is, he is right if you measure impact only in numbers.
The World Bank, as recently as last month quoted the latest worldwide statistics (2012) estimating that roughly 13% of the world’s population lived at or below $1.90 USD per day. That is a startling number, for that means that almost one billion people is the number GIF is trying to impact in some small way.
I reminded my friend that there are literally thousands of organizations, many much, much larger than ours focused on the same objective and collectively there has been a greater impact. Again, the World Bank estimates that since 1981 the number of people living at or below the poverty line has declined by half. The numbers are reasonably accurate, though there are myriad ways to examine them which dampens one’s enthusiasm for the progress that has been made. The numbers in extreme poverty are even more startling, though that number has also declined. Moreover, if you look at the data geographically the challenges are mind-numbing. Clearly, far too many are still living with far too little.
I tried to share with my friend another way to look at this dilemma, another way to measure impact that might somewhat soften his pessimism. It was a two-part answer and it is not the easiest thing to wrap one’s head around. If you have never personally experienced it, it is extraordinarily difficult to believe that such a small organization can have such a big impact. Those two parts add up to simple math. Empowerment + Time = Change. This simple math is the primary reason the overall World Bank numbers have declined over generations.
When I conduct due diligence I often visit our beneficiaries in their homes. It is there that one can more readily see the impact that the organizations we support are having. Recently, I met this group of women from a small village outside of Mizrapur in northeastern India.
It was not long ago that these women were unemployed. It was not long ago that these women were largely considered property, marginalized by a culture and way of life that is difficult to imagine without being there. It was not long ago that someone like me would not be welcome to visit without permission from their husbands or community at large. Look closely, particularly the woman, our host, on the right. Look at their eyes. The social enterprise that we are supporting has created a sense of empowerment that is palpable. There is no way these women will return to the chattel life of their past. But what is most amazing is what is going on off camera. There are young kids everywhere looking on. These kids have likely never experienced what their parents' and grandparents’ lives were like just a few short years ago. These kids will grow up with expectations for a future that is even better than their parents. Their generation will be better fed, healthier, more educated than my friend ever could imagine. Multiply this single outcome by the number of organizations and people endeavoring to do their small part to solve a big problem and it is easy to believe that drop by drop the bucket fills up and eventually overflows. This is why the Greater Impact Foundation, as small as we are, exists. No more. No less.