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Webinar challenges common biases about people in poverty

The most common mistake anti-poverty organizations make is underestimating the skills and character of the poor.

Dan Pearson, director of international programs at Unbound, shared that insight in an Oct. 15 webinar entitled, "The Potential in Poverty: Who Should Lead the Way?" The event was hosted by Unbound for supporters and others interested in learning more about the organization's work.

Pearson's presentation explored deeply embedded assumptions about people living in poverty, such as a belief that people are poor through some fault of their own. By challenging such biases, individuals and organizations begin to see the inherent potential of marginalized people and their capacity to overcome obstacles.

"We work with 300,000 families in 19 countries around the world," Pearson said in remarks prior to the event.

What we've learned from that experience is that it doesn't work as well to treat poverty en masse, to treat everyone as if they're in the same situation, as if they have the same goals, the same obstacles or as if they need to be told what to do.

— Dan Pearson, director of international programs at Unbound

"We've had to change our thinking. Instead of thinking of ourselves as a program for 300,000 children, youth and elders, we have to think of ourselves as having 300,000 programs. Why? Because each family is a unique set of people with unique needs, unique goals and dreams, and unique obstacles. And only they know how to overcome those obstacles."

A recent report from the World Bank estimated that 88 to 115 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year as a result of the pandemic, making innovative approaches to eradicating poverty more critical than ever. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 a day.

Unbound's approach to benefit delivery, in which funds are deposited directly into the bank accounts of families, gives families access to funds for their urgent needs, in normal times and in crises such as the pandemic.

"Families know how to wring every ounce of benefit out of each cent, each penny they get," Pearson said.

Unbound must continue to challenge assumptions, learn from the families it serves and innovate, he added.

"Where we are today also shouldn't be the end of the road," Pearson said. "We have to continue to challenge ourselves. What's next?"