8 world-changing solutions to poverty

Updated Aug 28, 2023
World poverty has been on a steady decrease for years – and that’s great news. As an international community, we’ve worked together to learn many of the best solutions to poverty.

But globally, extreme poverty is expected to rise in 2021 for the first time in more than two decades. The World Bank forecast that in 2021, severe poverty would increase to between 143 million and 163 million people. Even here in Canada, poverty rates are on the rise.

Why is this happening? Because threats like a global pandemic can compound the impact of conflict, climate change and debt. Not only can the impacts of the coronaviruses slow poverty reduction progress – they can reverse it.

As we consider rising poverty, it’s important to remember this: we can reverse the trend. True, an average of 3.1 million babies and young children die from malnutrition each year. But malnutrition – like many aspects of poverty – is preventable.

In this article, we’ll share eight ways to help reduce poverty. You’ll find something here that speaks to you – no matter your values. We’ll offer you simple ways to get involved, saving lives and protecting futures. How to end poverty? Together.

Below are eight effective solutions to poverty:
  1. Educate children
  2. Provide clean water
  3. Ensure basic health care
  4. Empower a girl or woman
  5. Improve childhood nutrition
  6. Support environmental programs
  7. Reach children in conflict
  8. Prevent child marriage

1. Educate children

Education is one of the best solutions to poverty. Globally speaking, even the most basic education – reading, writing and arithmetic – can open doors for children that would otherwise be locked tight. But it’s more than that.
Many experts say that the cycle of poverty simply can’t be broken unless children receive education.

In Honduras, a primary-age girl in school uniform reads a book at her desk.
In Honduras, the fact that this primary-aged student can read this book unlocks a whole series of doors to brighter futures. Photo: Jon Warren

Many experts agree that educating more children – particularly girls – is the solution to poverty the world has been looking for. Yet, even before COVID-19, 617 million youth globally lacked basic math and literacy skills.

Here’s a sense of what can happen in the life of a family in an impoverished region, without education:
  • In Armenia, a 12-year-old girl left school to help provide for her family, collecting scrap metal on the streets.
  • Without education, she may have few other employment options, and is likely to continue with menial pay into adulthood.
  • As uneducated adult, she will likely struggle to provide the necessities of life for her own children – including schooling.
  • She is unable to understand information critical to her children’s well-being – a leaflet about child nutrition or COVID precautions, for example.
  • She may be injured or killed on the job, or have to migrate in search of work, leaving children with adult responsibilities and unable to attend school.
  • Without education, the cycle of poverty continues.
Imagine what might have been different, had this girl been able to stay in school. A better job for higher pay – or even university. She could have given back in her community and provided more effectively for her own children.

When seeking ways to reduce poverty, World Vision:

2. Provide clean water

Ensuring children have access to clean water is one of World Vision’s top solutions to poverty. Safe water close to home can protect children from water-borne diseases, and free them from long, often dangerous treks to fetch water. This gives them more time to be in school, learning.

A woman and girl washing their hands at a faucet on the ground.
In Vietnam, Truyền (right) has the chance to grow up safer, healthier and better educated, thanks to this simple tap close to her home. Photo: Ngo Thi Hong Tham

According to the World Health Organization, one in three people globally can’t access safe drinking water. And without clean water close to home, breaking out of poverty is highly unlikely.

Here’s a sense of what can happen in the life of a family in an impoverished region, without clean water:
  • In Mauritania, a girl has only contaminated water to drink.
  • Without safe water, she may be sick or even die from water-borne illnesses such as diarrhea.
  • Since she is drinking from untreated water sources, lack of sanitation is also a deadly problem. (Globally, at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with feces.)
  • The child is exposed to diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio.
  • She is required to fetch water for the family, perhaps several times a day, covering several kilometres on foot.
  • On the way, she’s vulnerable to danger from animals, poisonous insects or snakes, as well as physical and sexual assault.
  • As she grows, frequent illnesses and water chores may keep her away from school more often, threatening her education.
  • Her dreams can be severely compromised, due to illness and disrupted education.
  • Without clean water, the cycle of poverty continues.
Imagine what might have been different, had the child’s family had access to clean, safe water, closer to home. The child may have been free from water-related illnesses. She could have attended school more regularly.

When seeking ways to reduce poverty, World Vision:

3. Ensure basic health care

Experts agree that affordable, accessible, basic health care is a critical solution to poverty. According to the World Health Organization, about 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year, due to out-of-pocket spending on health.

In Malawi, parents and children wait in the waiting room of health clinic.
In Malawi, World Vision constructed the Chimbalanga Health Centre to treat families in the community for water-borne diseases like diarrhea, as well as for preventable illnesses like pneumonia and malaria. Photo: Jon Warren

To reduce poverty, affordable services should be available when and where families need them. They should include health promotion and prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.
Here’s a sense of what might happen to a family in an impoverished region, without basic, affordable healthcare:
  • In Bolivia, a little boy develops pneumonia from sleeping on the cold ground.
  • His painful coughs produce mucus, his diarrhea is constant, his fever spikes to 40.6 C.
  • He needs antibiotics and oral rehydration fluids to survive.
  • The free hospital is 22 km away, too far for him to walk, even with his mother’s help.
  • The mother exhausts her savings for an examination and medicine, from an out-of-pocket clinic closer to home.
  • Those savings had been earmarked for seed for the family’s grain crop.
  • The boy recovers, but the family can’t plant a crop this season.
  • They fall deeper into poverty.
Imagine what might have been different, had there been free health care and medicine closer to home. Or even a trained community health care worker, who might have made a diagnosis and arrangements for transportation to the hospital.

When seeking ways to reduce poverty, World Vision:

4. Empower a girl or woman

Societies with greater gender equality enjoy more sustainable development and faster economic growth. Empowered women are role models for girls in their communities. And they are more likely to send their own daughters to school.

Nepal, a woman smiles proudly while holding up a handful of bills in the local currency. A group of women sit behind her.
In Nepal, a women’s savings’ group, supported by World Vision, offers women the rare chance to borrow funds to start small businesses. Groups like these are helping empower women and girls the world over. Photo: Nissa Thapa

Yet around the world, women and girls are often drastically limited in their options and opportunities. Girls and women have all the same human rights as men and boys. When those rights are ignored, overlooked or violated, not only do women and girls suffer. Entire communities get stuck in a cycle of poverty.

According to the United Nations, less than 50 per cent of working-aged women are in the labour market, a figure that has barely budged in the last 25 years. In Northern Africa and Western Asia, women still spend over seven times as much time as men doing unpaid domestic and care work.

With so few options available, perhaps it’s not surprising that globally, a disproportionate number of girls remain out of school, compared with boys. Or that  two-thirds of the 750 million adults without basic literacy skills are female.

Many experts say that gender equality programming is critical for any other solutions to poverty to be effective. Here’s a sense of what happens in a family, without it:
  • In Argentina, a father becomes injured at work, drastically reducing the family income.
  • His wife earns very little, sewing in a garment factory.
  • She dreams of starting her tailoring business but can’t afford a sewing machine.
  • The parents can no longer afford school fees for their five children.
  • Their two daughters leave school to work alongside their mother in the factory, joining the estimated 160 million child labourers worldwide.
  • The father recovers and returns to work, but the family is behind in rent; they can’t justify sending the girls back to school.
  • The two daughters continue with what may become a lifetime of menial, poorly paid labour.
  • Both daughters are married by 15 and 16 and pregnant by 16 and 17, continuing the cycle of poverty.
Imagine how things might have been different, if the mother had continued with her education – or received micro-finance support. What if the daughters had been educated? If they’d been able to access education in reproductive health and modern birth control?

When seeking ways to reduce poverty, World Vision looks to combine gender equality work with other kinds of programs. For example, we:

5. Improve childhood nutrition

According to the World Health Organization, eliminating malnutrition is one of the most cost-effective solutions to poverty. The developmental, economic, social and medical impacts of malnutrition are serious and lasting. It affects individuals as well as their families, communities and countries.

Nourishing babies and young children is one of the best ways to fight poverty. Doing so in this critical window can improve children’s well-being for a lifetime – not just as survivors. But as students, earners and leaders.
In Myanmar, a mother and her newborn baby lie together, with pillows, on a woven mat.
In Myanmar, World Vision Canada’s ENRICH program – in partnership with the Government of Canada – is working to ensure pregnant mothers, newborns and babies are nourished during the critical first 1,000 days of life. Photo: Paul Bettings

Conversely, malnourished babies and young children can become stunted for a lifetime – both physically and cognitively. In 2020, an estimated 149 million children under five were estimated to be stunted.

Here’s a sense of what can happen in a family in an impoverished region, without childhood nutrition:
  • In South Sudan, extreme drought has withered a family’s crops, leaving each person with just one meal a day.
  • The mother is malnourished when she becomes pregnant with a baby boy.
  • Her developing fetus is deprived of key nutrients at a critical time of life – in the womb.
  • The baby is born underweight, and there’s little breastmilk for him.
  • The little boy grows up stunted, physically and cognitively.
  • He is frequently ill and struggles to understand what’s being taught in school.
  • The child is unable to complete primary school, affecting his prospects for a lifetime.
  • He joins thousands of children in his region who are stunted, affecting the economic development of their community and region.
Imagine how things might have been different – had the mother received enough nutritious food in pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Her son could have benefitted immensely.

When seeking ways to reduce poverty, World Vision focuses heavily on childhood nutrition. For example, we:

6. Support environmental programs

Climate change is drastically impacting poverty. In fact, experts agree that any viable solutions to poverty must include environmental programming – not just in poor countries, but around the world.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change alone is expected to cause approximately 250,000 extra deaths per year. That’s from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress alone, says the World Health Organization.

A long line of children in Guatemala walk alongside a ploughed field, carrying young trees to plant.
In 2011, children Guatemala helped World Vision plant trees, to reverse the effects of deforestation due to firewood gathering. They grew up with more knowledge than their parents, about ways to protect the environment. Photo: Luis Gonzales

Seventy-five per cent of the world’s poor living in rural areas count on natural resources such as forests, lakes and oceans for their livelihoods. Extreme weather is playing havoc with these. And children in low-income countries are suffering the most.

Here’s a sense of what might happen in a family in an impoverished region, without environmental programs:
  • In Ethiopia, a family relies on wood for all their cooking.
  • Each day, a young boy walks with his mother to the forest to gather fuel.
  • The family uses it for cooking, heating water and selling at market.
  • They are among the country’s 112 million people relying on firewood as their main fuel source.
  • This contributes to deforestation and soil degradation, reducing crop yields and changing rainfall patterns.
  • As the years go by, the family’s water source dries up, fuel becomes less widely available, and their income drops.
  • The boy and his siblings grow up malnourished, unable to attend school because they walk longer distances each day for fuel and water.
  • Without school, clean water and nourishing food, the cycle of poverty continues.
Imagine how things could have been different for this family – with different types of fuel and other income besides firewood. The forests might have been preserved. The children might have attended school, preparing for better jobs in the future.

When seeking ways to reduce poverty, World Vision often combines environmental programming with other work in a region. For example, we:

7. Reach children in conflict

The number of people globally who live near conflict has doubled since 2007, according to The World Bank. That’s critical to know. Because in regions where conflict is prevalent, repeated cycles of violence and turbulence often keep families trapped in poverty.

Forced displacement is a key factor in perpetuating – or even worsening – poverty. More than 82 million people are currently displaced as a result of conflict, persecution, human rights violations and violation, according to the UNHCR.

In South Sudan, two women receive boxes of food rations from a World Vision worker.
In South Sudan, food rations distributed by groups like World Vision can make the difference between life and death for families who have fled violent conflict. Photo: Eugene Combo

When people flee their homes, they leave behind shelter, security and livelihood, creating situations of extreme poverty.

Moreover, new generations of children are starting their lives in poverty born of conflict. For example, an estimated 75,971 Rohingya babies have entered the world in the world’s largest refugee camp since 2017.

Here’s a sense of what might happen as a result of conflict, without programs to fight poverty:
  • In Syria, a family flees their town on foot during a rocket attack.
  • They walk for 10 days to reach neighbouring Lebanon, where they can afford to rent just a single room.
  • The parents find menial jobs that only just pay the rent, leaving nothing for food and other life necessities.
  • To help make ends meet, their four children panhandle 12 hours each day.
  • Two of the kids are beaten up – their proceeds stolen – and a third is sexually assaulted.
  • Lebanon’s school system is overloaded – with an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in the country – so the children can’t attend.
  • They embark on a lifetime of destitution their parents never knew as children.
Imagine how things might have been different for this family. Had they received assistance with shelter, food, medical care and education, the children might be growing up with brighter opportunities for the future.

When seeking ways to reduce poverty, World Vision reaches into the world’s toughest places, meeting children wherever they are. For example, we:

8. Prevent child marriage

Child marriage is a fundamental violation of a girls’ inherent rights. Poverty is often a cause of child marriage but also, a life-long consequence. Why?

Because girls forced into marriage typically leave school early and become pregnant quickly. Without education, girls can’t secure good jobs and may remain poor and unempowered for a lifetime. Without sufficient family income, their own daughters may not be able to attend school.

In India, a member of a girls’ advocacy group faces the camera, looking determined. Behind her stand other group members, arms folded.
In India, members of the Hena Girl Power group play an instrumental role in stopping child marriages in their community. Poverty resulting from COVID-19 has prompted more families to consider the practice. Photo: Neola D’Souza

Child marriage also has a long-lasting impact on communities and societies. Experts agree the practice is an impediment to social and economic development. Yet each year, an estimated 12 million girls marry against their will. More than 650 million women and girls worldwide married as children.

Here’s a sense of what might happen in a family facing poverty, as a result of child marriage:
  • In the Central African Republic, conflict and drought force a family to flee their community.
  • After four months living rough while looking for work, their funds are about to run out.
  • A man they meet expresses interest in marrying their 14-year-old daughter.
  • The ‘bride price’ he offers could feed the girl’s family for the next year.
  • Reluctantly, the parents agree, to ensure all their children are provided for.
  • The daughter is devastated, but living far from community, has no one to appeal to for help.
  • As a wife, she is expected to leave school for good – another heartbreak.
  • Before turning 25 she gives birth to eight children, only five of whom survive.
  • She is unable to help pay for her children’s life necessities, including education.
  • Two of her daughters are married as children, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Imagine how things might have been different, had the daughter not been a child bride. She might have continued with her education, secured a good job and made her own decisions about marriage. She might have helped educate her own daughters, giving them more options in life.

When seeking ways to reduce poverty, World Vision works to protect girls from the dangers of child marriage by: