By Jackie Rothmeier

Poverty, Inc. is a documentary created by Michael Matheson Miller that dives deeply into the ideas of global charity, social entrepreneurship, and integrity. While many see global charity rooted in an overarching moral integrity, much of its influence and contribution in developing states has negative consequences that must be addressed. We, the viewers, are given a context in which to trace our ideas about charity and its overall impact in the global poverty industry.

This industry disrupts traditional business cycles and supply chains, as mass-quantities of relief are forced onto local markets and often drown out all local production. In this situation, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are creating environments where self-sustaining economies and states fall victim to aid-reliance. Aid programs deter self-reliance, economic stability, and even political stability, as leaders are no longer directly responsible for the livelihoods of their constituents. As consumers are offered these once-competitive goods for free as a form of relief, competition halts and producers lose their value and place in the market. These goods, most commonly seen in the form of food and clothing, are a great step forward for these communities in times of emergency. However, the western world has much to learn when it comes to removing these charities and NGOs at an appropriate time in order to restore the integrity of the economy back to the host-nation.

In order to begin to combat this cycle of disempowerment, there must be increased emphasis on strict guidelines and timelines for USAID and other western imperial forces of aid. This must be balanced in a way that does not disincentivize these critical actors from getting involved in times of need, yet clearly states appropriate and responsible exit-strategies.

Additionally, social enterprises are highly acclaimed in this documentary as sustainable, responsible, and empowering forces for good in these developing states. Best practices were developed to support the traditional business framework, as companies like TOMS and others with the “buy-one-get-one” model were ridiculed as ineffective and ludicrous solutions to the global poverty industry. When well-executed social enterprises are implemented in markets, entire communities are able to thrive, with increased employment, empowerment, and dignity. The grassroots ideology is also emphasized, where community needs are met by and for community leaders themselves.

Overall, this documentary was extremely well-done and is worth a watch for all those interested in global poverty or international affairs. If your perception of nonprofits and NGOs is currently rose-tinted and glowing, Poverty, Inc. offers a counterargument that should be addressed. Additionally, as the holiday season approaches, consider options outside of the traditional donation list and look towards sending your resources to more sustainable options.

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