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The Answer To Global Poverty 

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

Many people are shocked to hear that the poverty level in Southeast Kansas is nearly fifty percent. Some don’t believe it. While I can’t verify the exact number, by observation not only of our part of Kansas, but the entire state, indeed the entire country; I can tell that poverty is substantial. In many parts of the world, conditions are worse. Exacerbating poverty are the problems of drug, alcohol and other addictions that prevent people from taking care of themselves and being productive members of society.   

Governments have never been able to figure out how to bring people out of poverty. They attempt to cover the basic needs; food, shelter, clothing, etc. but are usually very inefficient. Bureaucracy, graft and corruption divert many of the resources aimed at helping the poor. Faith-based and benevolent organizations are usually more efficient with the basic needs. Much of the time, there’s an emphasis on education too. All of those things are essential, but they treat the symptoms, not the cause. People are born with an innate need to be self-sufficient, with an ability to take care of themselves and also to have a purpose in life in helping others. When this innate need is not met, people lose hope for the future.  

When people lose hope, they are more prone to make bad decisions regarding their personal and professional lives. This is part of the root cause of the employee “soft skills” problem nearly all businesses complain about. Employees that don’t have much hope for their future aren’t too worried about getting to work on time or doing a good job when they do show up. This is why classes that tell people how to have good soft skills are ineffective. Soft skills have to come from inside. 

Only fulfilling the basic needs today does not restore hope for the future. Google “hope” and you’ll see a wide variety of definitions. Most have to do with “wanting a particular thing to happen”. That’s not what we’re talking about here. One phrase I found stands out; “a strong and confident expectation.” That’s what is missing; the sense that they, themselves can influence and control their lives, make their own way and help others. If we can restore that hope, that “strong and confident expectation” with which people were born, we’ll start to see alleviation of poverty around the world.  

Why is it that some people are able to rise above poverty and lack of hope while others do not? I think it’s a matter of choice. There are plenty of stories about people who grew up an all kinds of desperate situations and yet turned out to be successful and helpful members of society. Most of them at some point, made a conscious decision to have a different life. 

 

This may sound strange to people that haven’t experienced the feeling or seen the self-confidence instilled in others my making things they didn’t think they could makeWe can give people hope by instilling an entrepreneurial mindset and showing them how to make things. Together those two disciplines will give people the creativity and problem-solving ability they need to begin making better lives regardless of their current circumstances. At Fab Lab ICC we use the psychological term “self-efficacy” to describe this. David Kelley at the Stanford d.school uses the term “creative confidence.” As we increase people’s self-efficacy, so we increase their hope, their strong and confident expectation for a better future. 

We changed our Fab Lab ICC mission to simply strive to increase the self-efficacy of all those participating in the Fab Lab experience. We believe our passionate blending of entrepreneurial mindset and the Fab Lab experience helps to further increase self-efficacy. We want to offer the Fab Lab experience to younger and younger participants, seeking to change the conversations in the homes of these youth, many of which are in poverty, perhaps even getting the parents and family members involved.  

All of our schools at all levels, academic or trade related should include making things as part of the curriculum. It makes a huge difference in the ability to learn for all students. Author Ted Dintersmith discovered this in a 50-state tour as he chronicled in “What School Could Be.”  

While governments and benevolent organizations around the world should be working to provide for the basic necessities of the poor, the only hope of really improving the lives of those living in poverty must come from within. We can help by developing a creative confidence and entrepreneurial mindset while nurturing an ability to make things.  

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks. Archive columns at jimcorrell.com.  


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