Oct. 17 is International Day of Poverty Eradication, a day that United Nations uses to prompt conversation and action on poverty and global development. Here at IU Corps, we sat down with Kelly Eskew, clinical associate professor in the Kelley School of Business, to talk about how students can aid in the fight against poverty in Bloomington, the U.S., and internationally. Throughout the year, Eskew teaches Kelley classes on global business ethics and law that include Business & Global Poverty Alleviation, Ethics & the 21st Century Business Leader, Sustainability Law & Policy, and Business & Human Rights in South Africa.
Question: What do students need to know about poverty?
Kelly Eskew: Poverty is hard. Poverty is stressful. People are not poor because they are not smart. People are poor because it is a trap and it is hard to get out. The working poor do not receive the types of programs that allow them to grow any sort of wealth. We are seeing systematic issues that are perpetuating poverty: people are not being paid good wages, nor are they given benefits that make their lives easier and help them save. The better a poor person does, economically, the more we [as a society] take away benefits. The better they do, the more they lose. It’s not enough to criticize the system, you have to creatively attack the problems in the system.
Q: How can students help with poverty alleviation now?
KE: There are three main ways. Pay attention to what you’re buying. Volunteer with nonprofits that support people in poverty. Be an informed voter.
Q: Why is it important to pay attention to what you are buying?
KE: I too was once a student. I realize that students have limited budgets—and that only increases the temptation to buy fast fashion, or cheap goods. But realize when you buy a $10 shirt from a department store, someone in the supply chain is not being paid fairly. My colleague Gerry Hays puts it best when he says, “A lot of people think you must have the funds, then you can do what you think is best, and thus be the person and consumer you want to be. But that’s not the case. First you need be the consumer and embody those values—then you can do what you think is best, and then you’ll have the results you were hoping for.”
Q: In this context, what does it mean to be an informed voter?
KE: Pay attention to what political candidates are saying about poverty and if you care about it, vote accordingly. There are many discussions about the structural issues surrounding poverty. Be looking for candidates who are interested in addressing these. You may hear about a huge CEO talking about solving poverty, but are their companies lobbying for structural changes to address poverty—or against them? Are they suppressing employee efforts to unionize? Or are they scheduling employees inconsistently to where they can’t even make consistent child care arrangements? These are the types of things that contribute to the poverty in society and things that candidates should be addressing.
Q: How do we “fix” poverty?
KE: I don’t have the answers. These are complicated problems and they need complicated solutions. We need thinkers and thought leaders from all backgrounds. Every discipline teaches us to solve problems from different perspectives. Lawyers analyze problems very differently than social workers, who are different than scientists, who are different than businesspeople. It’s true, sometimes bringing a diverse group can drive everyone crazy—because they all think differently—but that’s where you get the best ideas. If you are going to solve the problems of poverty, you can’t sit in a conference room and talk about it. You need to ask people what they need. Your background can help you provide that, but you must ask and then listen.