The proportion of people in the world living in extreme poverty has more than halved in the last 20 years, but success does not seem to be stuck in the public consciousness. An excessively negative perception of the world situation leads to hopelessness. Therefore, we must increase knowledge about and rejoice in what gets better, writes Robert Höglund, communications manager at Oxfam Sweden.
What do you think: Has the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in the world increased or decreased in the last 20 years? According to a investigation from the company Motivaction, which we at Oxfam presented last week, 74 percent of Swedes believe that the proportion has increased or remained unchanged. In fact, the proportion of the poor has more than halved.
Swedes are still more well-informed than the general public in many other countries. The same survey showed that in countries such as Germany, the United States and Spain, over 90 percent believe that the proportion of poor people has increased or remained stable. Perhaps the Swedes' knowledge depends, among other things, on Professor Hans Rosling's efforts. Rosling has presented similar studies that have shown the Swedes' excessively negative perception of, for example, the number of children who have been vaccinated against measles and how many girls go to school.
Media and aid organizations partly responsible
In fact, the situation in the world, including the poverty rate and child mortality, is better than ever, but it does not seem to be caught up in the public consciousness. The question is whether there is any other question where the public's perception differs so much from reality.
The misconception may be partly due to the media reporting more often on negative news than on positive ones. Sometimes the media is criticized for this, but studies show that people prefer to read negative news - even those who claim the opposite. A news such as the fact that poverty has been halved will also, for obvious reasons, only en news, while people suffering from disasters and crises become news every day. We also have to take on some of the responsibility. Like the media, we are often better at telling about what is still bad than about what has gotten better.
How to cure hopelessness?
It is extremely important that people have the right worldview. When you work at an anti-poverty relief organization like Oxfam, you sometimes hear things like: "We have sent money at all times, unfortunately there is hardly any change" and "There is no point in trying, everything just gets worse". It is clear that ignorance leads to hopelessness. The above-mentioned survey shows that 50 percent of the respondents believe that their own efforts have no impact on world poverty. 80 percent of Swedes are also pessimistic about the possibility of achieving the global goal of eradicating poverty by 2030.
What should be done to address the hopelessness and increase knowledge about what is getting better? One thing we can all do is actually celebrate the successes properly. Do not let the fact that much is still bad hinder the joy of what has improved. Go and buy a cake or a bottle of wine tonight, celebrate that poverty has more than halved and remember that together we can eradicate it completely.