Today, people from across this country gather to elect the president of the United States. Whatever your party affiliation, we can all agree on the stories that have galvanized our nation since its inception. Stories of opportunity, stories of triumph over adversity, stories of justice – these are the stories at the heart of the American character.
In the last 100 years, our character has been forged through numerous trials and triumphs and we have seen that revolutions at home have truly global implications. From the women’s suffrage movement to the civil rights movement, we recognized as citizens that voices among us were not truly represented and that our collective dignity rests in the ability of our brothers and sisters to work alongside us. We proved that we can achieve remarkable things together.
We saw the birth of the automobile, air and space travel, and the Internet revolutionize our sense of what is possible; we saw the implications of technology and innovation. Where the printing press caused a revolution, now the computer and the cell phone forge a more interconnected future for all of us. They have redefined economies and cultures, and drawn us together more closely not just as Americans, but as global citizens.
Today, our notion of community is shifting. Eighty-seven percent of the world now has access to mobile phones. More than a billion people, one seventh of the world’s population, are on Facebook. We are more connected now than ever before. Vast wealth and opportunity has grown off the backs of the innovation of the last two decades.
Amidst this technological revolution, a quiet but related revolution is taking place. Since 1981, half of the world’s population has moved out of extreme poverty, the most severe type of poverty, defined by the World Bank as living under $1.25 a day. Yet currently, 1.3 billion people still live in conditions of extreme poverty, without access to even the most basic opportunities many of us take for granted, like access to clean water, basic health care and even a primary education.
It is difficult during tough economic times to focus our limited resources on others living in extreme poverty while so many contend with poverty at home, but it is exactly what we need to do; not simply because it is a matter of justice, but also because of the tremendous opportunity latent within the rise of our fellow global citizens.
Imagine the future if the 61 million children around the world currently denied an education had access to school. Would they grow to be the future unemployed, or innovators and consumers that create the markets and democracies of tomorrow? In 2012, we need to look at the poor among us not as a burden, but rather see the opportunity in our rising together.
Imagine what is possible if the 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty had an equal shot at life, if they were educated, active citizens creating new and more robust economic opportunity. Imagine if relief, recovery and reform translated to better quality aid, fairer trade, and the transparency and accountability that is central to democracy and good governance. In partnership, we can create new markets, new homes for American goods, private sector investment, promote trade overseas, and in so doing create more jobs at home. I hope we as citizens can call on our leadership to take action, to recognize that domestic prosperity is inextricably linked to the prosperity of our fellow global citizens.
I greatly admire Bill Gates. I’ve often thought about how his belief in the personal computer revolutionized our World, and how the vast resources he amassed are now being focused on solving some of the world’s greatest challenges. In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell posits that genius is not just about talent, but also about opportunity. Gates had 10,000 hours on a tool few others had access to by his early 20s; that access, that opportunity fueled his genius.
Even if Bill Gates was a one-in-a-million kind of genius, one of those innovators whose labors revolutionize all of our lives, think about the compound effect of 1,300 (a highly conservative estimation on the latent potential in 1.3 billion fellow citizens) other geniuses that could unleash and improve our lives beyond measure if they were simply provided with an opportunity.
That is what I dream about this election, a world where Americans see the rise of our nation tied to the rise of our fellow global citizens.
Michael is the U.S. country director for the Global Poverty Project. He is a social entrepreneur focused on building movements for social impact. He was a Fulbright scholar and studied community-building strategies in Sri Lanka.