In the first presidential debate, both candidates stated that nuclear weapons are the greatest threat facing humanity (one of the few points on which they agreed). Nuclear weapons are a big threat, potentially. Some, including President Obama, make a strong argument that climate change is the biggest threat. Clearly, we must continue to develop informed and forward-thinking solutions to both these problems.
Poverty, however, is a far more destructive and immediate threat. Abject poverty directly threatens the lives of more than a billion people worldwide. Indirectly, economic inequalities create the environments for the spread of disease, social unrest, and terrorism (all of which top many lists of the greatest threats to humanity).
What is the best way to improve people’s lives? How can we reduce poverty and increase economic opportunities? How can we call ourselves an advanced civilization without addressing these questions? In fact, there are many ways to accomplish these goals. More than at any other time in history, it is likely to find somebody working to improve these situations in almost any given corner of the globe. This is the new “local knowledge”. We must move beyond simply working with local communities to solve their problems with outside knowledge. This is the traditional community participatory approach to development programs. I suggest that now we must learn how local communities are already working to solve their own problems. And then applying this knowledge to similar problems faced in other communities around the world.
My doctoral research is a pilot program to test this theory. I’m looking at a huge problem in a very difficult place to solve it: Urban Migration in China. It’s a problem we find in industrializing countries around the world. Please see my project proposal here. (For a longer version with citations, click here.) I would greatly appreciate any insights (or potential funding sources).