Poverty is big business

by Jennifer Sierra

POVERTY, INC. | Official Trailer from POVERTY, INC. | The Movie on Vimeo.

We recently screened a film through Northern Kentucky University titled, “Poverty, Inc.” The documentary has won over 30 film festival honors and was drawn from over 200 interviews from more than 20 different countries. The film’s purpose is to make the viewer see that people who give are part of the problem with poverty continuing to grow in the world.

“The reason there will be no change is because the people who stand to lose from change have all the power. And the people who stand to gain from change have none of the power.”


Their research shows the rich patronize the poor and the poor resent the rich. The same broken system of charity is called “paternalism”. Many of the companies that were founded on the basis of getting items and money to countries in need after earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters have become very wealthy serving the poor and needy. The CEOs and the government officials are the primary beneficiaries of the generosity of others.

One of the film’s focus was on the misguided notion of sending items to poor countries. Many items gathered to send to other countries simply aren’t what they need. Thousands of winter coats and boots have been sent to Haiti after their last natural disaster. This country simply doesn’t need those items because their climate is tropical. What happens to these items? They sit in warehouses or in landfills and rot. They become more of a problem for the already troubled area. Water is too expensive to ship and that becomes a problem. Giving cash to organizations doesn’t work either. Much of the cash never gets to the people that need it. It goes into the pockets of those people that operate the agencies which in turn, run the charities.

Big industries are a problem as well. Large rice companies have gone into Haiti and used government subsidies to make their rice available to Haitians. Now the local rice farmers can’t compete with the subsidized rice and there is so much rice in Haiti that the citizens eat rice 3 times a day because it is so cheap. Big industries got the benefit of the government subsidies and they are the only people profiting. The local farmers are out of business.

Solar power panels were sent to Haiti for free. There was already a company on the island that built and sold solar panels. When solar panels were coming in from other countries, the local company was almost put out of business. It is hard to sell solar panels when the government is handing them out for free.

TOMS shoe company also created a problem by sending their shoes to the needy in other countries. They realized that by giving their products away in other nations, they were putting the local shoe businesses out of business. Thereby, they were adding to the poor population and creating a larger problem. Now, TOMS is creating jobs in other countries by opening factories.

The discovery by the film’s producers was that by giving the poor handouts, you are telling them, “You aren’t good enough or smart enough to make it on your own.” By building infrastructure and facilitating economic development, you aren’t giving the poor a handout, you are giving them a chance.

This movie can be rented or purchased on



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