Developing strategies to end hunger

Thank You, Maria Otero


Maria Otero
Maria Otero and me at the SID Gala Dinner Last Week

Hunger and poverty are cumbersome, tangled, and unruly concepts—that much is clear on the surface. The hundreds of millions of people who struggle to disentangle themselves for the sake of daily survival know this in their bodies, minds, and souls. And those of us who work on hunger and poverty each day share just a portion of their frustration. Whether you labor at a food bank to meet the endless lines of need, confront deadly international phenomena like food insecurity and malnutrition, or even brave the policy front to sort out the root causes—you understand the moments of disappointment. And if you are honest, you’ll admit that they can at times bring you to the troughs of exhaustion and despair, where you doubt the utility of your work and even the basic truths that inspired it.

Last week, I was in a trough—around the same time that I attended the Society for International Development’s annual Gala Dinner here in Washington, DC, an event held to honor the dedicated work of development superstars who live out  the basic truths that we sometimes doubt. This year the spotlight rested on the person of the State Department’s Maria Otero (Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights) and with her, on the concept of human dignity. Webster defines dignity as “the quality of being worthy…” We say every human being is worthy because every human being possesses an innate capacity to flourish—to live a robust, productive, and fulfilling life—and to contribute to the greater flourishing of all humanity.

Every human being.

If you accept, really accept, this concept, then an assessment of things as they are can and should outrage you. The injustice—that the place and time of one’s birth are the most important factors in determining how life will unfold—seems to stand in direct defiance of human dignity. But, as Otero reminded us, we can’t ever settle for this injustice. She is a person who fully understood the ongoing conflict between reality and our ideals—but creatively worked to coerce the former into submission to latter. As president of ACCION International, she introduced the world to microfinance, now considered a fundamental poverty-fighting tool that empowers people with few material resources with loans to build their own productive businesses. She says it’s an idea she was once considered crazy for, because it rests entirely on human dignity. It says that a loan to a materially poor person can work, because that person is worthy of it—capable, creative, and dedicated.

MicrocreditAccess to Microcredit has grown dramatically since the 1990s

Today, more than 70 million of the world’s poorest families have access to microcredit, and that number has been growing by more than 35 percent each year. The story of microfinance is a story of human dignity. Otero and people like her have bet their lives on it. We must too, if we are to meet the problems of hunger and poverty with the seriousness, determination, and hope that they demand.

So thank you, Maria Otero, for pulling me out of the trough. 

Derek profile thumbnail
Derek Schwabe
 is the 2013 Hunger Report project fellow at Bread for the World Institute.


« Show, Don't Tell "Eradication" of Hunger Is Now FAO's Top Goal »


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