What do you do when poverty stares you in the face? When it’s five years old, chasing you down the street with a basket full of maize and grabbing your hand? Or when it’s a hesitant smile from a villager, mustering up the courage to speak what’s on her mind? Throughout my time in the fellowship, I witnessed three differing responses to poverty that have radically altered the way I view the world and plan my future.
First, the response of the privileged. The one who uncomfortably averts their eyes from poverty. The problem of poverty is something they don’t see on a day-to-day basis or are trained by society to ignore. This was me, and at last I lived day to day next to the problems my classmates and I have only read about, without a comfortable distance of a book in between us and the problem.
Second, the response of the man or woman who has “made it out” yet fights to do everything he can to distance himself from the problem. My coworkers tell me of their friends who receive a western education and end up returning to Uganda, discouraged by the lack of employment opportunities and institutional support in their countries of education.
Third, the response of the man or woman who stays for the fight: the response that gives me hope. NUCAFE encapsulates this response throughout its entire organization. After interviewing farmers, my partner and I left deeply moved by the impact the organization is making in many lives and generations to come. We saw how farmers were able to grow financially through receiving higher and consistent prices, having access to trainings to transform their farming capabilities, and in general be united as a community through cooperatives.
NUCAFE was essential in providing this support to farmers when no other institutions had done so. Since the liberalization of Ugandan coffee in 1951, the cooperatives that had previously supported coffee farmers collapsed. Rather than the farmers having bargaining power in numbers, they found themselves isolated and targeted as individuals by middlemen and large multinational corporations that underpaid the farmers leaving them in a cycle of poverty.
However, after our time learning about NUCAFE, I left inspired seeing social enterprises challenge the first two responses to facing the issue of poverty in society. I look forward to exploring how organizations such as NUCAFE harness the third response to address poverty through a career in social impact.
About the Author
Kristi Chon is a fourth year Economics major and Sustainability minor. Since her time as a Global Social Benefit Fellow working with the Ugandan social enterprise NUCAFE, she desires to pursue a career of social impact consulting. She currently works as a Program Assistant advancing Replication efforts at Miller Center.