Friday, May 1, 2009

Following the Poor out of Poverty

by Oscar Perry Abello

If Hernando de Soto was overestimating how much wealth the world’s poor had accumulated by a factor of two, they would still hold twenty times the value of all foreign aid received since 1945. Unfortunately most if not all of those assets are held outside the formal legal structure for property in their respective countries. A legal structure does exist; but for lack of political will it has not adapted to suit contemporary needs.

All across sub-Saharan Africa, elected officials are taking advantage of the legal vacuum for property rights in their countries. Governments are selling off land to foreign investors looking to profit from increased biofuel demand and food shortages. While the investment will bring jobs and productive capacity, these governments are granting property rights to foreigners without regard or compensation for rural entrepreneurs that have lived and worked the land for generations.

Property rights are only the beginning of problems facing rural entrepreneurs, and nonprofits are on the front-lines of their struggles, giving rural entrepreneurs a larger presence as a political constituency. The Private Enterprise Foundation (PEF) is an umbrella group of business organizations that has several programs designed to bring rural entrepreneurs into the political process. You can find a detailed look at PEF's efforts here.

Business associations are not typically thought of as nonprofits, but they are community builders and political advocates like others. Their focus is simply the community of for-profit enterprises, which happens to include rural entpreneurs/farmers/three-quarters of the world's poor. Not to mention the fact that with a greater political voice for rural entrepreneurs, the people in poverty can lead the charge to eradicate poverty.

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