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A moment to reflect on our world's number one goal.

Our world nearly came to a halt, almost four years ago. The queues at supermarkets, the clapping for health workers, and daily news briefings about the Covid-19 pandemic now almost seem surreal. Do you know how many people died globally due to the pandemic? On average 2,5 million each year during the first two years, according to estimates by Oxford’s OurWorldInData. Hugely tragic.

Each and every year, double this death toll is taken amongst children under the age of five as a consequence of poverty. Five million children who don’t make it past their fifth birthday each year. I find it mind blowing how little we pay attention to this, in the news, and generally. That we are not directly related to these children make their unnecessary deaths not any less tragic or important.

Today is World Poverty Day, with as theme: “Decent Work and Social Protection: Putting Dignity in Practice for All." The United Nations defined 'No Poverty' as our number one global goal.

Let’s take stock of where we are. An estimated 700 million people live in extreme poverty on less than 1.90 US dollars per day. Half of our world’s population lives on less than 5.50 dollars per day, struggling to meet basic needs like health, education, and access to water and sanitation. Poverty affects children the most, with 20 percent living in extreme poverty globally. 150 million children are engaged in child labour.

Here in the UK, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, more than 4 million children, a third of all children in the UK, live in relative poverty. Many of these children live in temporary accommodation, go to school hungry, have rickets (a disease related to vitamin deficiency), and poor dental health. Children in more impoverished families are 300 percent more likely to experience mental health issues at 11 years old than children in families with average incomes.

Most people would agree these are not the proudest statistics of humanity. But many may wonder if this can really be resolved? And how your business can make a lasting difference? And how to best do so when you're busy meeting targets related to quarterly profits? I have asked these questions myself many times. It ultimately made me change my path completely. First, learning some invaluable lessons working with young women in the Kibera slum in Nairobi. And later, by researching companies from around the globe that manage to tackle poverty, and our other key global issues with more and less successful outcomes.

One thing I have learned is that business leaders are in a far more powerful position to help tackle poverty than they might suspect. There are excellent examples of companies that empower people and their families out of poverty. What we need is for structural solutions to become more part of the mainstream.

Those who have taken the lead and balance it well with commercial goals show what is possible. Such as Goodwill Solutions in England, a FTSE fastest growing company in Europe, who provide logistics services to corporate clients such as Amazon and M&S. Their training and placement opportunities empower people in their local communities with deprived backgrounds to gain work and better futures for themselves and their children.

Tony’s Chocolonely tackle the root cause of extreme poverty and child labour on the cocoa plantations in West-Africa. The average rate of child labour in the chocolate industry is 46.5%. Tony's Chocolonely proactively monitor for illegal labour; and pay more just prices to the farmers. More just prices compared to fairtrade premiums, that are insufficient for farmers to make a living income. By paying better prices, respectively 55 and 61% of the families in the communities where Tony's Chocolonely source their cocoa have been lifted out of poverty.

Business leaders can incorporate a variety of hugely effective ways to tackle poverty as well as our other key global issues as part of their business. Whilst it can be challenging, having a strong purpose and balancing this well with commercial aims can lead to significant business benefits. Such as the ability to attract talented recruits who increasingly care about strong values. Such as increased engagement and productivity of teams. And such as higher customer loyalty and referral rates. Both key drivers that underpin business growth. It is not a surprise that a Deloitte study shows that purpose driven companies now grow three times faster than their competitors. Goodwill Solutions being a prime example as one of the fastest growing companies in Europe. Or Tony’s Chocolonely who are expanding rapidly in Europe and the US.

They are both inspirational examples of going beyond niche markets. A hopeful indication of ‘profits and purpose’ moving beyond 'early adopters' to an 'early majority' towards a tipping point for mainstream change. I believe that those who take the opportunity to be a part of the solution early on, will not only help to create an invaluable difference to our world. They will ultimately reap the biggest rewards as more competitive businesses too.

Melanie van de Velde PhD, MBA, MSc is the Founder of Big Tree Global, providing guidance, training, and immersive impact trips to business leaders in creating a 200-400 better impact return, improved business growth, productivity and brand value. She is the author of LEAD LIKE A GENIUS: How to outgrow the competition and transform our world (to be published January 2024).

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