Evans/Katsoudas: Political Will Required in Poverty Alleviation

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(R-L). Co-Founder/CEO, Global Citizen, Hugh Evans and Chief People Officer at Cisco, Francine Katsoudas

The Co-Founder/CEO, Global Citizen, Hugh Evans and Chief People Officer at Cisco, Francine Katsoudas, spoke with Emma Okonji on their recent partnership to eradicate global extreme poverty by 2030, using various forms of technologies. Excerpts:

Tell us about Global Citizen and your mission to Nigeria?
Global Citizen is a worldwide movement community for the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030 and for us Nigeria is a critical nation in the fight to end extreme poverty. Many state governors in Nigeria, including the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, have affirmed their commitment to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We are aware that part of the political campaign promises of most of the governors were geared towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include eradicating poverty in their states and we are glad about this. When we visited the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, recently, he also affirmed the commitment of the federal government to invest in human capital and eradicate poverty in the country, and we are excited about all these commitments coming from the state and federal governments of Nigeria. When the Vice President talked about federal government’s commitment in investing in human capital development, he mentioned areas like health, education and food security across Nigeria, which is critical to the achievement of SDGs. So when Global Citizen and Cisco embarked upon a huge partnership recently, it was focused around what can be done to accelerate progress towards the achievement of SDGs over the next 18 months, and we all realised that working in Nigeria is in line with what Cisco is already doing in Networking Academies (NetAcads) in Nigeria, which underscores what we will be doing together with Cisco in mobilising youths to take action to achieve SGGs in Nigeria. It is critical that we achieve long them progress in this area and that is exactly why we are in Nigeria for this visit.

Global Citizen and Cisco recently announced a partnership to work together in eradicating poverty by 2030. Of what benefit is this partnership to developing economies?

Global Citizen focuses on eradicating extreme poverty and the partnership with Cisco will help in achieving the target. We are looking at it from two fronts by using the Cisco Networking Academy and access to technology and skills development to achieve the target on poverty eradication by the year 2030. We believe that the two major areas that could help economies get out of poverty are education and digital access, and we are going to focus on these two key areas to achieve the target, since we are closely aligned in our thoughts and agenda.

Given the task about eradicating global extreme poverty, what makes you think you can achieve the target through this partnership by 2030?

The good news is that the world has made enormous progress in the eradication of poverty globally. About 36 years ago, 52 per cent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty but today, that figure has reduced to 12 per cent. So it is possible to eradicate poverty if we continue to work together to address it, but we need the political will of governments and the social will of the citizens, because it is not going to succeed without collaboration. The partnership between Global Citizen and Cisco is therefore critical because we need the participation of the private sector, the government and the civil society and if everyone comes together to play their roles, we will definitely achieve our goals throughout strategies. Last year, during the 100 anniversary celebration of Nelson Mandela of South Africa, the CEO of Cisco, Chuck Robbins, got on stage and announced the Global Citizen/Cisco Youth Leadership Prize, which was focused on finding a young person from around the world with exceptional work to eradicate extreme poverty. The prize was awarded to a young female activist from Kenya, who was focused on food security in Kenya, with innovative technology to unlock M-Pesa, which is the local currency for mobile money in Kenya and the currency was used in providing school meals for children across Kenya. She started with just a few hundreds of people and scaled up to thousands and she had a dream of having over a million children attended to at schools to enhance food security for Kenyan children. She believed that when children are fed, they could have great understanding for learning at their schools. So together with a young lady, the power of Cisco technology and investment and the Global Citizen platform, we can mobilise to archive greater results. Although ending extreme poverty will not happen overnight but we have to begin the process and we need the federal government of Nigeria, the Lagos State government and other state governments to play their part to achieve huge success in eradicating extreme poverty in Nigeria.

How will Nigerians benefit from the global initiative?

Yes, it is a global initiative and the citizens of every country around the globe are the targeted beneficiaries. Ending extreme poverty is a major goal for United Nations and that is what Global Citizen and Cisco are also driving at, in line with our goals. Cisco has a lot of projects deigned to eradicate extreme poverty, hence we went into partnership with Global Citizen that have same vision like Cisco.

How will you describe poverty in line with the partnership initiative and how do you intend to use technology in eradicating poverty in 2030?

The notion of poverty in itself is relative and so we need to define it based on the purchasing power of citizens in a given country, which the amount of money someone can pay for a particular item in a particular economy, based on the inflation and the standard of currency in the economy. So we define it just the same way the World Bank defines poverty, which pegs it at people living below $1.90 per day. It is also a case where children die for lack of basic immunization or lack basic healthcare and access to quality education. According to World Bank, 10 per cent of the world’s population lives on less than $1.90 a day and 2.1 billion people lack reliable access to safely-managed drinking water. Based on that, we see Nigeria just overtop India with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty. So we are focusing our initiative not only in Nigeria, but also across West Africa countries where poverty rate is equally high and we will be using Cisco assisted technology solutions to address the challenges posed by poverty in these regions, with a view to eradicating poverty by 2030. We will use the available technology to monitor government and ensure they keep to the promise they made to their citizens on implementation of policies that will boost food security. We do this because most often, political leaders make lots of promises to alleviate the sufferings of the people but do not keep to such promises as time goes by. So our Job as a group is to make sure government implements all policies made for the common good of the people. So we do more of advocacy to protect the rights and privileges of citizens.

What role will technology play in driving the initiative?

Technology will play a significant role in entire process of the partnership deal between Global Citizen and Cisco. We have since recognised that technology would enable us to touch and affect the people to engage them and to make them productive. So we are looking forward to bringing Cisco technology to achieve this by creating amazing experience for the entire world. Cisco is a technology company and we will leverage on its technological expertise to use the Cisco technology to drive the initiative. The Cisco technology is one of the things that attracted Global Citizen to enter into the partnership with Cisco. Technology is changing everything in all sectors of the economy and we strongly feel technology will make the difference. Unlike traditional charity, we will use technology to communicate like sending emails to citizens on the platform, and pre-populate such emails to reach out to large targeted audience.

What is government’s role in facilitating and supporting the initiative?

It is about holding government accountable on its many promises to the citizens. So the platform will be used to monitor government and ensure that all government policies and promises are kept by government. For example, if there was an earlier announcement or promise from government during election campaign, we would use the platform to consistently remind government of its promises. Again government is one of the biggest stakeholders in public and private businesses, especially with the push to boost food security and eradicate extreme poverty. At the federal government level, there is need to support government programmes and initiatives that are geared towards poverty eradication. We are currently in talks with government and we are appreciative of government’s commitments and readiness to support the initiative. We need to this consistently in such a way that it will help government provide the basic needs and infrastructure that will drive development and eradicate poverty.

How do you manage funding and who takes responsibility of funding the initiative?

We are not really concerned about funding because the initiative is about partnership and we are looking at commitments from both parties to drive the outcome. The initiative is more of an advocacy to put government on its toes in eradicating extreme poverty, using the latest Cisco technology in achieving it.
So funding from a particular source is not the motive, but we will however source for multiple sources of income to develop the initiative in a more faster way. The partnership involves the company’s commitment to funding and technology to help end poverty, playing a vital role in making progress towards the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development and ending extreme poverty by 2030.
Through this multi-year partnership with Global Citizen, Cisco will equip advocates and activists around the world with the 21st century skills and tools they will need to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the world’s most marginalised people.

How will businesses benefit from this initiative?

Businesses have a responsibility to use our influence to effect real world change and drive positive impact in the world to solve for many social and economic problems, including poverty. For businesses, the main focus area tends to be on driving value to shareholders, growing the business and delivering innovation to customers. As business leaders, we must take responsibility to help those who are left behind. In today’s world, we bear an obligation to address how to make growth inclusive, extending it to those who most need opportunities to improve their lives, educate their children, access healthcare and benefit from the digital economy. Again as business leaders, we need to alter our focus and think more broadly about what we can do to help those in need around the world, to be even more inclusive and truly make a difference in people’s lives.

Inclusive growth not only extends opportunity to those who need it, it can also improve economic and political stability. People also want to work for companies who are doing what’s right. We live in an incredible time that is full of possibility. if we are going to see our world live up to its full potential, we need more business leaders to join these efforts to build more opportunities for everyone around the world.