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The 'Why Poverty?' Documentary Series

An International Initiative to Raise Awareness About and End Poverty

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The 'Why Poverty?' Documentary Series

Rafea in 'Solar Mamas'

Plus Pictures
'Why Poverty?' is a series of eight feature length commissioned documentaries that will be broadcast around the globe in November, 2012. The films will be seen by an estimated 250 million people in 180 countries. The series will be aired by 48 broadcasters, with accessibility via Internet and mobile platforms, as well, and with an extensive outreach program to follow.

The film projects were selected and co-funded by commissioning editors working for the consortium of international broadcast networks that will distribute the films. Each film examines an social, political or cultural situation that causes or contributes to the existence of poverty. The issues include food management, security and distribution, the need for education, gender equality, the conditions into which children are born, political and economic corruption, the effects of climate change on economies, the effectiveness of global aid and the effects of disease and wars. Collectively, the films will address the project's essential question: Why, in the 21st Century, are a billion people still living in poverty?

Why Poverty? is the second global broadcast initiative to be organized by Steps International, an international nonprofit with chapter offices in Denmark and South Africa. The first project, entitled Why Democracy? was a tremendous success, reaching some 250-million people around the globe with film projects that raised awareness about the various aspects of democracy -- or lack thereof -- around the world.

The Initiative's Admirable Goals

Created through international partnerships between broadcasters, NGOs, institutions and concerned citizens around the globe, Why Poverty? is designed to reach the largest possible global audience, challenging people of all nationalities, ethnicities, social and economic classes to contemplate the causes of poverty and become engaged in finding ways of ending it.

As its banner phrase or motto, the project uses a quote from Nelson Mandela: "Poverty, like Apartheid, is not an accident. Like slavery, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings."

Specifically, the Why Poverty? project's objectives are:

  • To produce narratives that inspire people to think and be part of the solution
  • To involve the best filmmakers in the creation of bold and provocative factual films
  • To bring together broadcasters worldwide and engage with a wide and diverse audience through all media platforms
  • To create a global outreach campaign, supplementing the broadcasts with extra teaching materials
  • To engage with decision-makers and influencers to find solutions for change

The Documentaries In The Why Poverty? Series

  • Welcome To The World - Director: Brian Hill - Poses the question: Is it worse to be born poor than to die poor? - 30-million babies are born each year, and not one of them decides where they'll be born or how they'll live. In Cambodia, you're likely to be born to a family living on less than $1/day. In Sierra Leone chances of surviving the first year are half those of the worldwide average. Brian Hill takes a worldwide trip to meet the newest generation - In the US Star's new baby could well be one more of 1.6m homeless children now living in the streets.
  • Education, Education - Director: Weijun Chen - Poses the question: What does an education get you? - In ancient times in China, education was the only way out of poverty. In recent times it has been the best way. China's economic boom and talk of the merits of hard work have created an expectation that to study is to escape poverty. But these days China's higher education system only leads to jobs for a few, educating a new generation to unemployment and despair.
  • Land Rush - Directors: Hugo Berkeley and Osvalde Lewat - Poses the question: How do you feed the world? - 75% of Mali's population are farmers, but rich, land-hungry nations like China and Saudi Arabia are leasing Mali's land in order to turn large areas into agribusiness farms. Many Malian peasants do not welcome these efforts, seeing them as yet another manifestation of imperialism. AsMali experiences a military coup, the developers are scared off - but can Mali's farmers combat food shortages and escape poverty on their own terms?
  • Poor Us - Director: Ben Lewis - Posing the question: Do we know what poverty is? - The poor may always have been with us, but attitudes towards them have changed. Beginning in the Neolithic Age Ben Lewis' film takes us through the changing world of poverty. You go to sleep, you dream, you become poor through the ages. And when you awake, what can you say about poverty now? There are still very poor people, to be sure, but the new poverty has more to do with inequality.
  • Give Us The Money - Director: Bosse Lindquist - Poses the question: How to do good? - From Live Aid to Make Poverty History, celebrities have become activists against poverty. Bob Geldof and Bono have been the most prominent voices advocating on behalf of the poor. But have their concerts and campaigns really lifted millions out of poverty? Geldof, Bono and Bill Gates speak candidly about the 'games' involved in their years of lobbying, and how they played to politicians' weaknesses for starry glitz and popularity.
  • Rafea: Solar Mamas - Directors: Mona Eldaief and Jehane Noujaim - Poses the question: Are women better at getting out of poverty than men? - The Barefoot College takes uneducated middle-aged women from poor communities and trains them to become solar engineers, so they can return to their home towns and generate much-needed power and jobs. The college's 6-month programme brings together women from all over the world. The film follows a Jordanian woman named Rafea, as she negotiates permission to attend the Barefoot College and establish herself as an independent woman within the constraints placed upon her by Islamic culture. Learning about electrical components and soldering without being able to read, write or understand English is the easy part.
  • Park Avenue - Director: Alex Gibney - Poses the question: How much inequality is too much? - 740 Park Ave, New York City, is home to some of the wealthiest Americans. Over the Harlem River, 10 minutes to the north, is the other Park Avenue in South Bronx, where more than half the population needs food stamps and children are 20 times more likely to be killed. In the last 30 years, inequality has rocketed in the US - the American Dream only applies to those with money to lobby politicians for friendly bills on Capitol Hill.
  • Stealing Africa - Director: Christoffer Guldbrandsen - Posing the question: How much profit is fair? - Ruschlikon is a village in Switzerland with a very low tax rate and very wealthy residents. But it receives more tax revenue than it can use. This is largely thanks to one resident - Ivan Glasenberg, CEO of Glencore, whose copper mines in Zambia are not generating a large bounty tax revenue for the Zambians. Zambia has the 3rd largest copper reserves in the world, but 60% of the population live on less than $1 a day and 80% are unemployed.

The films will be broadcast beginning November, 2012. Look for them on local public broadcast stations, online and in download apps for mobile devices. Participate in the outreach program. Make a difference!

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