The cycle of poverty is created when families permanently lack the resources to meet their most basic needs. When people are forced to spend their entire lives struggling to meet these needs, they often have no opportunity to resolve the issues that keep them in poverty. This constant struggle can last a lifetime and be passed on to the next generation with no end in sight.

Issues of poverty such as this persist around the world, and it can be impossible for those affected to resolve them alone. Outreach International works to end the cycle of poverty by helping people who live in these conditions to find solutions to their specific poverty-related issues. This blog post will describe how extreme poverty becomes chronic and generational, and the proven methods Outreach uses to end the cycle permanently.

Children often benefit the most when Outreach helps to break the cycle of poverty.

What Is the Cycle of Poverty

Poverty is generally defined as when a person must live on less than $2.15 per day, according to data analyzed in 2017 by the World Bank. More generally, a family lives in poverty if it lacks the resources to meet its most basic needs. And as of the end of 2022, it’s estimated that as many as 685 million people around the world live in poverty. This is roughly 8.5% of the world’s population. (Read: What Is Poverty?)

Extreme, chronic poverty that is passed from one generation to the next can occur in remote areas of low and middle-income countries. When a child is born into these conditions, they’re not likely to have the chance to make the sorts of changes that would be necessary to improve life for themselves or even their eventual children.

From the very beginning, families that live in poverty often cannot meet even the child’s most basic needs.

  • Inadequate nutrition can lead to poor health and development issues.
  • Inadequate access to clean, safe water can lead to water-borne illness and lack of proper hygiene.
  • Access to health care may be out of reach, leading to a risk of preventable disease, or adequate care for illness or injury.
  • A child may not have access to a proper education, leading to a lack of job opportunity and intellectual confidence.

These are only some of the possible issues a child born into extreme poverty can face. And they each can perpetuate the problem. When a person must spend a lifetime struggling with these issues, they tend to pass those issues on to the next generation. This is how the cycle of poverty is perpetuated.

A bountiful harvest can mean adequate income for an entire community.

What Causes the Cycle of Poverty?

Low and middle-income countries can lack infrastructure in remote areas. It can also be the case that these remote areas are where marginalized people live. If a country’s resources are limited, then a remote community may be forced to fend entirely for itself. This is especially true in communities that deal with inequality. Day-to-day subsistence living can then become a way of life.

But the cause of the cycle of poverty is more complex than that. Besides infrastructure, healthcare, education, and opportunity, there are other dimensions to consider:

  • Treatment of marginalized groups within a society
  • Women’s inequality
  • Lack of natural resources for subsistence living
  • Predatory lending practices
  • Industrial pollution
  • Climate change

The list goes on, and indeed can differ greatly from one region, one community, to the next. This concept of individual poverty-related issues is the focus of Outreach International’s poverty-fighting efforts.

Human Development Facilitators teach community-led organizations to break the cycle of poverty.

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

A community of people living in a chronic cycle of extreme, generational poverty can be dealing with any combination of issues unique to them. This is why it’s crucial to include the people living in poverty to be a part of the solution. Outreach International uses a methodology known as community-led development to help communities lift themselves out of poverty.

The people living in poverty are the ones who best know which specific poverty-related issues they face. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to poverty. The concept of community-led development brings community leaders together with an Outreach facilitator. Side by side they embark on a years-long process of development.

At first, with guidance from the Outreach facilitator, the community group organizes, elects leaders, and takes other steps to form a community-led organization. One of the first and most important tasks is for that group to identify and prioritize their own unique poverty-related issues. Through discussion, interviews, research, and indigenous knowledge, these groups strive to create a list of issues, and then mobilize to solve them, one at a time.

Early projects may solve immediate, pressing issues:

  • Well digging
  • Obtaining superior farming supplies
  • Obtaining farm animals that thrive in that region
  • Access to school supplies
  • Improved sanitation practices
  • Access to immediate healthcare needs

One project after another, the community-led organization gains skill, knowledge and confidence. More ambitious projects will follow, such as:

  • Building or improving a school, hiring teachers
  • Building a healthcare clinic, hiring a health professional
  • Providing a fair and affordable small business loan program
  • Job training
  • Building irrigation systems, or greenhouses
  • Providing electricity

Participatory Human Development

The work of community-led development is greatly influenced by the methodology of participatory human development. This is development where the people living in poverty participate in their own improvement process. By employing these techniques, Outreach International demonstrates to people living in poverty that they have the power to improve their own circumstances.

As community members complete projects, and learn and grow in confidence, they need less and less direction. Eventually, they can move forward as their own independent organization, solving their own issues, setting and achieving their own goals, moving ever forward. We believe that the self-empowerment gained by community-led development is the surest way to break the cycle of poverty, even for generations to come.

How to Help

Learn more about how Outreach International works to empower communities around the world. You may be inspired to donate, fundraise, or learn about other ways you can help to break the cycle of poverty.