I was invited to give a TED talk at TEDxSJU yesterday and it came at the perfect time. I was putting the finishing touches on the 2012 Citizen Effect strategy, had just finished the book Moneyball, and ran across a stat that Facebook had 800 million users. Three totally unrelated events collided and formed an idea – what if poverty were a social network?
There are 1.4 billion people that live on less than $1.25 a day. So if poverty was a social network, it would be nearly twice as big as Facebook.
Think about that. Facebook is one of the most talked about companies on the planet and a phenomena that is supposedly changing the way we live and communicate, yet twice as many people don’t earn enough money to buy a morning latte at Starbucks.
So I thought, how does Google stack up? For the first time in history, 1 billion people visited Google in May. Impressive, until you put it up against hunger.
There are 1 billion people who go to bed hungry… EVERY DAY. So if hunger was a website, it would have 30x more traffic than Google.
Ok, what is bigger than Facebook and Google? Religion. There are 1.6 billion Muslims, so they are twice as big as Facebook, too. But let’s get bigger. 2.1 billion – that is the number of Christians in the world.
Increase that number to 2.4 billion. That is the number of people on the planet that lack access to sanitation. So if lacking sanitation were a religion, it would be the largest religion on the planet.
Not even 2,000 years of conversion, proselytizing and missions compares to living with dirty water.
We are very self-congratulatory about our societal advances and technology marvels. But when put up against the world’s largest challenges, our modern achievements look a little overblown.
The reality is that these numbers and problems are too big. They leave us feeling helpless and lead us back to our usual solutions that quite often perpetuate the problem and lead to unintended consequences. No one can solve the global water crisis. Not even Bill Gates. The problem defies a large, centralized, top-down approach. But nearly anyone can solve a water crisis in a community one project at a time. It is not about a scalable solution. It is about replicating good ideas, letting them go viral and adapting them to the local environment and context. More on that in posts to come.