I recently signed an agreement with a publisher for a new book which will focus on the private sector's role in poverty reduction in Asia. It is always exciting to have an agreement for publication for a writing project and poverty reduction is a topic I am passionate about. While acknowledging money in itself does not automatically buy happiness, poverty, real absolute below-a-dollar-a-day-in-income poverty, is usually accompanied by misery and unhappiness.
"Poverty doesn't only condemn humans to lives of difficulty and unhappiness; it can expose them to life threatening dangers. Because poverty denies people any semblance of control over their destiny, it is the ultimate denial of human rights" (Yunus and Weber, 2007, p 104).
It would appear trying to do one's small part in working to reduce the impact of poverty, real absolute poverty as opposed to just relative poverty, on the lives of individuals would be a worthy use of one's time and energies. Do ESL and English teachers in Thailand and other developing economies have a role to play in global poverty reduction?
Research consistently has shown a strong correlation between poverty reduction and the amount of openness to international trade and integration an individual economy has with the world's economy. China and Vietnam's experience of opening their economies and encouraging foreign investment has gone hand-in-hand with the most impressive records of poverty reduction the world has ever seen. On the other hand closing off an economy from international trade and investment has a very poor track record and seems to be associated with increased incidents of poverty as the economies of Zimbabwe, Myanmar-Burma and North Korea have shown. Most of the poorest areas of the world are not being exploited by private enterprises; instead these areas are mostly being ignored.
ESL and other English teachers working in developing economies have an important role to play in creating conditions which facilitate international trade and connectivity which has an indirect, but important, impact on economic growth which is the most important factor in reducing poverty. As English has become the lingua franca of international commerce, for economic growth it is important for a country to have human bridges who can work across cultural and linguistic borders, and ESL and other English teachers have an important role in developing these human bridges.
An individual teaching English in a developing economy can have a profound and direct impact on the lives of the students that individual is teaching, but this teacher can also have a small and indirect impact on reducing global poverty through providing the skills a nation needs to integrate internationally. There are many jobs a person can have which can make the individual feel good about his or her contribution to our global society, teaching English in a developing country is one of those jobs.
Yunus, M. and Weber, K. (2007), Creating a World without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, Public Affairs: New York
Scott Hipsher is the author of
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking Free from the Colonial Paradigm,
as well as numerous book chapter, academic journal articles, conference papers and other articles on international business and other topics. One of his latest works can be found at this link.