One of the world’s biggest problems can create a world of business opportunities.
The End of Poverty?
When you hear the word poverty, what do you think of? The traditional understanding is that when a person is financially unable to provide for their basic needs, such as food, warmth, sanitation, and housing, they are said to be living in poverty.
If you turn on the news these days, you’ll likely see worrying statistics about inflation and the rising cost of living around the world. It’s easy to feel like things are only getting worse. However, the general trend over the long term shows things are getting better. Consider the following comparisons.
While the type of poverty where a person cannot provide for their most basic needs, like food and clothing, is still sadly common throughout the world. However, it is declining. The percentage of people worldwide living in extreme poverty, or living on less than $1.90 International Dollars a day, dropped from 27.7% in 2000 to 8.6% in 2018 (World Bank, 2022).
The Census Bureau estimated that Americans living in poverty in 2020 was 11.4%, down from 22.4% just six decades ago, in 1959. But that’s not the whole story because something else has changed as well.
Think about the standard of living a person in poverty could expect in the US in the 1800s (for example). Families in poverty did not have access to electricity or running water, their housing was often cramped and unsafe, and disease was a major risk, as sanitation in poor areas of cities was inadequate at best. It was entirely normal for a family to have more than five children: There was no access to family-planning tools such as birth control, and it was common for children to die before the age of five. Children would often drop out of school — if they attended in the first place — in order to work and help support the family, often in hazardous conditions.
Poverty in the US in 2022 looks completely different from poverty in the past. To start, consider these statistics. Of the millions of people living under the poverty line in the US today, 99% live in housing with refrigerators, flush toilets, and utilities like electricity and water. In addition, 88% have a telephone, 71% have a car, and 70% have air conditioning (Ridley, 2011)! These advancements would have seemed luxurious to even the wealthiest in the past. While this does not mean that people living in poverty in the US right now aren’t struggling, it does mean the definition of what it means to be poor is changing. Thanks to innovation and automation, we are entering an era of plenty where we will be able to provide for the basic needs of every human being.
A New Era of Entrepreneurship and Plenty
Human beings have been innovating to improve our standard of living since prehistoric times. New inventions that start out as luxuries for the mega-rich become cheaper and more accessible with every innovation until they become part of the basic standard of living for ordinary people. The Internet is a perfect example of this.
In 2020, 66% of the world had access to the Internet, up from 6% in 2000 and 23% in 2010 (Rosner, Ritchie, and Ortiz-Ospina, 2019). This incredible change comes from innovation — developments like satellite Internet make it possible to bring high-speed, wireless access to more and more people at lower and lower prices.
Imagine telling someone just 50 years ago that in 2022, a farmer or hunter living in a remote village would be able to instantly communicate with anyone in the world, access the total of human knowledge, and browse catalogs of thousands of things to buy at the tap of a finger. It would have seemed laughably utopian! But in our modern world, connecting the entire world to the Internet is not just possible: It’s happening now, and it’s going to change the worldwide economy in ways that create new opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Humans from all nations and backgrounds have this in common: We like things! When our basic needs are taken care of, we look for new ways to enjoy ourselves! At the same time, as poverty declines throughout the world, billions of people will have access to streaming entertainment, remote learning, online shopping, social media, and more for the first time ever. Trillions of dollars of demand are about to enter the market, and someone needs to provide the supply.
Not only will innovation be necessary to fill the increased demand for consumer goods, but innovations will also be needed to bring services such as insurance, banking, package delivery, education, and more to areas of the world that have never seen them before. All of these changes and more will present logistical and practical problems that more innovation will be required to solve. Not to mention, the new minds coming online over the next decade will bring their own ideas and creativity to the table, providing endless opportunities for collaboration and endless potential competitors!
The world is changing. Thanks to accelerated advancements in technological development and ingenious innovation from minds around the world, ordinary people — even people below the poverty line — have access to amenities that would have seemed like magic just a few short decades ago. As we enter this new age of plenty, it will become easier and easier to provide for the basic needs of every single person in the world, and soon, those people are going to want to buy things.
So, if you have an entrepreneur mindset, you can start thinking of ways to make goods and services accessible and affordable to the vast regions of the world that are about to come online. What problems can you foresee, and what creative ways can you think of to solve them? What will you sell to people who are buying things online for the first time ever, and how will you beat the competition? There’s never been a better time in history to change the world and get rich while doing it. The potential for new startups and opportunities are only limited by imagination.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you’ll like my other articles. Here are some I think you’ll learn a lot from:
Ridley, M. (2011). The rational optimist: How prosperity evolves. Harper Perennial.
Rosner, Ritchie, and Ortiz-Orisa. (2019). Internet. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/internet
Semega, J., Kollar, M., Shrider, E. A., & Creamer, J. (2020, September 15). Income and poverty in the United States: 2019. The United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-270.html
UC Davis Center for Poverty Research. (2012, September 12). What is the current poverty rate in the United States? UC Davis Center for Poverty Research. https://poverty.ucdavis.edu/faq/what-current-poverty-rate-united-states
US Census Bureau. (2018, September 12). Poverty. Census.gov. https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty.html
World Bank. (2022). Poverty data. Data.worldbank.org. https://data.worldbank.org/topic/poverty?end=2013&start=2013