There are at least three ways that we can help to change the world, which require either your vote, your money or your time.
Major reforms will require co-ordinated action by both developing and developed countries, and a range of international institutions. Although individuals have limited influence if they act alone, they can have considerable impact by working together. There are several major charities which lobby government on development issues, and you can help each of them by lending them your support. One popular movement which has already had a lot of success with encouraging governments to increase aid, and relieve debt, is the ONE campaign.
The MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign and Live8 concerts have shown that people really can make a difference when they ask their leaders to act. At the beginning of 2005 the campaign set out to achieve progress on aid, debt and trade, and within six months had accomplished most of its aims.
In July 2005, at the G8 summit in Scotland, significant progress was made with commitments to write off billions of dollars of debt and to double aid to Africa by 2010. These agreements will make a real and substantial difference to millions of people throughout the world, and their significance should not be underestimated. It is an historic victory which will give hope to many who would otherwise have seen no way out of their poverty.
However the issue of trade has not been settled meaning that rich countries are still making their aid less effective by erecting unfair barriers to Western markets. Under the current situation developing nations are being discriminated against by arrangements in the West which restrict trade in agricultural goods. This means that exports from poor countries are reduced, making it more difficult for producers in the Third World to survive.
The USA, EU and Japan need to negotiate and implement free trade agreements through the World Trade Organisation, so that developing nations have fairer access to developed markets. The West must also reform its agricultural sector so that it receives fewer subsidies, a move which would also help the domestic consumers and taxpayers in these countries.
By increasing aid and carrying out these reforms now, we can help Third World nations develop their infrastructure, governance and education systems so that in the long-term they will become self-sufficient and will no longer need our help.
Giving and Lending
There are many development projects which rely on individual donations, and you can make a big difference by giving some money on a regular basis to a charity such as Tearfund, Christian Aid or Oxfam.
Another useful means of giving is to sponsor a child. Some charities such as World Vision allow you to give money to specific children and families, allowing you to build relationships with them, and allowing you to see how much of an impact you are having.
In recent years there has been an increase in international lending via microfinance. Kiva is an extremely useful scheme which allows you to lend small amounts to entrepeneurs in other countries. These entrepeneurs use your money to invest in their businesses. Once they have made a profit, they agree to repay everything which you have lent to them. You can either withdraw this money, or re-invest it and donate to other entrepeneurs. This allows your money to keep helping others, and helps hard working individuals in other countries to work their way out of poverty. To ensure you are lending to entrepeneurs who are likely to repay, you should probably only invest when the Field Partner has a 5-star Risk Rating, and low delinquency and default rate. It is also best to diversify your lending, giving small amounts to many entrepeneurs, in many different countries and industries, rather than lending everything to just a few.
There are many opportunities to volunteer to help overseas. This may be for just a few weeks, or for a much longer period. Most of the organisations listed above run schemes which allow you to experience helping others where they live. You can find more information at websites such as Tearfund or Volunteer Service Overseas.