Between five and five-thirty in the morning is the only time she gets to herself, which she uses to work out, or read a book. After that, the grind of everyday life in Poland’s countryside takes over. She cooks, washes, cleans, irons, and cooks for her seven children, aged two to fifteen. And it doesn’t stop until late at night.
Elzbieta’s family and other families with multiple children are rather unique in Poland, which has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. When asked why they didn’t have children in a recent country-wide survey, 71 percent of Poles said unstable employment and difficulties in balancing work and family life were big factors.
Their fears are not without reason -- with each child, the risk of poverty increases tremendously -- families with three or more children are more likely to be in the lowest income group, with 26.6 percent of households with four children living in poverty in Poland, according to the Main Statistical Office.
Even buying clothes for children is a daunting task, in such cases. “We have started participating in lotteries organized by local clothes stores, with no luck so far,” Elzbieta said. “We do it because taxes for children’s clothes and shoes were recently raised, and families like ours are most affected. Families with children are just not given a chance.”
Elzbieta talked to me as she picked flowers in a nearby field, while watching her five-year old daughter. The flowers she collected would later be dried on a bench outside her rural home and used for making herbal teas for the family. Even buying tea is a financial challenge for Elzbieta’s family, whose income, a total of PLN 3,280 (about $1,100) comes from social assistance for children, including a disabled child (PLN 2,000) and her husband’s income – after the payment of a home renovation loan – of PLN1, 280.
But hospitality is not to be spared.
“In two weeks, everything will be red,” he said. “And what do you do with all these cherries?” I asked, half dreaming of one of my mother’s best tarts.
Export to Russia, came the reply. A river of sour cherries flowing from this small corner of Serbia, across Europe and into Russia is a less interesting image than my mother’s spectacular tart, but in a country where signs of the ongoing economic crisis abound, this is good news.
Every field we looked at had new plantings alongside more established trees. A new parasite is apparently threatening these cherry orchards, and foreign experts are working with local growers to control it. Still, it seems clear that people are investing in the business, and this means jobs – though only temporary, tough and lasting long hours of cherry picking, these jobs are a blessing for those who have little else to rely on.
Ivan and his wife Daniela, in the village of Vlahovo, are a case in point - and the face of poverty in the region.
There is nothing worse than having to wonder if you will be able to afford tomorrow's meal. Or the day after's.
But for millions of poor in the Kyrgyz Republic, it is routine - and their every day reality. The World Bank interviewed several families in the country recently to showcase the real face of poverty in the region, where the poor spend significantly more to stay warm and buy enough food to survive than in other parts of the world because of the region's extremely long and cold winters.
The World Bank recently interviewed several families in Armenia to depict the hardships people face when they cannot earn more than $5 a day per person. The country faces long, harsh winters and paying to stay warm and eat enough to survive the cold can quickly eat into the poor's meager incomes.
The Face of Poverty package aims to show how tough life can be for these families and their belief that education is the singular way out of poverty for their children.
Watch the full documentary here.
Building social movements. I often hear about the need to create social movements to tackle a number of entrenched global challenges such as ending extreme poverty, promoting greater income equality, and combatting climate change.
History is full of social movements that have succeeded and failed. The lessons from one ongoing movement that I know well – the fight against AIDS – should be examined closely by those looking to build movements today.
Lesson No. 1 from the AIDS movement is to believe only in the possibility -- not the inevitability -- of success. Opponents will fight and appear immovable. As those of us who lived through the early days of the AIDS fight, it was always far from certain that we would reach our goals.
The green energy revolution used to look pretty far off. Today, businesses are starting to factor the cost of climate change into their planning, countries have set targets for increasing the use of renewable energy, and wind farms and solar panels are popping up everywhere. But large-scale renewable energy development is still a challenge – especially in the absence of government incentives. Large-scale renewable power such as solar, wind, and wave power, though technically viable, is often seen by investors as too expensive to develop and too risky.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, is working to overcome those concerns. In Chile – a country with considerable renewable energy potential – these efforts are starting to have an impact. As the video below shows, Chile plans a significant shift in its energy equation – from 37% renewables today to 55% by 2024. Though still a very small percentage of the overall energy mix, non-conventional renewable power such as wind and solar is starting to happen there, without government subsidies.
Around Christmas time and at the beginning of every academic year, I have routinely sent cash to my extended family back home in Zimbabwe. That’s been the pattern since I joined the World Bank mid-career and settled in Washington D.C. 23 years ago.
I am not alone; the number of Zimbabweans that have left the country is estimated at more than 3 million. Most have left since 2000, for reasons varying from the socio-economic to political.
YANGON, Myanmar — The government here has put forward ambitious plans to dramatically increase access to electricity and health care, especially in rural areas. Both are huge problems; some 70% of all people in Myanmar do not have access to electricity, and public health issues, including the spread of TB, need to be more effectively curtailed. What can we can do about these problems? Actually, quite a bit. Watch the video from the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
DAVOS, Switzerland – When we talk about particularly difficult issues at the World Bank Group, I always ask my team a simple question: What’s the plan?
If they have a plan, the next question I ask is whether the plan is serious enough to match the scale of the problem. Here at the World Economic Forum at Davos, one of the main issues before us is an extraordinarily tough one – how do we reduce the growing income inequality around the world? Income inequality has grown to enormous proportions but my question to World Bank staff and folks here in Davos is the same: What’s the plan to lessen income inequality across the world?
Income inequality can appear to be an intractable problem. But the fact is we already know a lot about how economies can grow in a way that includes even the poorest. We need a plan to tackle inequality and we think there are at least five things that we can do right now that could help.