TDC vs. Wolverine

Earlier this week, the TDC team was emailing students to join our Month of Microfinance by participating in our “$2 a Day Challenge”.  We got a quick reply from a student at Wellesley College.  The student thanked us for reaching out, complemented our program (“amazing”), and drew our attention to another project recently launched on their campus called “Live below the Line” from the Global Poverty Project.  We have been aware of the Global Poverty Project since last spring (Hugh Jackman is their celebrity spokesperson). 

The need to reply to the Wellesley College student’s email motivated us to critically evaluated our $2 a Day Challenge.  Why would we advise this student to choose the $2 a Day Challenge over Live below the Line?

At its core the $2 a Day Challenge is an educational exercise.  It was conceived (in the fall of 2007) in the context of a classroom.  There is no doubt that it succeeds at raising funds and awareness about global poverty.  However, the reason we continue to run, improve, and market this program to others is because of its unparalleled ability to engender empathy and humility among its participants.

We accomplish this by asking participants to go beyond the constraint of living on $2 per day.  Among other rules, they are asked to build makeshift shelters on campus and to choose a spigot on campus as the one and only place for participants to gain access to water.  Through these constraints we create interdependence among the participants.  Building shelters, gaining reliable access to water, and being able to make bulk purchases at the grocery store, requires cooperation.  By creating the need for cooperation, we build a community. With our community in place, we have a space where participants find the comfort to honestly ask themselves “why am I here?” and “what do I hope to accomplish?”.  They also find the confidence to challenge each other’s assumptions and preconceived notions regarding global poverty.  Every discussion at the shelters (which we have many) is an opportunity to probe deeper into the complexity of the process of economic development and our role (if any) in that process.  One of our favorite readings to discuss is Ivan Illich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions”.  Ben Saunders, one of our former participants, said it best when he stated that the $2 a Day Challenge “asks its participants to see that a central reason good intentions will fail in their realization is due to an inability to self-critique. By forcing students outside of their comfort zone, many realize that the limited poverty they do endure is such a struggle, that to really know poverty would be beyond their comprehension.” 

Each year TDC graduates a cohort of $2 a Day participants steeped in critical thinking skills, highly attuned to the possible inadequacies of their efforts to take on global poverty, and humbled by their participation. We believe that empathy and humility make for a good starting point when taking on global poverty.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn

P.S. Read the Sidekick Manifesto and Take the Pledge!