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Featured Leader: Brayden Howie on Redefining the Fight Against Global Poverty

6 min read

Action on Poverty is revolutionising the fight against global poverty through innovative approaches that embrace technology and empower local communities. 

By leveraging advancements like blockchain, AI, and community-based tourism, the organisation empowers marginalised communities to thrive economically and socially. 

Third Sector News sat down with CEO Brayden Howie to discuss innovative approaches to address global poverty. 

1. How has Action on Poverty incorporated innovative approaches to address global poverty within its programs and initiatives?

Action on Poverty is all about taking practical action on global poverty. As the pace of change in the world picks up our methods need to evolve. 

First, let’s talk tech. Technology is transforming the world in many ways, and as tech and connectivity become ubiquitous even in poor communities, we’ve been working on ways to leverage this in both our programs and operations. We’ve been working on developing applications to empower small-scale farmers to cut out the middleman and connect directly with retailers, we’re exploring the potential of blockchain and smart contracts to support farming communities, and AI language models in our business operations. With connectivity on the rise even in the most remote areas, we’re seeing incredible opportunities for micro-businesses and people to connect, trade, and protect their assets like never before. 

Another important approach we are taking is to activate seek and support social entrepreneurship. We’ve always been passionate about supporting local entrepreneurs, but now we’re taking it to the next level. We’re on the lookout for the next big idea – the game-changer with the idea that is going to shake up the status quo and make a real dent in global poverty. So, we’re providing resources, mentorship, and opportunities for aspiring social entrepreneurs to turn their vision into reality through our social entrepreneurship program that just kicked off this year. 

But it’s not all startups and tech – it’s about building sustainable solutions that last. Take our work in Bangladesh, for example, where we’re partnering with local professionals to establish self-sustaining disability services that reach even the most marginalised communities. By filling gaps where public services fall short, we’re ensuring that everyone has access to the support they need to thrive. 

And we’re innovating to put power back where it belongs – in the hands of the community. Take our community-based tourism services in Vietnam for example were we’re providing communities the tools they need to control their own future. Instead of big businesses swooping in and taking over, we’re empowering local communities to preserve their culture, livelihoods, and land – all while reaping the benefits of tourism for themselves. 

Action on Poverty isn’t just talking the talk. With innovative approaches, a commitment to sustainability, and a passion for empowering communities, we’re leading the charge towards a near future where the traditional aid and development paradigm will be turned on its head. 

2. In what ways does Action on Poverty collaborate with local communities, governments, and other organisations to foster innovation in poverty alleviation efforts?

It’s all about teamwork and a singular focus on making a real difference. 

Co-creation is at the heart of everything we do. We believe that the best solutions come from working hand-in-hand with the people who are most affected by poverty and bringing them together with academics, businesses, governments, and other organisations. AOP provides a platform for co-design, testing, scaling, and launching new ideas that may have a significant impact on poverty. We’re empowering everyone to be part of the solution. 

But we’re not just waiting around for inspiration to strike – we’re actively seeking out new ideas. While some organisations might be hesitant to embrace ideas that people from outside the sector might approach them with, we’re all about thinking outside the box. Whether it’s supporting social entrepreneurs in developing countries, collaborating with businesses to share their intellectual property, or exploring the latest research and technologies from universities, we’re leaving no stone unturned in our quest to find the next big solution to poverty. 

Central to our approach is the forging of strong, mutually beneficial partnerships. That means resourcing our partners appropriately, committing to the long term, and investing in the development of professional systems and processes. There is a trendy concept in philanthropy circles currently that promotes the idea that a good funding partner provides completely unrestricted funding. This may work in a context where governance and operating structures are already relatively strong, but for most development actors in resource-constrained contexts that have truly innovative programs, they are too early stage for this. In the wrong context, funding like that is dangerous and irresponsible. What many need is targeted and flexible funding, mentoring, governance support, access to networks, training and development, and so on. That’s what the AOP platform provides, and what our partners tend to value the most. 

Ultimately, our goal is to empower initiatives to stand on their own two feet and attract the right investors. But until then, we’re here every step of the way, providing the support and guidance they need to thrive. 

3. Can you discuss any challenges or obstacles encountered when implementing innovative approaches to poverty alleviation?

It’s important to recognise that we can’t do any of this alone. We rely on partners to bring quality ideas to the table and commit to seeing them through. Whether it’s collaborating with local communities, governments, businesses, or academic institutions, we know that true innovation thrives on diversity and collaboration. 

But it’s not just about finding partners – it’s about having the right resources at the right time. Money for early-stage design, in particular, can be hard to come by, and securing funding for different stages of the innovation process can be a challenge. Some funders are all about piloting new ideas, while others want to see results before they commit. And let’s not forget those who are looking for a financial return on their investment – they’re best suited to late-stage initiatives, which can pose their own set of challenges. 

Of course, with innovation comes risk. We’re all about pushing the boundaries and trying new things, but when working with vulnerable populations we must have a laser-sharp focus on risk. While the industry likes to talk about being open to failure, the reality is that we can’t afford to fail in many of the contexts where we work. That’s why we take great care and diligence in designing our innovations, ensuring that any risks we take are calculated and won’t harm those we’re trying to help. This often means embedding the unproven aspect into a much larger proven design. Or testing first in a non-vulnerable population that is well-placed to understand and accept the risks. Or providing innovative solutions to safeguard against losses experienced by the population. 

And that’s where our platform comes in. By providing the resources, know-how, and collaboration partners needed to minimise risk and steer innovation along a defined pathway, we’re empowering innovators to take bold steps forward in the fight against poverty. 

4. How can individuals, communities, and organisations contribute to fostering innovation in addressing poverty?

It’s all about coming together and leveraging our collective creativity and resources. 

If you’ve got an idea brewing in the back of your mind that you think could change the game when it comes to poverty, we want to hear from you! Whether it’s a new technology, product, or approach, your idea could be the spark that ignites real change. Don’t keep it to yourself – share it with us and let’s see where it goes. 

Maybe you’re already running a business that has a product, technology, service, or approach that could positively impact the lives of the poor. You and your business could be a force for good in the fight against poverty. You may be surprised how your product could be leveraged for good – so even if you’re not sure but you have the desire to use it for good, I’d love to chat with you. 

Or perhaps you’re knee-deep in a research project that has the potential to benefit the poor. Whether it’s developing new treatments, finding more efficient ways to deliver services, or uncovering insights that could inform policy decisions, your research could be the key to unlocking new solutions to age-old problems. 

But of course, money is super important – because let’s face it, innovation doesn’t come cheap. If you’ve got the resources or connections to invest in changing the world, we want to hear from you. Whether you’re interested in funding the next big idea from design to trial, scaling a proven concept, or launching a financially viable product or model, your support could be the catalyst for real change. 

We have innovations at every stage of development, ready to move onto the next phase – but money is the key constraint holding us back. Financial partners are the lifeblood of this entire venture, and we’re always on the lookout for more partners to join us on this journey. 

⁠5. Is there anything you would like to add or highlight?

Absolutely – the incredible resilience and innovation of the communities we serve. It is truly the people who live every day with few financial resources who are the ultimate innovators. 

I’ve seen firsthand their remarkable ability to create something out of seemingly nothing, to find solutions to all sorts of challenges, and to approach new ideas with an open mind and a willingness to try. It’s genuinely inspiring, and it’s a joy to witness such creativity and ingenuity in action. 

Ultimately, it’s these communities that we’re working alongside – and they’re the ones driving real change on the ground. They’re the heart and soul of everything we do, and it’s an honour to be part of their journey. It’s the most rewarding thing a person can ever be involved with, and I hope to share this experience with even more partners, more communities, and more people. 

Related: Opinion: Forget the Pursuit of Happiness, in 2023 it’s Time to Pursue Purpose

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Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.


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