KATHMANDU, Nepal — Before he dies, 80-year-old Dr. James Mayfield hopes to see extreme poverty eradicated in Nepal. The organization he co-founded, CHOICE Humanitarian, is making headway toward that goal.
“What is it you want to do that you haven’t done before you die?” Mayfield’s grandson once asked him. When Mayfield replied that he wanted to see poverty “truly eliminated in at least one country,” he says his grandson told him to “find a country and do it.”
Shortly after, President Baran Yadav invited Mayfield to Nepal to celebrate CHOICE Humanitarian’s work there. Mayfield had found his country.
CHOICE Humanitarian has since developed a three-stage process to improve the quality of life of every Nepali living on $1.25 per day or less. As a result of CHOICE Humanitarian’s partnership with the government, Mayfield predicts Nepal will eradicate its extreme poverty by 2030—the year of the Sustainable Development Goals deadline.
The first stage will last for about three years. Choice Humanitarian first seeks to “enable” rural villages during this stage by teaching local leaders strategies for how to leverage their village’s resources and govern more efficiently.
Then, the village will form a “local economic cooperative” toward which even the extremely poor families direct some of their income. When the cooperative has enough money (typically around $1,000), the funds are placed in a savings account at a local bank. In exchange, the bank agrees to offer loans to the community. A percentage of those loans must go to the extremely poor families.
Through this process, CHOICE Humanitarian ensures the equitability of economic growth in these villages. The wealth gap does not widen as it does with other methods of development assistance.
Mayfield says this first stage could eliminate poverty in up to 144 separate villages.
In the second stage, which will last another three years, CHOICE Humanitarian works with the government to expand the program to many other villages. The government plans to lift one million people out of extreme poverty by 2019.
In the final stage, which lasts until 2030, the program will continue to expand with the goal of completely eliminating extreme poverty in Nepal (and perhaps other levels of poverty as well).
Another key element of the program is its emphasis on project-based development. For example, the village of Dumriswanra, with its meagre population of 38, lacked access to clean water. With financing from various NGOs including CHOICE Humanitarian, the village managed to dig a 400-meter trench for a pipeline. The villagers did all of the labor themselves.
Mayfield’s organization uses a “bottom up” approach. Mayfield, who is a professor emeritus of Public Administration & Middle East Studies at the University of Utah, developed this approach in collaboration with his graduate students, many of whom had served in the Peace Corps. He and his students noticed that “top down” approaches tended not to benefit the poorest of the poor. CHOICE Humanitarian was founded with an aim to work at the village-level, using local leadership to create economic growth from within.
Mayfield says he met with a Nepalese village leader last March who reported that he had undergone a paradigm shift. This leader said he was seeing for the first time the different “levels” of poverty. Furthermore, he said he now knew that the success of the village depended on rescuing the extremely poor.
– Ryan Yanke