By Seersha Nambiar

Poverty has been an impediment to the progress of mankind since the beginning of time. Even today, great minds from all over the world come up with theories in the hope of helping tackle this problem. Why does poverty continue to exist despite these efforts?

I believe that over-emphasizing on the materialistic approach is where the problem lies. We deliver basics like food, shelter and skills. Merely possessing the necessities, but with a wrongly tuned emotional compass, will revert the beneficiary back to poverty. We emphasize on emotional intelligence in the business world – but how often do we contemplate upon the workings of the mind of the poor?

Why does one, more often than not, fall back into the circle of poverty? Why is it difficult for the destitute to sustain and prosper even when they are supplied with the needed resources?

In the fall of 2014, an article titled “Rethinking Poverty” by Elisabeth D. Babcock appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The article emphasizes on the importance of building mental and emotional competence in the poor, on empowering them to make wise decisions that will help them succeed.

The stresses of being in poverty negatively affect strategic thinking and self-regulation skills that people need in order to break the cycle of poverty. These skills, known as executive function (EF) skills, are fundamental to our ability to solve problems, to multitask, to juggle priorities, to control impulses, to delay gratification, and to persist in the pursuit of goals.

So how do we help build executive function skills? Through integrating mentorship programs with poverty alleviation schemes. Group mentoring will serve several purposes. Like in the movie “Good Will Hunting” – the right guidance will help identify and encourage meritorious students from impoverished backgrounds to succeed academically.

Clusters will provide a social network where self-help groups can develop, financial habits can be inculcated and where awareness programs can be held. Most importantly, they will serve as support groups for traumatized individuals such as victims of rape and substance abuse. Interactions under a compassionate and qualified counsellor will help in building soft skills and in character grooming that are necessary to progress in life.

Cynics criticize this outlook – but fail to understand that constant hand-outs is not a feasible long term solution to poverty. It is only the first stage in a process of development, that will only be complete when individuals are capable of independently advancing in life.

Policy makers often ignore the psychological and intellectual influences that poverty has on the human mind. Humans are extremely complex creatures of habit, and in order to free them from the shackles of poverty, they need to be given not only the physical tools but also the emotional ones.