If you happen to meet someone who recently experienced an interaction with the BOP for the first time, invariably one of the insights they would share is that the poor are really smart. I had this Aha moment in early 2006 when my work at Villgro (formerly known as Rural Innovations Network) took me to the villages of eastern Uttar Pradesh, a state in North India. It was the first time in my life that I was interacting with impoverished farmers. I was touring the villages to better understand the market for an Insect Trap, an innovation incubated at Villgro. The poor inhabitants of these villages, not only amazed me with their understanding on the variety of problems they faced but also with the sheer ingenuity of some of the solutions they had come up with.
My work at Villgro took me to villages around India and I re-lived this aha moment many times over until I had a much bigger Aha!
What in the world made me assume that the poor are dumb?
Obviously, what I had heard from the villagers was, in most of the cases, just common knowledge for them. In retrospect, I had these big aha’s because at some level I was prejudiced with the assumption that poor people did not know what their problems are, if they did know about their problems, they were not articulate enough and even if they were articulate, they were not smart enough to solve the problem.
Sometimes our prejudices have a stronger influence on us than we think. It is shocking to find out that many a times our prejudices dictate our thoughts and actions in spite of what we think we strongly believe in. From my own experience, I know that overcoming these prejudices have gone a long way in making me much more effective at the work I do.
In the fight to end poverty, I strongly believe that overcoming our prejudices about the poor is as important, if not more, as the different poverty alleviation interventions themselves.