IJM Founder Gary Haugen Explains in Ted Talk 'The Locust Effect' Why Poverty Still Exists, How to Fight It

Gary Haugen
Gary Haugen, president, CEO and founder of International Justice Mission, speaking about his new book, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., May 28, 2014. |

International Justice Mission President and Founder Gary Haugen explains in a new Ted Talk that poverty remains in the world despite the decades-long fight against it because of a missing link, which he calls "The Locust Effect," also the title of his best-selling book.

"The fight against global poverty is probably the broadest, longest running manifestation of the human phenomenon of compassion in the history of our species," Haugen says in his 19 minute talk, titled "The hidden reason for poverty the world needs to address now," on the TED stage in Vancouver, Canada.

"So why, why are so many billions still stuck in such harsh poverty?" asks Haugen, who earlier served as the director of the U.N. investigation in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

"You can give all manner of goods and services to the poor, but if you don't restrain the violent bullies from taking it away — we are going to be disappointed by the long-term impact of our efforts," explains Haugen, who earlier worked as a human rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.

He refers to a phenomenon that he calls "The Locust Effect."

"Experts tell us that there's about 35 million people in slavery today. That's about the population of the entire nation of Canada, where we're sitting today," Haugen tells the audience. "This is why, over time, I have come to call this epidemic of violence the Locust Effect. Because in the lives of the poor, it just descends like a plague and it destroys everything. In fact, now when you survey very, very poor communities, residents will tell you that their greatest fear is violence. But notice the violence that they fear is not the violence of genocide or the wars, it's everyday violence."

Today, there are 2 million children in the commercial sex trade, according to UNICEF. And the U.N. estimates that about 4 billion people live outside the protection of law.

"For those who care about poverty alleviation and economic development for the global poor, the facts and data will no longer allow us to carry on as if the locusts of violence are not laying waste to our efforts," Haugen and co-author Victor Boutros write in the book, The Locust Effect. "Slowly but surely, deep experience and significant data is accumulating to clarify the way common lawless violence is devastating the efforts of the poor to carve out a better future in the developing world."

Broken law enforcement can be fixed, Haugen says in the talk. "Violence can be stopped. Almost all criminal justice systems, they start out broken and corrupt, but they can be transformed by fierce effort and commitment."

IJM, which Haugen founded in 1997, focuses on holding perpetrators accountable through justice system transformation. The group says this model has proven highly effective in areas such as Cambodia, where a new IJM study has found a significant reduction in the prevalence of minors available in the commercial sex industry.

"We're inspired by God's call to love all people and seek justice," the group says on its website.

Haugen suggests two things to fight global poverty.

"We have to start making stopping violence indispensable to the fight against poverty. In fact, any conversation about global poverty that doesn't include the problem of violence must be deemed not serious," he says.

There's also a need to "invest resources and share expertise to support the developing world as they fashion new, public systems of justice, not private security, that give everybody a chance to be safe," he adds.

Haugen concludes the talk by raising the question of what kind of legacy this generation will leave behind.

"When our grandchildren ask us, 'Grandma, Grandpa, where were you when 2 billion of the world's poorest were drowning in the lawless chaos of everyday violence? I hope we can say that we had compassion, that we raised our voice, and, as a generation, we were moved to make the violence stop."

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