There are about 350 million indigenous people in the world, comprising nearly 5% of the world’s population, but about 15% of the world’s poorest people.¹ Indigenous people worldwide have long faced social exclusion, institutional discrimination and ethnic violence, and limited economic opportunity, all factors that contribute to a cycle of intergenerational poverty and loss of indigenous cultural heritage.
Indigenous peoples are the guardians of ancient cultures and traditions, but their ability to uphold them becomes ever more challenging due to their lack of economic opportunity. Living far from cities or centers of commerce, they tend to have much less power and influence over their governments and local policy makers, who could affect change and improve their quality of life.Often forced to migrate to urban centers in search of income, indigenous people may be forced to abandon their native dress, language and traditions, and lose their sense of cultural unity. And, their level of access to social protection programs which provide health and education services is well below national averages in many countries with indigenous populations.²
Indigenous people are disproportionately represented among the poorest, accounting for one third of the world’s approximately 900 million extremely poor people living in rural areas.³
Our Work with Indigenous People
To overcome extreme poverty, indigenous people require support that is based on their individual needs, addresses the specific obstacles they encounter, and helps protect their cultural identity. We work in direct partnership with indigenous people, local communities and civil society organizations to help build their capacity to confront the economic and social barriers they face themselves.
Indigenous people often live in rural, isolated areas far from markets and city centers.7 When they engage in livelihood activities like agriculture, weaving, food vending, and selling basic goods in small shops, they are not only earning steadier incomes, but helping meet their community’s basic needs by providing goods and services which are often difficult to access. This fosters greater economic and social connection for participants to their communities.
Extreme poverty, geographic isolation and institutional discrimination often mean indigenous people lack the opportunity to attend school and have no access to formal financial institutions. Our skills training program is designed to address these obstacles, and is highly interactive, using games, “learning conversations” and one-on-one mentoring that not only helps build basic literacy and numeracy skills to strengthen businesses, but also teaches best practices for sanitation and nutrition, and rights awareness. As part of our program, each participant also joins a savings group, helping them build a social support system outside of the household as well as pool savings and access low-interest credit to grow their business and livelihood activities. Participation in the group also helps instill leadership skills and provides access to new information and resources.