Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe
Ritu Sharma, Women Thrive Worldwide



Washington, DCOn July 22, 2014, women’s rights advocate and author Ritu Sharma of Women Thrive Worldwide joined the WFPG to discuss her new book Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe, which shares stories from her work with grassroots women’s organizations around the world and examines the systems that prevent women from leaving poverty behind. Sharma discussed her motivation for writing the book, offered insights from her advocacy work in the US and abroad, and read excerpts from the book. The event was moderated by WFPG Associate Director Kimberly Kahnhauser.

Sharma cited her desire to “close the distance” between American women and women living in extreme poverty around the world as her inspiration for writing the book. By including stories from both her advocacy in Washington as well as her interactions with women in Burkina Faso, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Sri Lanka, Sharma wanted to help readers connect “a long set of dots between something that happens in Washington and the change that really happens in people’s lives on the ground.” She hoped to spark more interest in women’s issues and motivate more Americans to take action, utilizing the book’s practical advice on what Americans can do to help. Such suggestions range from taking political action, such as writing to a congressional representative—to altering shopping habits by buying fair trade products. In addition, Sharma aimed to counter widespread myths about US international assistance that weaken support for foreign aid. She explained that most Americans believe that US aid is between 10% and 30% of the US budget, while in reality, international assistance accounts for less than 0.5% of the budget.

Sharma addressed the UN Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda, stating that the UN agenda has a significant influence on the distribution of resources for development. According to Sharma, some MDGs, such as increasing primary school enrollment, were very successful, while others, such as lowering maternal and infant mortality rates, did not improve substantially. Nevertheless, she stated that the new set of post-2015 goals are worthy of engaging because they attract high levels of attention and resources from international organizations and national governments. On the question of whether the UN can achieve its new goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030, Sharma replied, “Absolutely we can end it. It’s not even the question. The question is, are we going to bother?” She identified two situations which are linked to persistent extreme poverty: middle-income countries like China, India, and Brazil, and conflict regions. Extreme poverty in these situations is not solely about a lack of resources, but also about a lack of political will.

Sharma emphasized the importance of supporting locally-based organizations in developing countries. Local organizations are more culturally-grounded, and investing in local groups is more cost-effective than financing foreign NGOs. Sharma also stressed that capacity-building at local levels helps women and communities overcome feelings of powerlessness, which facilitates long-term development. At the same time, however, she cautioned against relying too much on highly specific local programs, like microcredit, that lack a holistic focus. Sharma pointed out that US foreign assistance has already started to shift towards investing more in local organizations, and she is optimistic that aid will continue moving in that direction.


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Speaker Ritu Sharma addresses
WFPG members and guests


WFPG Associate Director Kimberly Kahnhauser,
Ritu Sharma, WFPG President Patricia Ellis, and
Board Member Diana Negroponte

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Kimberly Kahnhauser moderates
the conversation with Ritu Sharma


Ritu Sharma reads an excerpt from Teach a
Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe

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Diana Negroponte listens to the discussion


Patricia Ellis asks a question

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Robyn Russell of the United Nations
Foundation during the Q&A


Ambassador Susanne Shine, DCM of Denmark, with
Katie O'Connell and Jazmine Rodriguez of NAFSA

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