Debunking Myths, Revealing Truths

February 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Debunking Myths

Bill Gates’ 2014 annual letter debunks three myths about poverty and foreign aid. It reminds me about the power of narrative to drive decision making and action, even when the narrative is not backed up by facts. Here are the debunked myths in short form. Read the full letter for the longer version.

(1) “Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.” (Nope! While there is still poverty, few whole countries are classified as low income and the number is falling.)

(2) “Foreign aid is a big waste.” (Nope! Big gains in health and other indicators; aid also doesn’t lead to “dependency.” Many countries that were aid recipients are no longer; some are even net aid donors now.)

(3) “Saving lives leads to overpopulation.” (Nope! Falling child mortality rates correspond with falling overall birth rates. Improving children’s chances of survival doesn’t lead to net increase in population.)

These myths continue to influence public discourse and political decision making in the U.S. (and perhaps elsewhere). While we know that “narrative trumps numbers,” we also know that it’s possible to create and communicate counter narratives that bring the facts to life in new and powerful ways. What myths are driving the discourse in your area of work? How could you help to shape and share counter narratives that would lead to different thinking and different action?


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