Explaining the world through a village

I find it difficult to really connect with statistics on world poverty, literacy, and economics. Human stories are compelling, but don’t give an idea of scale. That’s why I think the little book If the World Were a Village, by David J. Smith, is so clever in bringing the figures to life. As the back cover says, if the world were a village of just 100 people (rather than 6 billion) then:

  • 22 people speak a Chinese dialect
  • 20 earn less than 65p a day
  • 17 cannot read or write
  • only 30 always have enough to eat
  • 25 have a television in their homes

I can understand that, and so it seems can many others, because about one million copies of the book have sold, with 18 foreign language editions.

I met up with David when he was speaking recently in London at the Ending World Waste event at Standfords map shop. David’s statistics were a useful complement to the more colourful rhetoric from Baglady Shirley Lewis, who I wrote about here. Video of Shirley here.

Shirley and David have one thing in common beyond their passionate concern about our global future: they are each using a simple idea to make an impact. Shirley dresses up in plastic bags; David uses the  village analogy.

David explained that the idea came to him when talking over twenty years ago to one of his students, who wanted to decide whether to learn French or Spanish. Which was more important? For example, he said, if the world were this classroom, how many of us would speak French and how many Spanish? The student ended up deciding to learn Spanish, and David had the germ of the idea for the book: a best-seller sparked by a conversation.

In this video David takes me through some of the facts in the book, and how they change each year. The bad news is that not much changes in the distibution of money and food – but there is good news in improving access to clean water, clean air and sanitation. He reveals that there are more than twice as many chickens as people in the world. His surprise? Telephones. Six years ago there would have been 14 in the village of 100 – now there are over 50. Some countries have more phones than people. I expect Shirley to start adding a few phones to her ensemble, asking if we really need them all. I’m feeling guilty about that iPhone upgrade already.

Comments are closed.