Why Poverty?

8 documentary films about poverty reaching more than 500 million people

WHY POVERTY? takes an in-depth look at global inequality, asking how poverty can still exist in a world with so much wealth. The Peabody Award-winning series was shown by 69 broadcasters in over 180 countries when it launched in 2012. This was also accompanied by 34 short films, an online engagement platform, and community screenings.

The project brought together media, decision-makers, and influencers from across the world in seeking solutions for change. Through its film narratives, the project will inspire people to get and stay engaged and to see themselves as part of the solution to the problems of
global poverty

The project confronts many of the most important themes related to the
UN Sustainable Development Goals – themes like food security, education, gender equality, the conditions into which children are born, corruption, climate change, the effectiveness of global aid, and the effects of disease and armed conflict.

Download Facilitators Guide

Films on Poverty

Welcome to the World

Brian Hill

130 million babies are born each year, and not one of them decides where they’ll be born or how they’ll live. In Cambodia, you’re likely to be born to a family living on less than $1/day. In Sierra Leone chances of surviving the first year are half those of the worldwide average. We go around the world to meet the newest generation.

Stealing Africa

Christoffer Guldbrandsen

Rüschlikon is a village in Switzerland with a very low tax rate and very wealthy residents. But it receives more tax revenue than it can use. This is largely thanks to one resident - Ivan Glasenberg, CEO of Glencore, whose copper mines in Zambia are not generating a large bounty tax revenue for the Zambians. Zambia has the 3rd largest copper reserves in the world, but 60% of the population live on less than $1 a day and 80% are unemployed. Based on original research into public documents, the film describes the tax system employed by multinational companies in Africa.

Solar Mamas

Mona Eldaief & Jehane Noujaim

Rafea is a Bedouin woman who lives with her four daughters in one of Jordan's poorest desert villages on the Iraqi border. She is given a chance to travel to India to attend the Barefoot College, where illiterate grandmothers from around the world are trained in 6 months to be solar engineers. If Rafea succeeds, she will be able to electrify her village, train more engineers, and provide for her daughters. Even when she returns as the first female solar engineer in the country, her real challenge will have just begun. Will she find support for her new venture? Will she be able to inspire the other women in the village to join her and change their lives? And most importantly, will she be able to re-wire the traditional minds of the Bedouin community that stand in her way?

Poor Us: An Animated History of Poverty

Ben Lewis

The poor may always have been with us, but attitudes towards them have changed. Beginning in the Neolithic Age Ben Lewis’ film takes us through the changing world of poverty. You go to sleep, you dream, you become poor through the ages. And when you awake, what can you say about poverty now? There are still very poor people, to be sure, but the new poverty has more to do with inequality…

Park Avenue

Alex Gibney

The documentary compares the access to opportunities of residents of Park Avenue both on the Upper East Side and in the South Bronx. It draws upon Michael Gross's book "740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building", which showed that many billionaires live in that building. It goes on to explain that billionaire heir David Koch made significant donations to Paul Ryan in the same way that banker Steven Schwartzman lobbied Charles Schumer—for their own gain. The documentary includes interviews with a doorman at 740 Park Avenue, journalist Jane Mayer, Yale University Professor Jacob Hacker, University of California, Berkeley Professor Paul Piff, and Republican advisor Bruce Bartlett

Land Rush

Hugo Berkley & Osvalde Lewat

75% of Mali's population are farmers, but rich, land-hungry nations like China and Saudi Arabia are leasing Mali's land in order to turn large areas into agribusiness farms. Many Malian peasants do not welcome these efforts, seeing them as yet another manifestation of imperialism. As Mali experiences a military coup, the developers are scared off - but can Mali's farmers combat food shortages and escape poverty on their own terms?

Give us the Money

Bosse Lindquist

Thirty years ago, rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono set out on a journey to fight poverty in Africa. They tried to convince some of the wiliest and mightiest politicians on earth to change the world. Give us the Money tracks their journey through famines and palaces, and world-wide TV-audiences. But how successful have they really been? Did they manage to make the world a better place? Bosse Lindquist's film tracks the history of this idea. "A band of musicians set out to change the world" he says "and now the time has come to ask: What did they achieve, and is celebrity politics is the right way of combating world poverty?"'

Education, Education

Weijun Chen

“In China, the most lucrative Industry is Education.” Wang Zhenxiang, Tutor, Hongbo Education. There is a worldwide economic crisis, but everywhere parents are told that their children may escape the worst if they are educated, and everywhere children are pressured to climb the rungs of the ladder and acquire the totem of middle class life – a university education. But does education secure what it is supposed to? Can a degree really get you out of poverty? Weijun Chen’s film, set in Wuhan in central China, looks at the realities of Chinese education through the lives of Wang Zhenxiang, a tutor at the private Hongbo Education college, Wang Pan, high school graduate and would be student, and Wan Chao, graduate job seeker who goes from one unpromising interview to another.

WHY POVERTY? won a 2012 Peabody Award for "Providing parallax insights into poverty as it is manifested throughtout the world."

Cut-out of Peabody award.

Shorts on Poverty

Wilbur Goes Poor Episode 2

Adrien Roche

Wilbur Sargunaraj, India's first YouTube star, takes us on an enlightening and often irreverent journey into poverty and the lives of India's poor. Along the way, in Episode 2, Wilbur asks what causes poverty? He shows how the caste system is one of the problems. There is inequality, but to make it a better place you have to start right now.

Wilbur Goes Poor Episode 1

Adrien Roche

Wilbur Sargunaraj, India's first YouTube star, takes us on an enlightening and often irreverent journey into poverty and the lives of India's poor. Along the way, Wilbur asks his fellow countrymen what they think poverty is: What do people need to be without for them to be deemed impoverished? And he speaks to some of India's poor so we can see what they have. Episode 1 of "Wilbur Goes Poor" focuses on what poverty is.

Poop on Poverty

Vijay Jodha

Every winter Pushkar in India has a seven-day religious festival and the world's biggest camel fair. With around 25,000 camels in town, you can expect a lot of camel droppings. And these droppings provide an opportunity -- a chance for poor families to save money on firewood and other fuels by collecting the dung, drying it out and using it to cook their food. It's not the easiest job for the women who collect these droppings, they have to deal with the unpredictable nature of the camels and run the gauntlet of tourists photographing them as they go about their work.

Town and Country

Louis Elsass & Ye Yun

In China there is a vast gap between those that grow up and go to school in rural area versus urban areas. Even the youngest kids know this.

New Poor

Justin Webster

Paco Pascual used to run one of Spain's top refurbishment firms, a large family business he and his brothers made successful by winnning lucrative government contracts. But 50.000 small businesses have gone bust in Spain in the last year. And Paco's is one of them: "My company is like a shark that is eating me" he says. The world used to be viewed in terms of the developed and the developing world. Has the global financial crisis changed this? Is it time to move on from a 'them and us' mentality?

A Beggar's Loan

Gayle Ferraro

Since 1976, the Grameen Bank has made small loans to nearly 8,5 million women. Chabna is one of them. She used to beg to stay alive, now she runs her own small business selling yoghurt. "Before, I had nothing," she says, "Now I have something." Find out how microfinance has transformed her life.

Voices: South Africa

Benjamin Oroza

Take a cozy green screen studio, built inside a tent, to any place in the world. Then start collecting stories by asking random bypassers: what do you have in your mind? These are the stories from South Africa.

Voices: Bolivia

Benjamin Oroza

Take a cozy green screen studio, built inside a tent, to any place in the world. Then start collecting stories by asking random bypassers: what do you have in your heart? These are the stories from Bolivia.

Sea Gypsies

Elena Zervopoulou

What if you were forced to leave your home? On the Idyllic coral island in eastern Malaysia, increasingly tight fishing restrictions are making it difficult for the locals to survive. Life was once simple for the people on the island, but now the fishing restrictions make it hard to find food. Indanina fantasizes about life better life. She must make a choice - stay and risk starvation, or move to the city. The film explores the relationship between money and choice - Indanina and her family have little wealth, and are helpless against those who have a lot. With more and more tourists seeking out remote places to visit, is there a danger they're ruining the very idylls they are searching for?

Mama Illegal

Eduard Moschitz

Would you leave your family behind to find work? Unemployment in some of Moldavia's rural areas is as high as 80 percent. Anyone who can leave to work usually does. More than 1 million people have left to find work abroad. They often work illegally and for low pay. Mothers and fathers can spend years away from their children - but the money they send home can buy them a much better life. It's a hard choice to make.

Morris' Bag

Michele Mellara and Alessandro Rossi

Morris lives in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Kenya's capital Nairobi. Life there is difficult but through the marvels of urban farming and the creative use of an old sack, Morris is able to feed his family all year round. How do we cope with the growing demand on resources? As food prices rise, is there any way to protect the poorest? Or do we have to accept that they go hungry?

Love and Rubbish

Hanna Polak

An estimated five million people are homeless in Russia; one million of them are children. This film takes an unflinching look at the lives of a group of children living in a landfill outside of Moscow, showing the hardships they face and the dreams they hold on to.

God Is Rain

Rehad Desai

What happens when the water runs out? Around 500,000 people rely on Lake Turkana for fishing and for water for their crops and cattle. But the lake is drying up and the communities around it are fighting to survive. With the lake, a whole way of life is disappearing. Who is to blame, the people upstream for damming the Omo River or the developed world for causing climate change?

Afghan Girl

Nagieb Khaja & Louis Elsass

Teacher? Engineer? Shepherd? The number of Afghan girls enrolled in schools increased from 5,000 in 2001 to 2.4 million in 2010. In Afghanistan a young girl is herding sheep. Why isn't she at school?

Whose Land?

Eli Cane

Land Grab or Business Opportunity? An estimated 800,000 square kilometres of farmland in the developing world have been sold to foreign entities. This short film shows business Mali-style. Want to buy some land? No problem! Village in the way? No problem with that either, we'll just move it.

A Girl's Day

Tali Yankelevich

A teenager needs space to grow. How much space does a teenager need? What's it like growing up in a tiny flat where the only place you have privacy is the toilet? Hellen Cristina lives in a crammed flat in a densely populated favela. Like all teenage girls, she dreams of a different future.

Coal Boy

Chandrasekhar Reddy

Digging to the other end of the world? In the Jaintia Hills of northeast India, a young boy descends everyday into the 'rathole' coalmines. He works in these hard and dangerous conditions, so he can support his family. But in the dark he dreams of digging to the 'other end of the world'. He cherishes the hope of a better life. Even the darkest tunnel is no limit to the boy's imagination and courage. But are the inequities of the world too vast for the boy's hope to become reality?

The Cars Got to Go

Barney Snow

What would you do if someone knocked on your door and said they'd come to take away your car? Brian is a debt collector who repossesses cars from people with bad debts. But he's also had money problems himself, so he knows how it feels from both sides. Britain has £1.5 trillion worth of personal debt. The film looks at what this means for people who have debts they can no longer afford.

Birhan's Story

Bosse Lindquist and Pier Francheschi

The "Poster Girl for Starvation". Birhan Woldu's picture was beamed around the world during Live Aid. It was a horrifying image of a child starving to death -- probably dead already. But against all odds, Birhan lived - and appeared radiant and beautiful on the stage at Live8 in 2005. She was "a poster girl for starvation," and affirmation of what could be achieved. This short film looks at her experience and how it shaped her life.

This is Camden Calling

Annie Edwards

"There's nothing worse than having nowhere to call home". The stories of 3 people in North London who became homeless. And how music helped them start to get their lives back together.

Mauá Surroundings

Juliana Vicente

There are 450.000 empty properties in São Paulo. A new movement is reclaiming them for families. It's a battle that pitches people's rights to homes against the rights of home owners. If they are lucky enough to have homes, the poor of São Paulo live in cramped conditions, miles from amenities and work. But there are plenty of places to live in the centre of town and hundreds of families have taken over empty and abandoned buildings and founded new communities. However, it's an action that puts them against the police and the law, as they break in and settle down.

The Barrel

Anabel Rodriguez Rios

Luis is 13 years old and lives in a floating village in the middle of the Maracaibo Lake, one of the main oil reserves in Venezuela. What he wants, more than anything, is a used oil barrel so he can make a boat and enter a race that will get him accepted by the older kids. Every day in Maracaibo Lake 832.000 barrels of oil are extracted. Each barrel brings in 100 US dollars. Luis' family lives on less than 150 dollars a month. We see life in the floating village through a child's eyes - the fun of building a boat to take part in a race - but what are the challenges of living there and bringing up a family?

Hunger For Profit

Caroline Nokel & Valentin Thurn

On one side of the world American star investor Jim Rogers arrives at his elegant offices and explains how large investments and movements of money affect prices. On the other side of the world market vendors in Kenya feel the effects.

Holiday from Poverty

Jez Lewis

Poor families might not be starving in the UK, but in a culture where most people have more than you, being poor is isolating and shaming, "People look down on you for being poor." This personal film looks at the huge difference just having a holiday can make to a family living in poverty. "They don't want money, they just want their dignity back."

The Crisis and the Sunglasses

Sean McAllister

As the European dream fades, the economic crisis brings new poverty to the people of Athens. How will they survive as their society crumbles? A man's life is destroyed by the crisis: "I don't exist anymore" he says. But a small gift makes all the difference to him and his family...

Finding Josephine

Tomas Sheridan

A family has been supporting a child in Uganda via a charity for three years. The father and small daughter travel from UK to Uganda to see if their charity makes any difference: to them or to the child they are supporting.

The Thread

Alicia Cano

Throughout Latin America, a girl's 15th birthday marks her coming of age and is celebrated in style. It's a celebration that many poor rural families can ill-afford - the cost of the girl's dress alone is often prohibitive. Meet Blanca, a seamstress in Uruguay, who took advantage of a micro-credit scheme to invest in a sewing machine. Today she runs a business that makes and rents out affordable dresses. Now all the girls in her village can enjoy their coming of age.

Colours in the Dust

Jonathan Stack, Massena "Bougon" Cesar, Huguens Saintil, Jean Peirre Belony & Nicolas Cuellar

Ten-year-old Jouvens Latour survives Haiti's earthquake, but amidst the suffering, poverty turns into possibility. The young artist believes creativity is the way forward for his country.

Wilbur Goes Poor Episode 3

Adrien Roche

Wilbur Sargunaraj, India's first YouTube star is famous for his video showing westerners how to use an eastern toilet. In his irreverent comical style, he gives a guide within a music video for a western audience how to deal with poor people from the slums. Wilbur looks at poverty and inequality in India.


Valentin Thurn

1/3 of food heads for the trash. The food thrown away in Europe and North America would be enough to feed all the hungry people in the world three times over. 3 million tones of bread are thrown away in the European Union each year.


Nadine Cloete

What's your walk to school like when, every day, you have to cross one of the poorest parts of South Africa to get to class? Kelina, aged 11, is getting an education in a township in Cape Town, riddled with guns, drugs and violence. How does she see the world on her daily trip to school?

In Your Hands

Lucas Nieto

Cali in Colombia is the 11th most violent city in the world. Homicide levels are high and more than 40% of the city's murders take place in the district of Aguablanca. In a place where violence is so rife and where gang membership is a way of defending your neighbourhood, what path would you take if you lived there? Good? Bad? Indifferent? As Yahir travels around Aguablanca and stops to talk to his neighbours, can you guess what path he decided to take?

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