Headshot photo of Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

“we can be the first generation that ends poverty…”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says that we can be the first generation that ends poverty.

With the right investments and policies, we can be the first generation that ends poverty and the last that avoids the worst effects of climate change.

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, 10 July 2015

I hope we are the first generation to end poverty; we certainly aren’t the first generation to say that we can do it:

We are the first generation in history with ability to eradicate extreme poverty from the planet. The great kings, caliphs and emperors of the past would not have known how to go about it or how to pay for it. Now we basically know what it takes and we have all the required resources. What we need is the political will to just go ahead and do it!

Erik Solheim, Chair of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, 14 August 2014

It is now recognized that, for the first time, the world has the technology and resources to eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime.

Andris Piebalgs, European Development Commissioner, 2 June 2014

Central to this is eradicating extreme poverty from the face of the earth by 2030. This is something that leaders have promised time and again throughout history.
Today, it can actually be done.

High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, 30 May 2013

The world is at an auspicious moment. For the first time ever, we have a real opportunity to end extreme poverty within a generation. But achieving this goal won’t be easy.

Jim Kim, President of the World Bank, 17 April 2013

This amazing story of human progress shows what’s possible.
We can be the generation that eradicates absolute poverty in our world.

David Cameron, Speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, 24 January 2013

For the first time in history, global economic prosperity, brought on by continuing scientific and technological progress and the self-reinforcing accumulation of wealth, has placed the world within reach of eliminating extreme poverty altogether.

Jeff Sachs, “Can Extreme Poverty Be Eliminated?“, Scientific American, September 2005

You are right. We do have an historic opportunity this year to Make Poverty History.

Tony Blair, 16 April 2005, Campaign Diary

But in this new century, millions of people in the world’s poorest countries remain imprisoned, enslaved, and in chains. They are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free.

… Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.

Nelson Mandela, Trafalgar Square, February 2005

It’s an amazing thing to think that ours is the first generation in history that really can end extreme poverty, the kind that means a child dies for lack of food in its belly. This should be seen as the most incredible, historic opportunity but instead it’s become a millstone around our necks. We let our own pathetic excuses about how it’s ‘difficult’ justify our own inaction. Let’s be honest. We have the science, the technology, and the wealth. What we don’t have is the will, and that’s not a reason that history will accept.

Bono in an interview to the World Association of Newspapers for World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2004.

For the first time in human history, society has the capacity, the knowledge and the resources to eradicate poverty

Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, August 2002

in the new global economy we are, all of us, the richest countries and the poorest countries – inextricably bound to one another by common interests, shared needs and linked destinies; that what happens to the poorest citizen in the poorest country can directly affect the richest citizen in the richest country; and that not only do we have inescapable obligations beyond our front doors and garden gates, responsibilities beyond the city wall and duties beyond our national boundaries, but that this generation has it in our power – if it so chooses – to abolish all forms of human poverty.

Gordon Brown, speech to the Federal Reserve Bank, New York, 16 November 2001

The challenge is a huge one. But the prize is very great. We are the first generation in the whole of human history that has the chance to eradicate basic illiteracy from the human condition. And we can do this within fifteen years. Let’s resolve today – together – that we will do what needs to be done to make this happen.

Clare Short, UK Secretary of State for International Development, Speech to World Education Forum, Dakar, April 27, 2000

Hunger is man’s oldest enemy. There is now the scientific knowledge and the institutional arrangement that makes it possible to overcome hunger, not only within the United States but throughout the world. This can be done within the lifetime of people now living, if there is the political will to do so.

The Heritage Foundation, 1984

Mankind has never before had such ample technical and financial resources for coping with hunger and poverty. The immense task can be tackled once the necessary collective will is mobilized. What is necessary can be done, and must be done.

The Brandt Commission, North: South A Programme for Survival 1980

No child will go to bed hungry within ten years.

Henry Kissinger, First World Food Summit, Rome, 1974 

Because it is right, because it is wise, and because, for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty,

Lyndon B. Johnson, Special Message to Congress, March 16, 1964

The world has been greatly changed, especially during the last century, by the discoveries of scientists. Our increased knowledge now provides the possibility of eliminating poverty and starvation, of decreasing significantly the suffering caused by disease, of using the resources of the world effectively for the benefit of humanity.

Linus Pauling – Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1963

Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world–or to make it the last.

President John F. Kennedy, Address Before the 18th General Assembly of the United Nations, September 20, 1963

I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago. The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. … To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, Washington, D.C., January 20, 1961.

More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. …For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people.

Harry S Truman, Inaugural Address Given at Capitol Building, Washington, DC, Thursday, January 20, 1949

For the first time in history the counsels of mankind are to be drawn together and concerted for the purpose of defending the rights and improving the conditions of working people – men, women, and children – all over the world. Such a thing as that was never dreamed of before, and what you are asked to discuss in discussing the League of Nations is the matter of seeing that this thing is not interfered with.

Woodrow Wilson, League of Nations, 8th September, 1919

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and