Gapminder is a Swedish NGO with the aim to get people to understand the world around them to make better decisions. Better understanding gives better decisions. Most people are neither extremely poor, nor extremely rich; they are in the middle. Dollar Street shows over 400 families in more than 60 countries, with thousands of photos and videos for everyone free accessible. Beyond misconceptions and prejudices.
The world is getting worse!”, “The population just keeps growing!” and “Nobody cares!”. Fortunately, these mega misconceptions are not unpredictable. They follow very systematic and predictable patterns, which means they don’t have to be dismantled one person at a time, but they can be confronted with systematic solutions. Dollar Street shows real everyday life of people in different countries, from poor people, over middle class, to the rich people, all in the “Dollar Street” – visualizing impact of economy.
Dollar Street is a project to open the eyes to the real living conditions of people, people who are behind economic facts and figures. The background is the challenge for people to understand what life is like on different income levels around the World. Even if people travel, often the difference of everyday life of normal people is not seen, and usually everybody stays in his own income bracket even when abroad. Media reports usually see images of life in extreme wealth (the rich and famous) or from catastrophes (destroyed homes from earthquakes, refugees on the run…). You seldom see life as it is for most people. Therefore, for many people it is difficult getting the proportions right when it comes to what is going on in other places.
In high income countries we talk a lot about “the middle class” and “poor” and it might be hard to understand that middle income in a rich country is being rich in a global perspective.
Behind the project Dollar Street is the Non-Governmental-Organization (NGO) Gapminder, founded in Stockholm in 2005 by Ola Risling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Hans Rosling , . The project Dollar Street started by developing visualizations like in figure 1, and to show what different income levels mean in everyday life. Gapminder came up with the idea of making a street where we place real homes based on their income, and we use the income as a street number, so your neighbors could be from anywhere in the world, but you have a similar income. Everyone lives on Dollar Street. The poorest to the left and the richest to the right. Everyone else lives somewhere in between. We do standard documentation in every home we visit, ask the same questions and take the same photos and videos.
The project is open for anyone to use. Everyone can add his or her home on the street for free. It is the biggest systematic database of life at home in the World. At the moment Dollar Street shows 449 families in 66 countries, with 43,218 photos and 7,530 videos and counting.
Showing real people and destines behind names of cities and streets
To understand the World we need to understand everyday life of people. What somebody sees from other places is often the exotic (vacation spots and attractions like palmy beaches and the Eiffel Tower) and the terrifying (terrorism, natural disasters and human suffering in different kinds). That makes it hard to understand the world and easily creates an image in our heads that people are very different from us in other places. But, in Dollar Street you can see that the differences between countries on the same income level is not that big, there is a lot of similarities in how you sleep, cook, socialize, and shower. We share the same struggles of getting the kids to school and have them doing their homework, of getting enough time to socialize and rest.
People need to see life in extreme poverty and the gradual improvements to understand it. Most people can see the hardships a life in poverty is and it is good to have that in the back of your mind when thinking about your own hardships. To become more grateful for what you have, to realize that most humans lived in extreme poverty 100 years ago, but that a majority of humans managed to get improved living conditions since. And, when thinking of helping the world to become a better place, we should not forget the poorest, even though they might be in other countries, and they might not be visible. And especially those need the help the most.
Dollar Street wants to reach everyone, but especially students and decision makers who need to understand the world around them. Better understanding gives better decisions. For instance, most people are neither extremely poor, nor extremely rich; they are in the middle. So the biggest markets are in the middle. This view might affect what business, services and products to go for. Dollar Street could be good for researchers who needs to understand life on a certain income level or a context and could not afford to collect imagery from homes globally. And for journalists that need a quick understanding what everyday life can look like at different income levels
Success and impact
One aim of Dollar Street is to be used as a complement to the dramatic imagery we see in the news. To show what life is like. Having people realize that there are big differences within countries and big similarities on the same income level across countries. It should be a contribution of killing country stereotypes. The impact should be in understanding everyday life on different income levels so that people realize that life is hard in most places for most people and that these people might need our help.
Facts do not appear automatically in our heads like opinions do. Facts have to be learned. To solve this massive global problem we need to start teaching global facts in schools and in corporate education. This is an exciting problem because it seems very solvable and solving it would have enormous long-term impact. Like the visionaries who imagined that all children should learn to read and write, Gapminder is envisioning a world where all people have the skills to control their dramatic instincts and instead use facts to understand the world, which would enable an endless amount of better decisions for sustainable global development. If decision makers knew to check proportions before getting carried away by a slogan, and if they understood the climate system then they would realize what energy transformations are most crucial.
People showing their real life
Poorer people are happy to invite and want others to see how they live. They tend to participate in the project more often. Richer people are usually more reserved, but most often they are happy to participate too. To find people participating in Dollar Streets differs from countries and times. In the beginning, Gapminder hired photographers who traveled to find homes we had specified (statistically relevant). Now, it is a combination of hired photographers and volunteers. In Colombia, a university professor has integrated Dollar Street in his teaching, and Gapminder gets a lot of homes from there.
Overcoming global misconceptions
The NGO Gapminder Foundation mission is identifying systematic misconceptions about important global trends and proportions and uses reliable data to develop easy to understand teaching materials to rid people of their misconceptions. It gets funds from donors. Postkodstiftelsen, Ikea Foundation and Gates Foundation has been part of the funding so far. Gapminder is an independent Swedish foundation with no political, religious, or economic affiliations.
The methodology is, first, to ask thousands of questions to the public in many countries to see what they think the world looks like. Then, the check of data from reliable sources and identify the worst global misconceptions – basically where people’s ideas differ the most from reality. Finally, to help everyone get rid of those misconceptions and flip their worldview to become fact-based.
The goal is helping everyone to develop a fact-based worldview through data visualization tools, tests about many global topics, teaching materials, frameworks (which make things easier to understand) lectures and certificates.
The question of how to reach better places or economy should always be added by the question – for whom? Places and economy are not homogenous. There are everywhere richer and poorer people. Over time the global economy has grown a lot. Gapminder is concerned the poorest are left behind as the majority of the world population is getting richer over time. So make sure the poorest in the world get out of extreme poverty, as it is not a decent life. The task is to get people to understand the world around them to make better decisions. Dollar Street can play an important part there.