I am healthy. Throughout my childhood I ate nutritious food, took vitamins, received my immunizations, and slept soundly each night in a safe and comfortable bed. I did not go to school hungry unless I was dieting or sleepy unless I chose to stay up late. My worst illness was a cold or flu and I visited my family doctor regularly to ensure my good health. Unlike most children in the world, my health was considered important and guarded by my family. When I later became pregnant, I had excellent pre-natal care and my babies were delivered safely.
As a woman, I am protected by the law and society. Unlike many women in the world, I chose whom and when I would marry. If my husband didn't treat me well, I could divorce him. I was free to start a business and own it myself. I could own a house and other property in my name. For much of my life I took these rights for granted until I learned how few women were similarly protected.
Insurance protects me from disaster. As naïve as it may sound, it had never occurred to me that most poor people in the world have no insurance to protect them from a fire, flood, theft, or illness. Richard Leftley, founder of MicroInsure, a company that works to mitigate risks in developing countries, compares the lives of the poor to the childhood game of Chutes and Ladders, where every illness, emergency or disaster sends them back into greater poverty. I began to wonder where my life would be if we had personally paid for storm damage, medical bills and other costs over the years. What if every risk was potentially catastrophic?
I live in a stable country. Whatever concerns one has about the way our government operates, there is remarkable stability. Our currency does not have wild swings in value. Our laws do not change at the whim of a leader. A contract that is valid today will most likely be valid in 50 years. In many countries, this would sound like a wild fantasy. Without stability, it is almost impossible to operate a business or plan for the future.
I have access to capital and can save my money. Borrowing money to buy a house or car was a relatively simple undertaking for me. But mortgages and other forms of loans are much more complicated in many countries and often carry prohibitive interest rates and crushing terms. It is also more difficult and risky to save money in many countries, where banks have minimum requirements and fewer protections. Most poor people really do hide any money they have under a mattress or bury it in a tin can where it never earns interest and is easily stolen.
I am part of a growing economy. While I often talked about starting my company from scratch, I had really launched my business into the flowing river of an economy that carried it forward. For most people in the world, launching a business would be more like entering a stagnant pond and needing to do all the work to move forward. My business success was as much a product of other people's efforts as my own.
I was born into middle-class suburbia. Although I first met poor people in far away countries, I eventually came back to meet and listen to the poor in my own city. That's when I realized how few miles separate a comfortable suburban life from one of inner-city poverty. I met a woman who had never visited a dentist in her life and lived with aching jaw pain, and mothers who had never taken their children to the doctor. I learned how some public schools don't have books for all the children and how some children work hard to pass courses only to find that their curriculum has left them unprepared for college. I met women who left their children alone because they couldn't afford childcare while they worked and I met men who barely slept because they worked three low-wage jobs. I listened to stories of random violence and gang pressure. And I was stunned when I looked at a map and realized less than ten miles separated my warm, safe home from some of the worst sections of my city. Had I been born a few miles away to a family dealing with such pressures, would I have had any chance of succeeding?