Volunteering at a local soup kitchen in Kuala Lumpur highlighted the myriad of problems created by living below the poverty line and the stark contrast in lifestyles and wealth. While reading Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, I began to understand how poverty diminishes productivity in low-socioeconomic communities, where individuals’ attempts to become empowered through education are hampered by lack of access to basic life essentials including food and safe shelter. Is economic policy the key to solving poverty and its associated problems?
Being able to understand the answer to this question and applying economic knowledge and tools to help the poor excel above the poverty line is what drives me to study economics and choose economics major. Witnessing urban poverty on a massive scale in my own backyard has made me keen to apply economic policy to make a difference in the world so that a reasonable quality of life is available to all, not just a few. Understanding that poverty wasn’t a problem that was isolated to one demographic, but rather people of all ages and backgrounds led me to read Poor Economics by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. I found it fascinating to read the way they explained certain trends such as why people were consuming less calories per capita than before, why do the poor demand expensive cures instead of cheap prevention of diseases like measles or malaria or why have literacy rates still stagnated even when the influx of free schools for the poor is high. Explaining these trends helped them develop policy that was very different to what had been posed before by traditional development economists. Furthermore, they stayed away from generalizations such as the poor are in a poverty trap therefore the solution is straightforward.
The more important question in my opinion is to figure out how do we address the multitude of unique problems that each person living in poverty faces so that we can help as many people as we can. Learning about the views of Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly has encouraged me to explore different views in debate clubs or outside of class but also made me keen to pursue a similar environment at university. As a fundraiser, I provide supplies to a local Somali refugee school. This has helped me learn about the refugee community and the refugee situation in Malaysia. While they are unable to work legally, they have been able to start small businesses that have boosted the local economy; unskilled workers have been able to gain employment and become part of the supply chain for local businesses. Integrating refugees into our society is key to boosting our economy and increasing our living standards. Getting involved has taught me the importance refugees play in developing our economies as they put their skills to use as well and the immense value of teamwork.
I have also improved my language skills as I work with others from various backgrounds to help refugees while conversing in multiple languages. I wish to continue my passion of volunteering and devote my time to support those in need at university as well. My EPQ on the challenges of encouraging widespread adoption of the electric car for the average UK family has enabled me to learn more about the theory of the firm. I researched the feasibility of electric cars from multiple angles such as the availability of key resources, for instance lithium for the batteries, consumer perceptions towards the electric car and most importantly the running costs of an electric car for the average family. I found that global lithium supplies need to increase in order for firms to make enough batteries and a new type of battery may be needed in order to encourage widespread adoption.
To share my passion in Economics, I started the TED-Ed club where we examine things such as the economics of terrorism, can political freedom be achieved with economic prosperity or whether irrational thoughts of human beings can be anticipated and could we apply that to our advantage. Facilitating the club on a weekly basis has showed me the importance of having discussions on a wide range of issues and taught me how to manage a group of people effectively. I want to study economics because I aim to help my fellow human beings thrive in all sorts of ways possible such as those who seek a better life at the soup kitchen.