Half of the world’s population — 2.8 billion — lives on less than $2 a day. And 70 percent of those live in rural areas where agriculture is the only means to survive. For
those that own land, life is good. Land ownership can provide housing, warmth, comfort, food, good health, stable conditions to bring up a family, access to credit and a place of status within a community. For those that don’t own land, it is a day-to-day struggle just to stay alive. If people are fortunate enough to find work in agriculture, they are working for someone else to gain the profits of their labor, leaving them with a lot of time and effort for someone else’s benefit. The land situation is worse for women. Women hold less status than men do in many of these places. They are not allowed to own land, even if it is passed down through inheritance within the family.
This is where president and CEO Tim Hanstad of Landesa enters into the picture. Hanstad, following in the footsteps of Landesa’s founder Roy Prosterman, tackles this problem at the government level. He establishes a working relationship with various world governments, trying to change the laws that inhibit women and men from obtaining land or keeping the land they have. Field surveys are taken in rural districts of China, Africa and India to find out exactly what the situation is with the poor who are living there, and if they have or have ever had access to owning their own land. Then, time is spent researching the current laws in those areas to see where changes could be made to improve the lives of those who are so desperately in need. In doing so, it is possible to help whole communities of people rather than working with each individual at a time.
The idea is simple. In just one tenth of an acre of land, a family can have a home and enough space left over to grow fruits and vegetables for the family to eat year-round. Any excess could be sold at market. This small parcel would be cheap enough for governments to secure enough micro-acreage to give to many of the poorest people in their nation. So far, Landesa has helped 100 million families secure land and escape poverty. Their main focus is for women to secure or keep land and in the inheritance rights of girls.
According to the Schwab Foundation, since, Hanstad joined Landesa in the 1980s, the company “has grown 100-fold, opened eight new offices in Asia and Africa and has generated tens of millions of dollars of earned income.” Hanstad has been recognized as “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Schwab Foundation and in 2012 by the Skoll Foundation.