Here's how we end extreme poverty

By Alex Thier 25 September 2015

A young man (right) holds up a sign that reads “end poverty” during the Light the Way event on the eve of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York. While extreme poverty has been cut from 43 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2011, a billion people still live below the poverty line. Photo by: Marisol Grandon / DfID / CC BY-SA

What may be the biggest gathering of world leaders in history happens this weekend at the United Nations. Even the Pope is coming. Not to mention U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Bono.

As always, global crises such as migration, the Islamic State group and Ebola will be front and center. But this year will be different. Leaders will agree to a new platform of global goals on development through 2030, and one uniting goal will rise above all others: ending extreme poverty. Together, we can do it.

Far from a dream uttered at a beauty pageant, this goal is the basis of a serious global summit. For much of history, the majority of humanity has lived in extreme poverty — the lack of sufficient resources for a family to survive and thrive at the most basic level of human dignity. These resources include enough clean water and nutritious food, an education, income generating work, and participation in a free and open society.

As recently as 1990, 43 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty. However, the tables are turning. The first Millennium Development Goal pledged to cut this rate in half by 2015. By 2011, that number had fallen to 17 percent. But, there are still a billion people struggling to move out of extreme poverty.

To achieve this goal, we need a plan. And this week, the United States Agency for International Development launched a Vision to End Extreme Poverty. This vision gives a definition of extreme poverty — not only the $1.25 a day World Bank threshold, but a multidimensional understanding of what it means to be extremely poor. We lay out a theory of change based on intensive examination of how poor countries have built and sustained economic growth that is inclusive of all segments of society through creating strong, accountable institutions; investing in their people; and partnering with the private sector and civil society. The last few decades have demonstrated that any country, on any continent, with the right mix of good leadership and good policies can lift its population out of poverty.

We also know that accomplishing this goal will require effort to overcome the most critical challenges including violence, disenfranchisement and natural disasters. That is where the MDGs and the sustainable development goals differ.

For the first time, the global goals include action against climate change and feature “Goal 16” which recognizes that peace, justice and inclusive governance are the foundation upon which all development success will rest. Our vision argues that more focused attention on fragility and resilience will be fundamental to success.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Summit is a chance for governments, companies and civil society to demonstrate the will to end extreme poverty. Getting there will take a real commitment of resources, human capital, innovation, measurement and above all, partnership. As big as the end goal seems, far more people have been lifted out of poverty than remain — and a solution is at hand.

Check out all of our live coverage of New York Global Dev week here, follow @Devex and join in using #GlobalGoalsLive. Devex's independent coverage is supported by Every Woman Every Child in partnership with Johnson & Johnson.

About the author

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Alex Thier Thieristan

Alex Thier is the incoming executive director of the Overseas Development Institute and the former chief of policy, planning and learning at the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C.

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