This month the journal “Science” published the first-ever randomized controlled trial of 21,000 cases of poverty reduction efforts around the globe. This landmark study by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor proves the effectiveness of a multipronged, multiyear approach that can help end global poverty by 2030.
In other words, we have proof positive that it’s possible to end global poverty at the community level. Now what? The next step — besides multiplying these efforts — must be to apply locally successful strategies at the global level.
The CGAP study came as welcome news to my organization, which in 1991 pioneered the kind of comprehensive methodology evaluated in the study. The study also validated our own finding that microcredit doesn’t work for the ultrapoor, but an integrated approach involving direct donations and income-generating activities can make a real difference.
Now we are calling on social entrepreneurs, venture philanthropists and other nongovernmental organizations to get on board with what works.
Having invested two-thirds of my personal wealth into the NGO I founded, I have always been focused on achieving the most impact for my money. At an average yearly cost of between $125 and $230 per person, FXB has implemented a well-tested three-year program, which, to date, has lifted 81,000 people out of poverty in eight countries around the globe.
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Our approach has been called holistic because it takes into account the entire set of circumstances that result in a person ending up in extreme poverty (generally defined as living on less than $1.25 a day). To break the cycle of poverty we need to address a person’s access to food, health care, education, housing and income. Children’s rights, and a keen awareness of political limitations, and the ever-present threat of epidemic disease, are all essential to incorporate in the planning stages of any poverty reduction effort.
The problem of too many government-sponsored approaches to poverty reduction is that they tend to have separate aid agencies specializing in each of these areas, while the key to channeling people on the path to self-sufficiency is to address all issues simultaneously. It not only works better, but it also brings about relief from extreme poverty faster and more effectively than separate interventions.
After all, what is the purpose of building a health clinic if sick people don’t have access to safe drinking water at home? What is the point of operating a school if children have to learn on empty stomachs? Why should people cultivate a field if they cannot preserve and sell the harvest? How can one encourage the accumulation of savings without knowing how to manage it as well?
Working at the community level for more than 25 years, it was easier for FXB to evaluate the direct impact of our efforts and calibrate our approaches accordingly. This yielded a knowledge base that we have now made available to the public through an online, open source toolkit, created in collaboration with experts at Harvard University, which we hope will have an impact on larger-scale global efforts to reduce extreme poverty.
Wider knowledge sharing in the humanitarian community is a must, if we want to speed up the process of lifting millions of people from extreme poverty. There is no time to waste in helping large organizations do a better job of learning from smaller, more nimble NGOs. Yet large government programs continue to function in a clustered fashion. The result is that the biggest sums of money available to fight poverty are sometimes spent the least effectively.
The good news is we may have reached the “tipping point” in the fight against poverty. The United Nations and World Bank recently affirmed the world has attained the first Millennium Development Goal target: to cut the 1990 poverty rate in half by 2015. But the number of people living in extreme poverty globally remains unacceptably high. The most recent estimates show that 17 percent of the world population still lives on less than $1.25 a day.
In light of the best scientific data now available to us, we now know what works. We have no more excuses. With our sights set firmly on the targets of the sustainable development goals, let’s get to work pushing for the faster, wider adoption of the best practices developed by NGOs. If we succeed, we stand a real chance of tipping the scales in the fight against extreme poverty around the globe.
Sustaining Development is a three-month online series exploring the post-2015 development agenda hosted by Devex in partnership with Chevron, FXB, Global Health Fellows Program II, Philips, UNIDO, U.N. Volunteers and the U.S. Council for International Business. We will look at the practical steps needed to move the sustainable development goals from concept to reality. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #SustainDev.