Basing the Post-2015 Development Framework on Programmes That Work

24/10/2012 at 4:25 pm 6 comments

The discussions about the priorities for Development Cooperation for the period after 2015 – by which time the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are to be achieved – are beginning in earnest. Barely a week goes by without a new initiative springing up, aiming to promote reflection or discussion about what we have learned from the past and what should be our common priorities in the fight against hunger. And that is a very good thing.

The MDGs, agreed in 2000, articulated for the first time a global consensus on human development, providing an unprecedented ‘recipe’ for the fight against poverty. A recipe that aims to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty.

The importance of a shared view of what ‘Development’ means

Since 2000, there has been great progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Goals.

But the Goals have also been criticised for focusing too much on the numbers game: What good does it do poor children if they have en masse been enrolled in primary education (one of the MDGs) if the school they are in doesn’t teach them very much? (the Quality of education is expressly not one of the MDG indicators) How much of a success is it when the international community has halved the number of people experiencing poverty, when the ‘other half’ finds itself in deeper, more chronic poverty?

Much of the debate about the MDGs and what should succeeds them is focused on the current ‘fashion’ in Development thinking, based on the experience and priorities of aid donors and aid workers. But some of these priorities also seem to reflect current power politics in foreign affairs more than they do objective evidence of what works.

Clearly, at this early stage in the discussions, we must focus on values and the overall objectives of development cooperation, in a time of global challenges and major threats to the well-being of people and the planet. Yet, at the same time, we must strive to base our arguments on experience and evidence of impact.

Earlier this month, the European Commission suggested three key elements for the process towards the “Post 2015 Development Framework”:

  • A continuous dialogue with local actors, in particular civil society and local authorities.
  • A thorough review of what worked and what hasn’t when trying to achieve the MDGs.
  • A prominent role of insights from research and expert knowledge in our reflections on the way forward after 2015.

That sounds promising. NGOs the world over have direct experience of how people and communities experience poverty, and how they can organise to tackle its symptoms and causes. But in general, NGOs have not been good at capturing that experience, measuring it, or turning it into clear recommendations for better aid.


This blog post is one attempt to capture some of that learning. We have listed other examples here and here and we would certainly hope you can leave comments on this post (scroll down) with examples of your own.

What have we learned since the Millennium Declaration?

Much has been said and written about the changing nature of poverty. In short, due to economic growth and urbanisation, many poor people now live in Middle Income Countries, as opposed to the poorest countries normally referred to as the Least Developed Countries – prompting a renewed focus not on absolute poverty, but on poverty as a issue of inequality, marginalisation and exclusion.

On the other hand, there are also many constants when it comes to poverty. Just as was the case in 2000, anno 2012 three-quarters of the poorest people live in rural areas. And just as then, about one-third of the world’s poorest people are not in work – which also means that two-thirds of the world’s poorest people do have jobs yet are not able to make a decent living! (We also know that roughly two-thirds of the people in such low-value jobs are engaged in agriculture.)

What else have we learned?

  • Aid is not Development. Aid has had significant positive effects on ‘human development’ but is not intended to prompt economic growth. Aid’s main achievement is that it has lowered the cost of access to basic services (schools, health clinics, drinking water, etc) for poor and isolated communities. In doing so, it has helped lay the foundations the other major pillar of ‘Development’, economic growth. But aid should not be expected to ‘deliver’ economic growth if the global economy relegates developing countries to the role of exporters of raw materials.
  • It’s not all about aid. Aid works, but aid alone cannot end poverty. Aid is necessary and plays a vital role as a catalyst for development processes. Aid can save lives, protect and develop livelihoods and create the environment to allow people to regain control over their lives. However, in itself aid alone cannot bring about the type of transformation required to end poverty.
  • Development is about people. The IMF has shown that there is a clear correlation between how countries reduce inequality as they grow, and the length of the period of growth. In other words, it pays to ensure that economic benefits are spread evenly across all sectors of society.
  • Poverty eradication is the goal. And to achieve it, we must increase our understanding of what traps people in poverty, or what factors can lift them out of it. The Chronic Poverty Report 2008-09 described five ‘poverty traps’ which serve to keep people poor: insecurity, limited citizenship, spatial disadvantage, social discrimination and poor-quality work opportunities.
  • Not all forms of poverty are the same. Evidence suggest that as countries reduce absolute poverty more of the poverty left behind is chronic, meaning that people are poor over long periods of time, and likely to pass their poverty on to their children.
  • The rising tide does not lift all boats. Economic growth has reduced severe and chronic poverty less than poverty as a whole. In other words, a geowing economy does benefit some poor people, but without special measures aimed at severely and chronically poor peoprle and communities, economic growth does little for the most disadvantaged.
  • People need assets to break the cycle of poverty. Research shows how the accumulation of physical assets such as land or a house has helped people’s upward mobility. Households with few, or only one major asset, are most vulnerable and most likely to be ‘trapped’ in poverty – and, inversely, having many assets may give households more flexible livelihood options and enable them to respond to shocks more effectively.
  • Better agriculture is not enough. Research shows that much of the world’s chronic poverty can be found in rural and isolated areas, and that improvements in agriculture are a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for breaking the cycle of poverty. People who have been able to use non-farm activities to complement agricultural work have been better able to acumulate a minimum level of household assets. Similarly, the key issue for poor people is whether they have access to, and use of, land, which in turn puts issues of land rights at the heart of the fight against poverty.
  • Education is key. Studies by CPRC show that a completed education is key to most instances where people have been able to escape severe poverty. It also found that exiting poverty is easier for people in towns than for those in rural areas, because it is easier to find both the education and employment opportunities that enable upward mobility.
  • Chronic poverty is highly political. “Development” cannot be delivered from the outside, and “Poverty” is not merely a lack of money, food or shelter. To be poor is also to lack control over one’s life and resources, and “poverty” is not simply a matter of scarcity, but a matter of distribution of, and access to, resources. And “Development” is about reversing poverty and inequality, increasing the choices and opportunities available to poor people, and protecting their human rights.

This is not an exhaustive list.

There is much more that we have learned in the past twelve years. But we do hope that this list makes one important point:

We have a vast, and growing bank of evidence of what works – and what doesn’t – in the fight against poverty. And we believe that this evidence must inform our discussions about how the world should go about bringing an end to extreme poverty.

Hopefully some of these findings can influence the discussions about the World We Want and about the global Development Framework that should succeed the MDGs.

(And hopefully you will leave us your comments, with other key examples of evidence of what works for poor people!)


Further reading:

Entry filed under: MDGs. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

“Development programmes that work” – A short anthology of examples from research Beyond Bananas

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. post2015  |  25/10/2012 at 3:09 pm

    Reblogged this on – what comes after the MDGs?.

  • 2. Homepage  |  04/11/2012 at 3:53 am

    … [Trackback]…

    […] Read More: […]…

  • … [Trackback]…

    […] There you will find 92060 more Infos: […]…

  • 4. Beyond 2015 | Pearltrees  |  01/02/2013 at 9:57 am

    […] Basing the Post-2015 Development Framework on Programmes That Work […]

  • 5. Quora  |  11/04/2013 at 6:13 pm

    Has the percentage of people in absolute poverty changed?…

    First, the number of people in “extreme poverty” has gone down dramatically. “Extreme poverty” is defined as living with less than the equivalent of the purchasing power of $1.25 per day in the USA. That is not to say that others above that line ar…

  • […] In 2010, the United Nations took stock of progress towards the achievement of universally agreed goals ‘en route’ to the elimination of extreme poverty. A summary of the score cards can be found here (and if you want more details, have a look at some of these resources: Aid Works). This blog post neatly summarises what we have learned since 2000 about what works, and what doesn’t, in the fight against poverty, deprivation and marginalisation: Basing the Post-2015 Development Framework on Programmes That Work. […]


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