1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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First Global Poverty Summit examines strategies in poverty reduction

31 Jan 2011

UNRISD Research Coordinator Yusuf Bangura spoke at the first Global Poverty Summit held from January 17 to 19 in Johannesburg. The high-level meeting was organized by Brooks World Poverty Institute, the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at The City University of New York Graduate Center, and the CUTS Center for International Trade, Economics and Environment (CITEE). The principal aim was to critically assess the role of global institutions in poverty reduction.

Apart from sparking a fruitful discussion and exchange between experts, the summit offered a participatory model for similar fora debating complex issues of our time. It examined poverty reduction through two framework global initiatives: the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Agenda (DDA). UNRISD’s Yusuf Bangura contributed to the MDG Taskforce deliberations with a paper entitled “The MDGs and Strategies for African Development”. His presentation in Johannesburg highlighted main findings of the UNRISD flagship report Combating Poverty and Inequality.

The key messages of Yusuf Bangura’s contribution resonate with the ideas of the summit and recall the developments in Africa since decolonization. The MDGs – focused on alleviating hunger and poverty, promoting universal primary education, reducing child and maternal mortality and advancing gender equality – essentially promote social development. Notably, growth accompanied by expanded employment opportunities can have strong multiplier effects on various MDGs. In high-income countries economic growth has been coupled with a broader shift from agriculture to industry and from industry to services. Africa has not followed such a path; industrialization has lagged, productivity in agriculture and services has remained low, and economic and social policies have been fragmented.

Bangura maintains that “social policies must be grounded in universal rights”. While social spending increased in recent years due to aid embracing basic services, in countries where social programmes are limited, targeting vulnerable groups may not render results when poverty is widespread. “Transformative social policy” should aim for redistribution, enhancing productive capacities of individuals and communities and protecting people through improving institutions that address unemployment, health issues and elderly people’s needs.

Poverty is linked to often interlocking inequalities of class, gender, race, and region. Some patterns of growth or change (also called “structural shocks”) are underpinned by and reinforce such inequalities. In order to address multiple dimensions of inequality, countries can adopt redistributive policies, such as enabling access to credit and to productive assets for marginalized populations, designing a redistributive and effective tax regime, and increasing public works and rural infrastructure investment.

Bangura noted that countries which managed to reduce poverty in a shorter time frame had political systems deliberately focused on both economic growth and collective welfare. These countries created competent bureaucracies, institutionalized social rights and nurtured competitive democratic regimes. In Mauritius, agricultural workers with trade unionists jointly induced the state to universalize social rights and social services. Hence, democracy is more likely to deliver when groups tied to the poor mobilize and organize, transcend divisions and demand accountability of policy makers through transparent competitive elections. In Senegal’s 1993 election, for example, a strong farmers’ federation pressured the president to put agricultural policy on the agenda, which eventually led to cutting agricultural loan interest rates and import taxes on agricultural inputs. Overall, Africa’s experience suggests that anti-poverty measures have limited results if not integrated with broader social policies and economic production, or endorsed by politics.

Following a two-day segment for expert debate, a public event opened with a plenary lecture by a Nobel Laureate, Professor Joseph Stiglitz. The other keynote speakers included the Minister of Finance of Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, and Supachai Panitchpagdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD. The public day featured four panels including one on the UN system’s record in economic development and poverty reduction. The audience prompted panelists to reflect on how the collapse of a bipolar world and the state of flux of the international system affect the UN, and other questions touching the core of the UN system. Bangura noted that while world leaders continue to give preference to Bretton Woods institutions as far as macroeconomic advice and policy are concerned, the growing strength of the UN may reflect a shift in the constellation of global forces and development paradigm.

The first Global Poverty Summit made steps forward in integrating knowledge and practice from over 50 leading scholars, advocates and policy makers in the field of development. The Summit’s outcomes will be summarized in two high-level reports on Africa, the MDGs and the DDA. These are expected in a matter of months, and will be later expanded into a book. For now, the presentations and materials from the event are available on the Global Poverty Summit website, and a video from the public event is forthcoming.