Addressing the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty at the World Bank

Above: Co-researchers presenting the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty research

On February 15, 2024, the conference ‘Addressing the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty in Knowledge and Policies’ took place. Hosted by the World Bank, in collaboration with ATD Fourth World and the IMF, it brought together co-researchers from the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty research project and experts and professionals from the World Bank and the IMF. The presentations made throughout the day by the co-researchers and diverse stakeholders highlighted the importance of including the lived experience of people in poverty in the discussion, planning, and evaluation of poverty policies.

“We say the hidden dimensions of poverty, but these dimensions have always been here, it’s just the right people were never asked or listened to before.”

Maryann Broxton, co-researcher

Respect, inclusion, and trust

The principles of the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty research project were echoed in the keynote address by Nobel Prize Laureate in Economic Sciences, Ester Duflo. During her presentation, Duflo outlined some of the key concerns that arise when designing redistribution programs, namely questions of targeting, conditionality, and ‘cash in-kind’. She highlighted three key principles that are essential to addressing these concerns constructively. Respect – for the dignity of people in poverty, trust – in the integrity of people in poverty with a belief that they want to better themselves and increase their capability, and inclusion – where we learn why and how people often feel excluded from targeted programs they are entitled to.

With these ideas in mind, Duflo emphasized the significance of the research done by the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty teams, stressing how,

“the perspective that people who have experienced poverty have, both having lived in poverty and having experienced the social protection system is critical to thinking about all three of these issues.”

Ester Duflo, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economic Sciences

Diverse in knowledge and experience

The panel which presented the findings of the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty was not just reflective of the national diversity of the project with representatives from five of the six participating countries, but also of the diversity in knowledge and experience. ATD Fourth World activists, practitioners, and academics alike presented the research they had conducted together with equal participation.

Kitojo Wetengere an academic from Tanzania, spoke on how the social equality among the researchers was incredibly transformative but did not come easily in the beginning. As he explained, people living in poverty felt their lack of formal education would impede their ability to participate in the research or discussions with the professors. “Poverty tends to impose a hierarchy that governs relationships among different actors and people in poverty are always at the bottom.” Wetengere went on to point out that, at the same time, the academics came into the space with a lot of “arrogance and pride”, feeling that they were “the sources and keepers of knowledge”.

Merging of Knowledge

Working with the Merging of Knowledge technique, these barriers were slowly overcome. More time was given to people in poverty to express their ideas and thoughts as a way to empower them. Over time they grew in confidence and all the participating groups started learning from each other.

As Wetengere explained, “People in poverty now started to meet and mix easily with other members of the group…and talk freely. [They] argued, defended their points and questioned and there were times when they said ‘no’ to something that was imposed by an academic.”

This confidence could be seen from the ATD Fourth World activists on the panel. Thomas Mayes an activist from the UK presented on the relational dynamics of the hidden dimensions and poverty. The information he shared from the report was complemented by the details he included of his own experiences with poverty.

  • “When my children were younger, the state recognized me as a full-time carer for them due to their special needs and physical disabilities. To look after them I had to learn the skills of professional caregivers, but I had no qualifications. Even if I learned the skills and was doing the same job, my experience does not seem to count in the outside world. My sacrifices for my children go unrecognized.”

Similarly, Roxana Quispe an ATD Fourth World activist from Bolivia presented the core experience and spoke on the mental effort and resilience of those living through poverty.

“Each of us is constantly working and seeking strategies to meet our needs with great creativity, determination, and courage.”

Roxana Quispe, co-researcher

From research to action

The research on the hidden dimensions of poverty was translated into a formulative new tool for evaluating poverty policy. Xavier Godinot, research director at ATD Fourth World, and Oliver de Schutter, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights presented on the Inclusive, Deliberative Elaboration and Evaluation of Policies (IDEEP) tool and how it aims to actively involve people in poverty in the design, implementation, and evaluation of poverty policies.

With its six phases, the IDEEP tool is not intended to replace existing evaluation methods but instead to complement them with the lived experience of people in poverty.

The tool was designed with four goals in mind. Firstly, to translate the hidden dimensions of poverty research into action. Secondly, to create participation that empowers those in poverty and transforms decision-making processes to resemble research processes that build upon the knowledge of social actors. Thirdly, to better understand incentives, taking into account the influences of cognitive biases, emotions, and social morals. Ultimately, to move from empirical economics to empowering economics. Lastly, to promote a more democratic society it is essential to increase instances where individuals actively participate in decision-making processes that directly impact them.

Emma Poma, an ATD Fourth World activist from Bolivia, provided more insight into the tool as someone with lived experience of poverty. She highlighted how it “is a way to favor dialogues that allow us to consider in detail the positive or negative impact of any program or anti-poverty strategy, ensuring that decisions improve the living conditions of the people who are the most vulnerable.”

Taking steps forward

Much like the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty research project and the IDEEP tool, the conference was participatory and engaging, with insightful reflections from World Bank and IMF members as well as a chance for questions and answers at the end of each session. Smaller workshop sessions were held in the afternoon for in-person attendees to encourage open dialogue on the ideas discussed in the conference.

By bringing the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty into the light and allowing those with a lived experience of poverty to have a platform at institutions like the World Bank and IMF, a clearer and more constructive understanding of poverty has been brought forth.

“To fight against poverty and inequality it is essential to take into account the knowledge and the experience of those who suffer poverty.”

Emma Poma, co-researcher

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