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Sauvé Series Event Explores Multidimensional Poverty

Dr. Sabina Alkire
November 13, 2017

On November 6th, the Fall 2017 Jeanne Sauvé Forum Series on Social Connectedness and International Development continued with an event entitled, Beyond Silos: Communities as  Drivers in Overcoming Multidimensional Poverty.

The Sauvé Series, created by Professor Kim Samuel in collaboration with the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation, explores the root causes of social isolation, along with strategies for building social connectedness through international policy and program development. It began last fall with weekly discussions at the historic Jeanne Sauvé House in Montreal covering a variety of topics, from the UN Sustainable Development Goals to refugees and human rights. The Series is also closely linked with Professor Samuel’s fourth-year seminar course on social connectedness at McGill University, the first of its kind.

The November 6th event featured experts from the grassroots and global policy levels, including Dr. Sabina Alkire, Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative; and Marlene Ogawa, Program Manager at the Synergos Institute in South Africa. The discussion was focused on measuring and addressing multidimensional poverty, with emphasis on the importance of communities and local knowledge.

Professor Samuel opened the evening by making the important distinction between traditional definitions of poverty and multidimensional poverty. “While states often define poverty in terms of narrow measures of income and GDP,” she said, “the poor themselves refer to a much broader definition.” As she explained, multidimensional poverty encompasses factors such as a lack of education, health services, housing, employment, personal security — and social isolation.

Kim Samuel, Professor of Practice, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University; President, The Samuel Family Foundation

Professor Samuel recalled meeting a woman in Mozambique during her field research who said, “Poverty means being lonely and not being able to get things because you are lonely.” Another shared with her, “Even if you are hungry, you can’t go to your neighbours to ask for food or money because they are judging you that you are poor.” Professor Samuel explained, “The shame of being seen as in need can be so painful that people withdraw and isolate themselves. And when those human connections are absent or lost, our suffering is profound.”

Dr. Sabina Alkire then began her remarks by emphasizing the importance of measurement when it comes to addressing multidimensional poverty — because “numbers can move policymakers and ordinary people.” As she explained, while the World Bank continues to measure extreme poverty as earning less than $1.90 per day, it has accepted the recommendation of Sir Anthony Atkinson to broaden the conception of poverty to include non-monetary measures.

Dr. Sabina Alkire, Director, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, University of Oxford

Dr. Alkire explained how her work has encouraged policymakers in a number of countries to develop multidimensional poverty indices (MPIs) in order to: complement monetary poverty statistics; track poverty over time; allocate resources by sector and by region; target marginalized regions, groups, or households; coordinate policy across sectors and subnational levels; adjust policies by what works; leave no one behind; and be transparent so all stakeholders engage. To illustrate, she described examples of actions being taken by leaders in countries such as Ecuador, Chile, Pakistan and Colombia to help lift people out of poverty based on MPI data.

Following Dr. Alkire, Marlene Ogawa brought the audience down to the community level in describing the work Synergos is doing to promote social connectedness in South Africa. “Within programs that address poverty, you need to address how socially connected people are,” she explained. “If you’re isolated, you can’t access the social capital around you.”

Marlene Ogawa, Program Manager, Synergos Institute in South Africa

In particular, Ms. Ogawa described the importance and impact of helping children living in poverty to develop meaningful bonds with peers, family and community. Children, she explained, are often the most vulnerable and susceptible to social isolation; but if they have meaningful social connections, then they become far more resilient. Ms. Ogawa argued consistently that social connectedness needs to be a component of all poverty reduction programming.

Leading off the discussion portion of the evening was Jessica Farber, Policy Analyst with the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness. She remarked on witnessing dimensions of poverty such as violence and insecurity while previously working in El Salvador. “Poverty is about having no choices,” she said.

Jessica asked the panelists, how can we convince policymakers to actually consider data? Ms. Ogawa said we need to engage young leaders and the leaders of tomorrow through youth leadership initiatives so that decision makers are more in tune with the challenges facing their countries. Dr. Alkire highlighted the importance of public pressure in preventing leaders from ignoring key issues affecting communities. For example, she described how public pressure compelled the government of El Salvador to include violence as a measure in its MPI.

One audience member asked about the use of local and cultural practices in building connectedness, and specifically if certain ones may actually present negative consequences. Ms. Ogawa answered that they focus on practices that make a positive impact and integrate well into programming, such as storytelling. Another positive example she mentioned are traditional ceremonies when parents pass away.

Another audience member asked about how we should talk about and research poverty in developed countries, noting the plight of Indigenous people in Canada as an example. Dr. Alkire said there’s actually very little difference. Come up with a common definition of poverty that people accept and identify strategies to address it. Professor Samuel underscored how poverty levels in Canada’s Indigenous communities are on par with those in the African country of Chad, and that there would be value in creating an MPI specifically for them. Dr. Alkire remarked that it can be done, and that something similar was done for the Roma in Europe, who are significantly poorer than others in the region.

The next Sauvé Series event will feature a discussion on how individuals, government and community organizations can work together to embrace ageing populations and identify innovative, intergenerational pathways to social connectedness. Speaking at the event will be Bethany Brown, Researcher, Health and Human Rights Division, Human Rights Watch; and Dr. Shamiel Alexis McFarlane, MSc Candidate, McGill University. For more information and to register for this event, please visit