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Rationale & Methodology

Why does poverty not disappear when the world keeps getting richer? Are our efforts to lift people out of poverty not enough – or is something else afoot that keeps making people poor?

Investigating these questions together with colleagues among more than 40,000 rural and urban households in different settings – including India, Kenya, Uganda, Peru, Bangladesh, and North Carolina (USA) – helped uncover some critical basis vectors that operate at the grassroots level.

Poverty is not only overcome; it is regularly reproduced. Two parallel and opposite flows reconstitute poverty continuously: (1) Some poor people escape poverty, but at the same time, (2) Some non-poor people become poor. Both flows were simultaneously at work in every one of more than 400 communities we studied. In no community did people only escape poverty or fall into it.

The outflow and the inflow are asymmetric in terms of underlying reasons: one set of reasons is associated with escaping poverty but another and different set of reasons is associated with falling into poverty. Both sets of reasons are context-specific, though poor health and high healthcare costs are commonly associated with becoming (and remaining) poor.

People remain poor not because they don’t try hard enough. In general, poor people work harder than others. But the efforts they make to pull themselves out of poverty are set at naught when adverse events occur.

Two sets of poverty policies are required for combating poverty more effectively: preventive policies to slow down the inflow, together with promotional policies to accelerate the outflow. The emphasis to be placed on each type of policy will depend on the relative rates of inflow and outflow in a given context.

Localized investigations that disaggregate poverty and study both constituent flows are thus required for fashioning appropriate and effective policies and programs. A methodology called Stages of Progress was developed to help with these investigations that can reliably disaggregate flows and identify context-specific reasons, helping design the relevant interventions.