Note on the COVID-19 pandemic to colleagues working on multidimensional poverty

As we are all aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting our lives and changing how we operate, personally and professionally.

At OPHI we are starkly conscious of how important energetic, effective, and swift work to redress poverty is and will remain throughout the crisis and the economic downturn that seems likely to accompany it.

Increases in multidimensional poverty due to COVID-19
As many of our colleagues are highlighting, there will be many more ‘new poor’ or ‘differently poor’ people as a result of COVID-19. This virus is already exacerbating inequalities in society globally in ways perhaps that we had not predicted.

Professionals working on multidimensional poverty are a critical resource at this juncture for several reasons:

  • We recognize something that now is widely visible: poverty has many dimensions. Seeing the different portfolios of difficulties people carry is absolutely essential for a sufficient response.
  • The MPI is a measurement technology already up and running to identify who is poor and how they are poor, and how poverty is increasing or decreasing.
  • A growing community of committed and engaged professionals, who care about our work, is active across the world in low- and middle-income and OECD countries alike.
  • We span institutions ranging from academia and government to the private sector; from measurement and statistics to policy and evaluation. More than ever we need to continue bringing together this broad spectrum of expertise.

Sharing as we innovate
We hope that OPHI and the MPPN, of which we are Secretariat, will be a resource that we can all use and contribute to – one that helps keep integrated policies visible and effective through innovative applications of multidimensional poverty measurement.

How can we use the MPI in this crisis? The aim is for the work in delivering a large-scale swift response (for example to the newly unemployed and the vulnerable – including children) to build upon sound and deeply considered responses to multidimensional poverty, and to do so rapidly, using the newest data. Innovations including, but not limited to, the ideas below are sure to be needed.

  • Who among us will be the first to do an MPI that includes the COVID-19 status and health risks of a person alongside their other poverty indicators?
  • Who among us will be the first to roll out a COVID-19 programme integrated with MPI-based beneficiary registry data?
  • Who among us will be the first to use an MPI-related statistic to identify the ‘newly poor’ and enrol them in new schemes?

We invite you to share your plans for tackling this crisis so that we can share them with the wider community. Please email ophi@qeh.ox.ac.uk with the subject heading ‘COVID-19’. Tell us what you are doing, or what you would you like to do, but cannot do. Perhaps we can help identify solutions from other colleagues. Together we will find a way. That is what a network is for.

Time to connect
The last point is a suggestion. We also care about each other as people. Perhaps each of us might take 20 minutes and drop a few emails to friends in this poverty-reduction community to see how they are doing as people? The community will be stronger by many gestures of support and concern. When we support each other, we can do more on behalf of others who really need all hands and eyes on deck at this time.

Thank you for all of your work, commitment and creativity. Do please stay in touch.

Further Reading:
Alkire, S., Dirksen, J., Nogales, R., and Oldiges, C. (2020). ‘Multidimensional poverty and COVID-19 risk factors: A rapid overview of interlinked deprivations across 5.7 Billion People’, OPHI Briefing 53, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, University of Oxford. Download here.