The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number – High-Level Discussion of Global MPI 2020

17 July 2020 – The findings of the 2020 global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) and the challenges for poverty reduction were discussed yesterday by a high-level panel of speakers at the joint OPHI-UNDP event launch of the 2020 global MPI report.

Achim Steiner, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), opened the discussion with an overview of the impact of COVID-19 in 2020 which, he observed, threatened to reverse overall global human development perhaps for the first time since UNDP starting calculating its Human Development Index. The pandemic, the Administrator said, is a stark reminder that we need to look beyond income poverty. The MPI, which applies 10 different lenses to understand how people experience poverty, ‘helps us figure out where to apply pressure to do the greatest good for the greatest number.  And where we can act now to tackle the more severe effects of the crisis and what we can do to prepare countries and communities for the next one.’

Following a presentation of selected analyses from the report by Director of OPHI, Sabina Alkire, the floor was opened to interventions from the high-level panelists.

Mr M. A. Mannan, Honourable Minister for Planning, Bangladesh

The Honourable Minister recommended the approach of considering the national Multidimensional Poverty Index and the child Multidimensional Poverty Index alongside income and consumption poverty measures, as suggested in Bangladesh’s National Plan for 2020-2025.

He also commented on how in the current crisis ‘the MPI indicators may serve as a key predictor of populations at risk of COVID-19 impacts and can be used as a measure to identify populations at risk of COVID-related shocks’.

‘The road map to poverty eradication has been changed by the pandemic,’ the Honourable Minister said, and ‘forced us to reconsider almost every aspect of how we live. The MPI can help us provide the answer…for all those seeking to understand what poverty looks like…and for those working on policies helping people escape being pulled into poverty now and in the future.’

Isabel Saint-Malo, Former Vice-President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama

The former Vice-President, during whose term Panama launched its national MPI, discussed the challenge in governance of finite resources and testified to the benefits of the MPI in helping to clarify where interventions were needed most – such as the infrastructure of rural roads in the case of Panama.

She spoke of the importance of leadership ‘in the construction of the MPI and in using the MPI for policy formulation at the highest level. It’s a technical process that needs political support because…it should transform how a country decides on investment, how a country fights poverty, how a country addresses policies to fight poverty.’

She also encouraged the use of global MPI for policy making especially in countries that as yet do no have national MPIs.

Professor Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

Professor Olivier De Schutter spoke of the multidimensional drivers of poverty and the need to break the ‘vicious cycle’ created by a lack of access to education and health services.  He advocated an approach that ‘rebalances relationships from service-providers – governments on the one hand and people in poverty on the other hand’ and the importance of connecting people in poverty with the empowering potential of their human rights, so they have the dignity of being rights-bearers.

He also raised the challenge of inequality, and the dangers when ‘even if people move out from extreme poverty measures in a multidimensional perspective, they still may feel disempowered if they are treated us unequal and if they remain at the bottom of the social ladder.’

Theadora Swift Koller, Senior Technical Advisor, Equity, World Health Organisation (WHO)

Theadora Koller highlighted the disturbing fact that 85% of the multidimensionally poor live in rural areas.  There is thus a strong need in the remaining decade for achieving the SDGs to form an integrated response across the UN for ‘a more coordinated, more comprehensive and scaled-up approach to tackle world poverty, not an agency specifically, but…looking at a new world development paradigm that aims to tackle world poverty and decrease inequities.’ The WHO looks at multidimensional aspects of health using the Health Equity Monitor and the Health Equity Assessment Toolkit – the global MPI might complement and deepen the analyses.  She observed that the MPI data could help advance this new interagency initiative and provide a useful framework to understand the interlinkages in deprivations.

Professor Dean Joliffe, Lead Economist, Development Data Group, World Bank

Professor Joliffe commented on the complementary nature of monetary poverty and multidimensional poverty and of the importance of understanding the methodology behind the statistics. ‘The ability to assess the quality of a report’ he said, ‘rests on our ability to assess the quality of the foundation. The way that works well for this report is that OPHI has a Methodological Note series that documents across many different dimensions a large array of the technical assumptions underpinning this work…The fact that these documents exist for technical advisors and policymakers to read and to comment on is really critical…It’s a vibrant way of fostering dialogue, discussion and critiques of the methods, and a way for all of us to do a better job in the future moving forward on measurement.’

On the research on projections and simulations featured in the report, he spoke of ‘a brave step forward in trying to forecast the MPI – that’s very risky as we don’t know what the future holds, particularly in the world we live in today…but it is incredibly important and it’s what policy makers need advice on.’ He also discussed the importance of further ‘development of that methodological note series’ to include predictive methods.

Prince Clem Ikanade Agba, Honourable Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Nigeria 

Although unable to attend the event, the Honourable Minister shared a written statement which described how ‘The MPI is greatly influencing the general knowledge and discussions around poverty in Nigeria. It was very useful in informing lively debates and discussions amongst candidates and the electorate during the general elections last year. Government no longer treats poverty as simply the absence of income, but now looks also at the different dimensions by which poverty affects citizens. This can be clearly seen in many of the programmes and interventions in the last five years.  Specifically, in targeting the poorest states and communities for the government’s cash transfer and school feeding programmes.  The MPI is also a useful tool in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly in the spirit of leaving no one behind, which is at its core.’

He also emphasised the importance of measuring poverty reduction: ‘the government’s goal of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty within the next decade appears ambitious, but quite achievable if more targeted social initiatives are put in place and equally sustained. The global Multidimensional Poverty Index provides a useful tool for maximum impact of government policies along this line. While there has been a significant setback as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria as a country remains resolute in our quest to create better living standards for all citizens, ensuring that, all citizens at the very least, enjoy the most basic form of essential service. We will also ensure that, even as we focus on taking more people out of poverty and minimizing their deprivation, we will also create better economic opportunities and grow our economy sustainably, so that we leave behind, a sound foundation for future generations to thrive.’

Recording of the 16 July event

More information on global MPI 2020
Global MPI 2020 resources (databank, country briefings, do-files).

For media enquiries, please contact maya.evans@qeh.ox.ac.uk in the UK and anna.ortubia@undp.org in the US.