Pelagie Mukampamira

Addressing the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty through More Inclusive Dialogue

May 3, 2024
3 mins read

Development practitioners, academics, and policy makers have long sought to better understand and effectively address poverty. It is widely acknowledged today that poverty is more complex than lack of monetary income.

Poverty can also mean limited employment opportunities, inadequate access to health, education and basic infrastructure, social exclusion, discrimination, and much more. Poverty can deny people dignity and hope.

When examined solely through an academic lens, the multiple dimensions of poverty can often be overlooked. However, drawing also on the knowledge, insights, and experiences of people living in poverty can help provide a more complete picture and thus lead to more inclusive and impactful solutions.

Roxana Quispe is an activist with ATD-Fourth World from Bolivia, who has experienced poverty. “These dimensions aren’t well known. They are invisible,” Roxana explains. “But they are something we feel deeply within ourselves.”

The voices of people with direct experience of poverty are often missing from policy and research spaces. “The hardest part of poverty is when you can’t participate,” says Roxana. “Many times, we are excluded.”

Efforts are now underway to address this gap. The “Merging of Knowledge” approach brings together practitioners, academics, and people experiencing poverty to combine knowledge from action, academic research, and life experiences, and reveal new insights about poverty and its dimensions.

In 2019, researchers from ATD-Fourth World and Oxford University applied this methodology in a research project covering six countries – Bangladesh, Bolivia, France, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, and the United States – exemplifying how this approach could provide additional knowledge for poverty research and policy design.

“One of the important things in this project is to ensure that people living in poverty, or people with experience of poverty, participate in the project to come up with the views of what they think affects their life,” explains Professor Kitojo Wetengere, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Arusha in Tanzania, and an academic researcher who served as a technical advisor on this project.

“As an academic, I thought, ‘What am I going to learn from these people?’ Because to me, you only get knowledge from school. Forgetting that there is another knowledge, which you get through experience. The knowledge that they have, I don’t have.”

Pelagie Mukampamira, the regional delegate for Africa with ATD-Fourth World, from Tanzania, echoes this sentiment: “In order to achieve our objectives of fighting against poverty, we have to involve fully people living in poverty.”

Pelagie Mukampamira
Pelagie Mukampamira

By applying this approach, the researchers identified nine dimensions of poverty that consistently emerged among people living in poverty, despite their varying circumstances or where they lived. Besides the more familiar hardships relating to lack of decent work, insufficient and insecure income, material and social deprivation, the research unveiled six dimensions that were previously hidden or rarely considered in policy discussions.

Three of these dimensions are social maltreatment, institutional maltreatment, and unrecognized contributions. The other three constitute the core experience of poverty: suffering in body, mind, and heart, disempowerment, and struggle and resistance.

Hidden Dimensions of Poverty

“Because we are poor, we are ignored from our childhood throughout our lives,” reflects Emma Poma, an ATD-Fourth World activist, from Bolivia. “This has a big impact on our hearts, minds, and future.”

The ATD-Oxford University research project and its findings represent a critical step forward, building upon and advancing earlier efforts by development actors to better understand and address the many dimensions of poverty.

More than two decades ago, the World Bank’s “Voices of the Poor” project endeavored to think differently about poverty, drawing upon the views of 60,000 people living in poverty across 60 countries. The goal was to identify the challenges they faced beyond income and consumption, such as lack of access to education and health, powerlessness, voicelessness, and vulnerability.

While a lot has been learned over the past few decades, much more can be done going forward to ensure inclusive, consultative and participatory approaches to tackling poverty in all its forms.

In this regard, an important milestone took place in February 2024, when ATD-Fourth World, the World Bank, and the IMF came together to host a conference and series of workshops on addressing the hidden dimensions of poverty in knowledge and policies.

This initiative brought together activists from around the world – many of whom had personal experience living in poverty – alongside academics and practitioners, including World Bank and IMF specialists, in the spirit of the “Merging of Knowledge” approach.

Participants engaged closely with each other as they delved into the many dimensions of poverty, explored the blind spots of existing anti-poverty policies and approaches, and reflected on how to apply new insights in practice.

“There was a learning process, both ways. And I think, interacting with people, understanding where they come from, the context, the type of restrictions they face, we change,” said Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva, World Bank Global Director for Poverty and Equity. “Sometimes, we impose on ourselves some limitations, and can be a lot more effective if we are open to new ways of working, and collaborating with others.”

The conference provided a launchpad for incorporating these new approaches more broadly, including in academia, international financial institutions, and civil society.

“To make the World Bank and the IMF into institutions that are more participatory – that take into account the experience, the thoughts, and reflections of people in poverty – is a path we haven’t yet taken,” explains Beatriz Monje Barón, who coordinates training on the Merging of Knowledge for ATD-Fourth World.

“We must create this pathway. And we will create this together.”

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