Ending poverty – can it be done?

Global Dashboard, November 2011:

But let’s go back to the poverty MDG. In 1990, there were 1.8 billion poor people (in a world of 5.3bn people). If the IMF/Bank projections pan out, by 2015, there’ll be 882.7m poor people left (in a world of 7.3bn). That represents real progress in both relative and absolute terms.

Here’s a thought. In the debate about what should succeed the MDGs, one obvious option is simply to extend the current set of goals and focus harder on the challenges facing the 15% of the world’s population that will still be below the poverty line in 2015.

If poverty does indeed fall by a billion between 1990 and 2015, then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t fall as fast over the next fifteen years, even as the global population grows by another billion. In other words, having halved absolute poverty, leaders could commit to abolishing it by 2030.

DFID’s most senior official, October 2012:

When they were first proposed in the 1990s, the MDGs were widely thought too ambitious and aspirational to be taken seriously. The pundits thought that halving the proportion of people living under a dollar a day, sending every child to school, reducing under-5 mortality by two thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters, all by 2015, was pie in the sky.

As we now know, the sceptics have been confounded…

So when my Prime Minister said in New York last month that the international community should aim to abolish extreme poverty within this generation, our generation, these were not just aspirational words. Abolishing extreme poverty within our lifetimes is absolutely within our grasp.

Three questions for development organisations now: (i) What exactly  have they contributed to poverty reduction or would change have been as rapid without them? (ii) What is their theory of change for helping the poorest people in the world’s toughest operating environments? (iii) How does that theory of change need to evolve given new realities (for example, that in many countries, we will have the name and address of every poor family)?