A global development group is releasing a new planning guide – a "tool kit" – that aims to take on extreme poverty, 100 families at a time.
For 26 years, the nonprofit Association François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) has been tackling poverty from Rwanda to Colombia using a model that focuses on the particular needs of small groups of families. Now, they want to stay small but scale up their approach by making it more accessible to other nonprofits. By making their model available to the public, FXB is part of a broader, ongoing shift in how to fight poverty worldwide.
The shift in thinking comes as development experts and economists recognize poverty as a multidimensional concept, indicated not only by a lack of income but also by other elements such as inadequate food and housing, poor health, and lack of education.
Today, almost 1.5 billion people in 91 countries live in a state of “acute deprivation in health, education and standard of living,” according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), considered the most accurate measurement of global poverty.
“[The FXB model] is a multi-sectoral approach to poverty that is designed to enhance the basic capabilities of the extremely poor,” Dr. Sudhir Anand, a development microeconomist and adjunct professor of global health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said Monday in Cambridge, Mass., at the launch of the FXBVillage Toolkit and Planning Guide.
“It allows participants to learn what opportunities are available to them, and assists households to lift themselves out of poverty,” he added.
The FXB model
The complex nature of poverty means that solutions must go beyond charitable donations, says Albina du Boisrouvray, a French countess who founded FXB in honor of her late son, François-Xavier Bagnoud. In developing the the FXBVillage model, Ms. du Boisrouvray focused first on addressing basic needs, and then striving for sustainability.
The model offers, in the first year of intervention, a health, education, and financial support package that covers 100 percent of each participating family’s needs. In the second year, FXB provides only 75 percent of support, but begins training the head of each household, more often than not a single mother, in an income-generating activity – sewing, baking buns to sell, raising livestock. By the third year, FXB provides only 50 percent of support.
“We teach the people little by little to replace us,” du Boisrouvray says.
Each village consists of 80 to 100 households or about 500 people, and a staff of three to five local recruits who understand the community’s specific cultural and social needs. Limiting the scale of the effort is crucial to success, du Boisrouvray insists, because only in such small groups can staff members avoid the red tape of bureaucracy and develop real relationships with the participants.
“We want to stay rooted in communities,” she says.
Today, 66,000 participants in eight countries have graduated from the FXBVillage program. Another 15,000 are currently involved. The cost for each person per year is about $120 to $230.
Rise of integrated approaches
FXB is not the only organization taking on poverty by also addressing the related issues of public health, human rights, and employment.
In the US, initiatives such as the federal government's Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program and the Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope project focus on sustainable poverty solutions, helping families and individuals make their way towards self-sufficiency.
Globally, Children International has created a long-term program that centers on relationship-building between local social workers and volunteers, and children in need. As the children get older, they are brought into youth programs that push them to become self-reliant and employable. The UN’s Millennium Villages Project, which started in Kenya in 2004, is another initiative that uses multiple resources to empower communities to lift themselves out of poverty.
The trend toward integrated solutions to poverty comes as international and local organizations recognize the limits of basic charity work. Giving aid can be helpful in the short-term, but such programs are often unsustainable and can lead recipients to become dependent on aid organizations, says Michael Jindra, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Anthropology, who has studied the relationship between cultural diversity and economic inequality.
“Though many just need one-time help, others need ongoing personal assistance through case management or other programs, since they come back repeatedly for help,” Dr. Jindra wrote in an article he co-authored for the Stanford Social Innovation Review. “Instead of just treating the symptoms of poverty, [these programs] want to help people get out of poverty.”
Failed experiment or path to success?
One of the biggest challenges facing an integrated approach to fighting poverty is accounting for cultural and social nuances unique to various places, communities, and individuals.
“It takes time to do this kind of work well,” Jindra says.
It also takes money, and, as Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs learned, a lot of care when it comes to scaling and evaluating the success of any initiative. Dr. Sachs, the man behind the UN's Millennium Villages Project (MVP), a 15-year, eight-pronged program to fight poverty in 10 African communities, has been under fire for a lack of transparency and the lack of an independent evaluation of the program.
In 2012, an article in the science journal Nature noted that while improvements on the ground seemed impressive, prominent development experts had pointed out weaknesses – such as no control villages on which to base evaluations – in the project.
“The MVP is unproven,” Michael Clemens, senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Center for Global Development, told Foreign Policy. “It has neither proved that it can accomplish what it set out to accomplish eight years ago, nor has it proven that it can use aid better than other interventions that could use scarce aid dollars to do more good for more people.”
To du Boisrouvray, the answer to criticism of the MVP is twofold: Promote accountability in data collection and evaluation, and keep the programs small, locally-run, and manageable. In its planning guide, the FXBVillage model recommends that each unit – a group of four villages – includes a “monitoring and evaluation officer” responsible for data collection.
“[The FXB project] is scalable, but on the condition that you follow the steps we’ve laid out,” du Boisrouvray said at the guide’s launch.
So far, the FXBVillage model appears to be working. In 2007, the Human Sciences Research Council conducted an evaluation of the project’s sites in Rwanda, and found that 70 to 86 percent of former beneficiaries remained above the poverty line four years after the program’s end. The families also spent 35 to 70 percent more on education, with urban families on the higher end of the scale, according to the report.
The release of the FXB planning guide, endorsed by Dr. Anand and Harvard professor and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, also speaks to the potential of integrated poverty solution approaches in general, and FXB in particular.
"The nature of contemporary poverty is not one that can be addressed in one model, one attempt," Dr. Sen said at the FXB launch. Anti-poverty efforts must be conducted "in a sustained basis," he added, "such that poverty in the future is being eradicated even as present poverty is being addressed."
Despite the support, du Boisrouvray carries no illusions about the challenges ahead. Though global poverty today is about half of 1990 levels, much of that progress is due to China's growth; more than a billion people around the world continue to live in abject poverty, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, the BBC reported.
“Some people seem to think that poverty is at an end. I hope they’re right,” she says, referring to the World Bank's goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. “But there’s a lot of work to be done.”