On June 28th and 29th 2018, leaders in the humanitarian sector gathered in Toronto to discuss ways to address the global state of ultra-poverty.
The ultra-poor of the world are people who eat below 80% of their energy requirements despite spending at least 80% of income on food. They are the excluded, marginalized, and stigmatized bottom 7 to 10% of the population who are full of unleashed potential. In 1970, an estimated 50% of humanity lived in ultra-poverty. With the engagement of many humanitarian practitioners and organizations, that percentage dropped to 9% in 2015 and estimates suggest that by 2030 it will drop to 6%. There is much more work to be done in order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 and the Ending Ultra-Poverty Summit is an undertaking that aims to help accelerate the trend.
The goals of the Ending Ultra-Poverty Summit and Retreat were to gather pioneers in the field to share and discuss ideas on the ways to empower the ultra-poor, the financial tools that can be used to do so, and the links between these financial tools and other areas such as education, health, and climate change.
Microfinance As A Tool To Alleviate Poverty
One of the many tools discussed was microfinance and particularly, savings groups. Jeffrey Ashe, an internationally renowned expert in the field, known as the pioneer of savings groups, contributed to a panel discussion that recognized the need for organizations to help mitigate the ultra-poors’ necessity of sacrificing long-term savings goals for immediate needs. The group discussed the importance of teaching financial literacy and creating trust in the relationships between the ultra-poor and the organizations who wish to help empower them. Alex Counts, founder of the Grameen Foundation, also shared his ideas on how the Ending-Ultra-Poverty Summit and learn from the microfinance movement to create lasting change.
John Hatch, co-founder of FINCA International, Anahit Tevosyan, Associate Director of Research for FINCA International, and Stephanie Emond, Executive Director of FINCA Canada, participated in a panel on using renewable energy and asset-based community development to fight poverty and climate change, along with Lucia Di Poi, from the Haitian Center for Leadership and Excellence, with who FINCA collaborates in Haiti. The panel contributed to understanding how financial tools can be leveraged to address food security, access to water, sanitation, education, political stability, and climate change. Speakers discussed how the basic psycho-social needs of the ultra-poor, and not merely their financial needs, must be addressed in order for them to rise out of ultra-poverty, hence the importance of connecting financial services with health and energy services, for example, as does FINCA through its BrightLife program.
One of the key takeaways of the Summit was the importance of the grassroots approach to ending ultra-poverty. The true drivers of lasting change must be the voices of local communities. It was recognized that it’s critical to build an inclusive civil society-led platform to aggregate and unite diverse solutions for reducing ultra-poverty that are adapted to local realities, in order to create grounded optimism, tangible momentum, shared and applied learnings, and unstoppable political energy to get the job done.