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Ending Poverty Across Borders World-wide


 

THE STOPLIGHT BATTLING TO END POVERTY

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Ranking their own situation red, green or amber gives families the agency to pull themselves out of poverty. 

Over midafternoon coffees and Fantas, Robyn-Lee Abrahams and Joyce Paulse — employees at my local supermarket in Cape Town, South Africa — tell me how their lives have changed in the past 18 months. “I never dreamed my daughter would go to college,” says Paulse. “But yesterday we went online together and started filling in the forms.”

Abrahams notes how she used to live hand to mouth. “But now I’ve got a savings account, which I haven’t ever touched.” The sacrifice? “I eat less chocolate now.”

Paulse and Abrahams are just two of thousands of beneficiaries of the Poverty Stoplight, a self-evaluation tool that’s now redefining poverty in countries as diverse as Argentina and the U.K.; Mexico and Tanzania; Chile and Papua New Guinea. By getting families to rank their own economic condition red, yellow or green based upon 50 indicators, the Poverty Stoplight gives families the agency to pull themselves out of poverty and offers organizations insight into whether their programs are working.

Social entrepreneur Martín Burt, who founded Fundación Paraguaya 33 years ago to promote entrepreneurship and economic empowerment in Paraguay, developed the first, paper-based prototype of the Poverty Stoplight in 2010 to help the organization’s microfinance clients escape the poverty cycle.

INSTEAD OF AGGREGATING DATA FOR DECISION-MAKERS AT THE TOP, WE DO IT FOR DECISION-MAKERS AT THE BOTTOM.

MARTÍN BURT, DEVELOPER OF POVERTY STOPLIGHT

In recent years, the tool — which remains fundamentally unchanged — has started to spread across the globe with a presence in about 30 countries. The Argentina hub — launched by Eleonora Antar of Fundación Irradia in 2016 — has thus far supplied the tool to 25 Argentine rural and urban nongovernmental organizations by more effectively mapping needs, she says. South Africa’s Poverty Stoplight version already has 52 partner organizations. And in 2017, the U.N. highlighted the tool as one of 11 solutions advancing that organization’s Sustainable Development Goals. In every country, the Poverty Stoplight maintains its fundamental difference from other poverty reduction efforts. Its results aren’t targeted at policymakers (although they can be invaluable to them). Instead, it’s a self-help tool that serves socioeconomically vulnerable communities and the organizations working with them.

“Instead of aggregating data for decision-makers at the top, we do it for decision-makers at the bottom,” says Burt.

stoplight povertyBecause poverty is multidimensional, “you can have a family with a proper toilet but no savings,” points out Burt. Determining questionnaires span six different aspects of people’s lives, including softer indicators such as community involvement, self-confidence and family violence. The survey, a series of 50 multiple-choice questions with visual cues, is aimed at households, not individuals, because “you cannot get a 10-year-old girl out of poverty in isolation,” says Burt. Confidentiality is another critical component.

Administering the survey on paper is tough, and Burt experienced a “mutiny” from his facilitators soon after starting out. He got pro bono assistance from Hewlett-Packard to digitize the tool. This allowed him to share the Poverty Stoplight with others around the world — among them Tracey Chambers from The Clothing Bank (TCB) in South Africa. She, in turn, introduced it to Laura Bergh, an innovator who, in close conjunction with TCB, pioneered a membership model for South Africa through which partners agree to share data with one another to ensure that mistakes are not repeated. “We recognized the incredible opportunity to create a community of sharing where organizations leapfrogged off each other’s learnings,” says Bergh.

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