Swiss thoughts on poverty

Jane Carter, 19 January 2015
Swiss thoughts on poverty

Last week, the departments of SDC (the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation) were setting out their annual plan for 2015 to their colleagues and invited partners. As a major implementation partner, we at Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation were duly invited and decided amongst ourselves who should attend which presentation. As a result, I found myself sitting through presentation after presentation in SDC’s rather sterile large meeting room. Of course it’s often the personal interactions during breaks at such events which are the most insightful – but one presentation struck me in particular. This was by Willi Graf, Deputy Director of Regional Cooperation – someone with a very long and deep field experience across different continents. He spoke about how SDC intends to sharpen its focus on poverty in coming years. Indeed, a common thread running through the SDC presentations was of better targeting of those who are most in need. This resonates strongly with our organisational policy of reaching the most poor and disadvantaged individuals, as defined in each country context.

Willi Graf presented SDC’s position on fighting poverty in the form of a three-legged stool, based on the recognition that whilst some individuals experience poverty as being inescapable (unless there is external intervention), others may be slipping into it, or clawing their way out. In all cases, support is needed, but in different ways.

Tackling chronic poverty: Here the target group includes the socially discriminated; the sick; the old; and the disabled – with projects working on health, drinking water and sanitation, as well as humanitarian aid, being the most appropriate.

Halting the slide into poverty: The target group in this case includes young people; people living in areas at high risk of disasters, or in conflict situations; and individuals working in high risk professions. Here projects working on food security, climate change, and disaster risk reduction are particularly called for.

Escaping from poverty in a sustainable manner: Individuals particularly implicated here are the young, school drop-outs, women and girls – and suitable projects include those working on education and vocational training; employment and income generation; and migration issues.

As reinforcing struts to his *addressing poverty stool”, Willi Graf placed support for human rights, and gender equality – stressing that it is always women and girls who are the most vulnerable to poverty. This was further emphasised in a later presentation by Ursula Keller, SDC’s Gender Adviser, who gave a very concise overview of SDC’s work in her thematic area, noting the importance of gender as both a stand-alone goal and a transversal theme in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. The Swiss position in this regard is outlined in an earlier posting.

Of course the conceptual image of the “addressing poverty stool” does not cover all eventualities. Furthermore, the target groups, and in many cases the interventions, are not fully exclusive. The advantage of the concept as far as I could see is that most specialists can readily situate their work within it, and if this helps to focus minds on who is the intended target, it could be very useful. For us as a close partner of SDC, it should certainly be a further justification for our organisational stance on promoting social inclusion.

Jane Carter

Jane Carter

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1 Comment for «Swiss thoughts on poverty»

  1. Rupa Mukerji

    26 January 2015 at 13:25

    Dear Jane,

    Always illuminating to read your writing, now in the form of blogs! As part of our work in the WG 2 of the IPCC we tried to look at the drivers of vulnerability, not just to climate, and looked for literature that took the analysis of vulnerability (poverty being a key one) beyond categories of women, children, elderly etc to a 2×2 or 3 analysis. For instance; what does it mean to be a woman from a poor family in a conflict prone setting and what would be the impact of climate variability in such a setting? There is little literature of this nature but we do need a more granulated analysis, and more writing and sharing on these.

    I find SDC’s ‘stool’ a good metaphor for stabilising actions to eliminate poverty in all its forms but in terms of identifying interventions that are (poverty) context specific, we need to continually challenge ourselves.