The World Bank Group’s most recent statistics note that since 1990, nearly 1.1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty; that’s around a quarter of a million people every day. One of the panelists argued that growth, most notably through cash transfers and infrastructural investment, has greatly impacted both inequality and poverty reduction. Despite such progress, the panelists were hesitant to declare success, noting there was still room for vast improvement.
Another panelist stressed the relationship between poverty reduction and the environment. He advocated for the mainstreaming of development efforts in this field, particularly as a means to invest in more efficient technology and renewable energy sources, as well as ways in which innovation can reduce upfront costs and maintenance of such infrastructure. Climate shocks in certain regions have induced dynamic shifting in both poverty and aid. These shifting effects, the panelist asserted, could ultimately be stabilized and combated through the recommendations mentioned above.
The expert panelist on fragility, conflict, and violence began with a somewhat shocking statistic: two billion people live in fragile conflict situations around the world. Factors of conflict, she noted, stem from a combination of multi-dimensional drivers. Though there was no mention of religion specifically, the panelist did suggest that both religion and environmental change can intensify fragility and poverty in certain situations. Recommendations to combat such fragility included developing comprehensive policies to manage risk and support coping mechanisms, to invest in self-reliance, to develop strong independent institutions, and to invest in social contracts, particularly at the local level.
From my perspective, the goals described are praiseworthy yet very broad. I am confident that the World Bank has a more comprehensive plan in the works, and I hope to see further engagement with local and community leaders, as well as policy goals reflected within the educational policies and textbooks of these fragile states.
Lastly, a topic I had not—somewhat naively—previously considered, of vast importance to poverty reduction, was the private sector. The expert analyst argued that private sector investment was the answer to enhancing the inclusion of vulnerable populations into society. Incorporating individuals into normalized work routines would further disrupt a process known as elite capture, where the elite usurp resources that were originally allocated for the benefit of the larger population. Such a phenomenon, the expert noted, is especially significant in fragile conflict zones. Syria, for example, has turned into a war economy, categorized by war profiteering and illegal markets. This type of growth is harmful for the general population, and ultimately it will weaken long term investment within the country. Investments into the private sector have the means, and the incentives, to combat such challenges.
The World Bank moderator noted six policies in conclusion, that, based on the discussion, attempt to mitigate crises as well as provide high-impact strategies to reduce inequality: 1) early childhood development and nutrition interventions; 2) universal health coverage; 3) universal access to quality education; 4) cash transfers to poor families; 5) investing in rural infrastructure; and 6) tax reform. These recommendations seem to touch on all of the topics discussed, as well as develop further comprehensive strategies to effectively reduce inequality.
Overall, it was both eye-opening and an honor to attend this discussion and hear from the policymakers themselves about how one of the world’s most important institutions will seek to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity by 2030. I think these strategies, coupled with culturally sensitive and responsible intervention mechanisms, will allow us to achieve these goals, and take another step towards successful sustainable development.