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Navigating Between Extremes: Academics Helping to Eradicate Global Poverty

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 July 2012


This article discusses ways in which academics and concerned individuals committed to the faster eradication of extreme poverty might make a contribution. It argues that this discussion needs to be informed by examining the lessons of academics who have been working in the development field for many decades tell us about success and failures and possible ways forward. Following the introduction, section two attempts to draw out from the work of academics, researchers and policymakers in the “world of development” what we know and have learned about how best to accelerate the process of reducing extreme poverty in the world, and what “doesn't work”. Against this backdrop, the third section discusses different ways that academics from outside the professional development community might effectively contribute to the faster or more effective eradication of global poverty. It considers in particular some current knowledge gaps in the development field which might be bridged by academic from the fields of moral and political philosophy. Finally, section four provides a brief discussion of the types of anti-poverty organizations concerned individuals might support, providing a check-list of questions to help assess their approaches, strengths and weaknesses. It suggests that as the faster eradication of poverty requires a series of interventions on many different fronts, academics need to approach poverty eradication through a multifocal lens and prioritize support to effective and transparent anti-poverty agencies working at the local, national and international levels.

Academics Stand Against Poverty
Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2012

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1 The early works include Goulet, Denis, The Cruel Choice: A New Concept in the Theory of Development (New York: Athenaeum Press, 1971)Google Scholar; Dower, Nigel, World Poverty: Challenge and Response (York, UK: Ebor Press, 1983)Google Scholar; and O'Neill, Onora, Faces of Hunger: An Essay on Poverty, Justice and Development (London: Allen and Unwin, 1986)Google Scholar. See also Nigel Dower, “What Is Development?—A Philosopher's Answer,” Centre for Development Studies Occasional Paper Series, no. 3, 1988; Crocker, David A., “Toward Development Ethics,” World Development 19 (1991), pp. 457–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gasper, Desmond, “Development Ethics—An Emergent Field?” in Hamelink, Cees J., Ethics and Development: On Making Moral Choices in Development Co-Operation (Kampen, Neth.: Uitgeverij Kok, 1997), pp. 2543Google Scholar; Gasper, Desmond, “Ethics and the Conduct of International Development Aid: Charity and Obligation,” Forum for Development Studies 1 (1997), pp. 2357Google Scholar; Gasper, Desmond, The Ethics of Development: From Economism to Human Development (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004)Google Scholar; David A. Crocker and Stephen Schwenke, “The Relevance of Development Ethics for USAID,” United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 2005;; and Crocker, David A., Ethics of Global Development: Agency, Capability and Deliberative Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. More broadly and directly, the contributions made by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum have been increasingly influential in development studies discourse, and these are discussed below.

2 For details of the MPI, see; and Sabina Alkire and Maria Emma Santos, “Multidimensional Poverty Index,” Oxford Poverty and Human Development Index (OPHI) Poverty Brief, July 2010.

3 See Sanjay G. Reddy and Thomas W. Pogge, “How Not to Count the Poor” (Version 3.0), mimeo, Barnard College, New York, 2003; Stiglitz, Joseph E., Sen, Amartya K., and Fitoussi, Jean-Paul, Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Add Up (New York: New Press, 2010)Google Scholar; and Ravallion, M., “How Not to Count the Poor? A Reply to Reddy and Pogge,” in Anand, Sudhir, Segal, Paul, and Stiglitz, Joseph, eds., Debates on the Measurement of Poverty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 42101Google Scholar.

4 See Frances Stewart, “Horizontal Inequalities: A Neglected Dimension of Development,” Oxford CRISE Working Paper No. 1, 2003, pp. 5–8; and Sen, Amartya, Identity and Violence (London: Allen Lane, 2006), pp. 1839Google Scholar.

5 Sen, Amartya K., “Capability and Well-Being,” in Nussbaum, Martha C. and Sen, Amartya K., eds., The Quality of Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 43Google Scholar.

6 Nussbaum, Martha C., Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Nussbaum advocates one list, to be enshrined in all national constitutions, while Sen views this proposal as in the nature of ethnocentrism and undermining the democratic decision-making of each nation and group. (I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer of an earlier draft of this article for this point.)

8 An important earlier work was Sen, Amartya K., Development as Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)Google Scholar. For a discussion of the creation of the HDI and HPI and how these concepts have evolved over time, see United Nations, Human Development Report (Oxford: Oxford University Press, and Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000 to 2011)Google Scholar; and Nussbaum, Martha C., Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For the BCI, see Social Watch, “Basic Capabilities Index,” 2001;

9 See Alkire and Santos, “Multidimensional Poverty Index,” p. 4.

10 Shepherd, Andrew et al. , The Chronic Poverty Report 2008–09: Escaping the Poverty Trap (Manchester: Chronic Poverty Research Centre, and London: Overseas Development Institute, 2009), p. 9Google Scholar.

11 See Alkire and Santos, “Multidimensional Poverty Index,” p. 4.

12 See, e.g., Andrea A. Anderson, “The Community Builder's Approach to Theory of Change,” Aspen Institute, 2005; and Mason, Paul and Barnes, Marion, “Constructing Theories of Change: Methods and Sources,” Evaluation 13, no. 2 (2007), pp. 151–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 See Augustin K. Fosu, “Growth, Inequality and Poverty Reduction in Developing Countries: Recent Global Evidence,” Background Paper for OECD Development Centre, 2010;; and the work emanating from the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE),, including Stewart, “Horizontal Inequalities.”

14 UN Development Group (UNDG), Beyond the Midpoint, Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (New York: UN, 2010), p. 25Google Scholar and Annex 2.1;

15 See IDS,; and Dolf te Lintelo “Inequality and Social Justice Roundtable Consultation,” Institute of Development Studies, 2011;

16 See the CRISE research and working papers at; and Andrew Shepherd et al., The Chronic Poverty Report 2008–09.

17 These issue are discussed further in Riddell, Roger C., “Poverty, Disability and Aid: International Development Cooperation,” in Barron, T. and Ncube, M., eds., Poverty and Disability (London: Leonard Cheshire Disability, 2010), pp. 26110Google Scholar.

18 Poulter, Sebastian, Ethnicity, Law and Human Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), p. 7Google Scholar.

19 Writers from both the extreme left and right have held such views. They would include Hayter, Teresa, Aid as Imperialism (London: Penguin Books, 1971)Google Scholar; Moyo, Dambisa, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (London: Allen Lane, 2009)Google Scholar; and, more substantially, Bauer, Peter T., Dissent on Development (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971)Google Scholar. Even those who see no value in providing aid to promote development support the provision of humanitarian aid. For an assessment of these views, see Riddell, Roger C., Foreign Aid Reconsidered (London: James Currey, and Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins, 1987)Google Scholar.

20 For some, the current processes and institutions of development, and aid's support of them, are fundamentally flawed; and they insist that development paths must be changed and that aid should be provided in a (radically) different way or replaced by a different type of resource transfer. See, e.g., Pogge, Thomas W., World Poverty and Human Rights (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Pogge, Thomas W., “‘Assisting’ the Global Poor,” in Chatterjee, Deen K., ed., The Ethics of Assistance: Morality and the Distant Needy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 260–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Easterly, William, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)Google Scholar.

21 See Mark McGillivray et al., “It Works; It Doesn't; It Can, But That Depends … 50 Years of Controversy over the Macroeconomic Impact of Development Aid,” UNU-Wider Research Paper No. 54, 2005;

22 See Channing S. Arndt, Sam Jones, and Finn Tarp, “Aid and Growth: Have We Come Full Circle?” UNU-Wider Discussion Paper No. 5, 2009, pp. 23; and Channing S. Arndt, Sam Jones, and Finn Tarp, “Aid Effectiveness: Opening the Black Box,” UNU-Wider Working Paper No. 44, 2011.

23 Mark McGillivray et al., “Does Aid Work for the Poor?” Economic Discussion Paper 1114, School of Business, University of Otago, December 2011;

24 Collier, Paul, Conflict, Political Accountability and Aid (London: Routledge, 2010)Google Scholar; Sen, Development as Freedom; and Halperin, Morton J., Siegle, Joseph T., and Weinstein, Michael M., The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace (New York: Routledge, 2004)Google Scholar.

25 According to Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, the rule of law is at the center of the development agenda. See

26 African Union, African Development Fund, World Bank, “Africa's Infrastructure: An Agenda for Transformative Action,” Background Paper for UN MDG Summit side event, September 21, 2010.

27 In 1980, the Brand Commission report was among the first to draw attention to global systems and processes as raising crucial moral questions for the world's poorest. See Independent Commission on International Development Issues (Brandt Commission), North-South: A Programme for Survival (London: Pan Books, 1980), pp. 6477Google Scholar.

28 Pogge, Thomas, “Are We Violating the Human Rights of the World's Poor?” Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal 14, no. 2 (2011), pp. 133; Scholar.

29 For a discussion of Pogge's views and what they mean for aid giving, see Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, pp. 197 and 205; and Riddell, Roger, Does Foreign Aid Really Work? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 136–38Google Scholar.

30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), How DAC Members Work with Civil Society Organisations: An Overview (Paris: OECD, 2011), p. 10; Scholar.

31 OECD Development Cooperation Directorate (DCD) Development Assistance Committee (DEC), Aid Statistics Creditor Reporting System;; OECD, Development Cooperation Report 2010 (Paris: OECD, 2010), pp. 196211Google Scholar; and Hudson Institute, The Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances (Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Prosperity, Hudson Institute, 2011), pp. 1012Google Scholar.

32 See, e.g., Norton, Andrew, “How the 9/11 Decade Changed the Aid, Security and Development Landscape, ” Opinion 155 (September 2011)Google Scholar;

33 See Riddell, , Does Foreign Aid Really Work? p. 104Google Scholar.

34 Homi Kharas, “Measuring the Cost of Aid Volatility,” Brookings Institution, Wolfensohn Center for Economic Development Working Paper No. 3, 2008.

35 OECD, “Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness,” 2005; Other examples are provided in Easterly, The White Man's Burden.

36 Andrew Mold et al., “Aid Flows in Times of Crises” (paper prepared for Conference on Development Cooperation in Times of Crisis and on Achieving the MDGs, Madrid, Presidencia Espanola de la Union Europa, 2010), pp. 36–38;

37 Ibid., p. 40.

38 OECD, Survey on Monitoring the Paris Declaration: Making Aid More Effective by 2010 (Paris: OECD, 2008), p. 53–16; Scholar.

39 Eckhard Deutscher and Sara Fyson, “Improving the Effectiveness of Aid,” Finance and Development (September 2008), p. 16;

40 For an excellent summary of these changes over time, see Andy Sumner, “Global Poverty and the New Bottom Billion: What If Three-Quarters of the World's Poor Live in Middle-Income Countries?” Institute of Development Studies Working Paper No. 349, November 2010;

41 Frances Stewart and Graham Brown, “Fragile States,” Oxford CRISE Working Paper No. 51, 2009;

42 For a powerful confirmation of the importance of results and investigating what works and why, see Banerjee, Abhijit and Duflo, Esther, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (New York: Public Affairs, 2011)Google Scholar.

43 These notions are discussed more fully in Woolcock, Michael, “Toward a Plurality of Methods in Project Evaluation: A Contextualised Approach to Understanding Impact Trajectories and Efficacy,” Journal of Development Effectiveness 1, no. 1 (March 2009), pp. 104CrossRefGoogle Scholar;

44 The linked issues of human rights and development cover a large, growing, and important field of enquiry with which, it is acknowledged, this article does not sufficiently engage. For accessible overviews of the key issues, see, e.g., Uvin, Peter, Human Rights and Development (Bloomfield, Conn.: Kumarian Press, 2004)Google Scholar; Alston, Philip, “Ships Passing in the Night: The Current State of the Human Rights and Development Debate Seen Through the Lens of the Millennium Development Goals,” Human Rights Quarterly 27, no. 3 (2005), pp. 755829CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Alston, Philip and Robinson, Mary, eds., Human Rights and Development: Towards Mutual Reinforcement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Varun Gauri and Siri Gloppen, “Human Rights Based Approaches to Development: Concepts, Evidence and Policy,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 5938, 2012; For a discussion of human rights and aid, see Anderson, Mary B., Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace—or War (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1999)Google Scholar; and Riddell, Does Foreign Aid Really Work?, pp. 134–36 and 148–54.

45 See Niels Keizer, “EU Policy Coherence for Development: From Moving the Goalposts to Results-based Management?” European Centre for Development and Policy Management (ECDPM) Discussion Paper No. 101, August 2010;$FILE/DP-101%20final%20for%20web.pdf; and Boulanger, Pierre et al. , “An Economic Assessment of Removing the Most Distortive Instruments of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),” Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Lausanne, September 2010; Scholar.

46 See, e.g., Commission of the European Communities, “Report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: EU 2009 Report on Policy Coherence for Development,” 2009;

47 To illustrate this, in 2010, the Australian government aid agency's (AusAID) program provided 27,000 new water and sanitation connections to poor households in Indonesia; in Vietnam, an additional 2.5 million people had access to “hygienic” water and 756,000 households have access to latrines; in East Timor, Australian government support to the GAVI Alliance has contributed to immunization of over 257 million children and the prevention of 5.4 million deaths; in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, AusAID's Pacific Malaria Initiative has effectively complemented Global Fund support and helped increase the coverage of malaria control interventions, such as insecticide-treated bed nets. The number of malaria cases has halved from 199 to 77 per 100,000 in the Solomon Islands between 2003 and 2009, and fallen by 80 percent in Vanuatu in the same period. See AusAID, Annual Performance Reports (Canberra, Aus.: AusAID, various years); Scholar.

48 See Claire Melamed, Renate Hartwig, and Ursula Grant, “Jobs, Growth and Poverty: What Do We Know, What Don't We Know, What Should We Know?” Background Note, Overseas Development Institute, 2011;

49 The findings of these studies have recently been reviewed in Rolph van der Hoeven, “Development Aid and Employment” (paper prepared for Aid Conference, UNU-WIDER, Helsinki, Finland, September–October 2011), pp. 24–25 (mimeo).

50 This would include the Center for Global Development (CGD) in the United States, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in the United Kingdom, and the OECD Development Centre in France, but it would also include experienced international and national NGOs as well as consultancy companies undertaking evaluations and analyzing aid issues.

52 This way of funding agencies is broadly in line with recommendations made by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC). Langerman, Cathy and Rowley, Sylvia, Philanthropists without Borders: Supporting Charities in Developing Countries (London: NPC, 2008); Scholar. However, the authors also argue that “Because of the widespread lack of funding for measurement and performance management, NPC believes that you should consider allowing a proportion of your giving to be dedicated to building this capacity among the charities selected for support” (p. 70).

53 See Thomas Pogge and Luis Cabrera, “Outreach, Impact, Collaboration: Why Academics Should Join to Stand Against Poverty,” in this issue.