Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development (WP10)
There is only one year until the 2015 deadline to achieve the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to cut poverty and hunger, increase access to education, healthcare and clean water, improve the lives of women and children and reduce the transmission of major diseases. According to the World Bank in February 2011, the global target of halving extreme poverty was achieved in 2010 compared to ten years previously. However, the World Bank admits, one billion people would still be living on less than $1.25 a day in 2015, with many lives still highly vulnerable and only just above the poverty line. Development aid organisations are increasingly coming under scrutiny to deliver effective results, a pressure that often times results in simple one-to-three
year projects, rather than longer term ideas where outcomes are not immediately obvious or measurable.
Five years ago, the subject of widespread poverty in Europe itself would not have had much traction. However, the economic and financial crisis has re-opened a serious north-south split between European countries with levels of relative poverty soaring in countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain. In addition, the number of poverty-stricken people within many northern and eastern European countries has also risen dramatically in the last few years, for example in the UK and even in countries like Denmark. A striking example is provided in Manuel Castell’s 2012 book in which he documents hard research showing that 97% of people surveyed in Barcelona have engaged in non-capitalist economic practices since 2008 simply to survive. This is a massive rise compared to the period before the crisis. Such practices include growing food, consumer cooperatives, exchange and social currency networks, free universities, hacklabs, etc. (Castells et al. 2012). The interesting aspect here is that the solutions being found are coming from ordinary people in their own localities responding creatively and innovatively to the pressing challenges they and their families and communities are experiencing every day.
In response to these developments in its own backyard, the European Commission published in 2010, Europe 2020, a strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth for the next decade. For the first time ever, reducing poverty has been made a target in the EU. It is calculated that more than 80 million people in the EU are at risk of poverty – including 20 million children and 8% of the working population – so the European Platform against poverty and social exclusion has been set up with actions to reach the EU target of reducing poverty and social exclusion by at least 20 million by 2020.
Existing innovation model
In October 2011, the European Commission put forward an agenda to increase the impact of EU development policy in developing countries. To reach the goal of the EU’s new agenda, as well as the objective of poverty elimination in the context of sustainable development, as set out in the European Consensus on Development27, many challenges need to be addressed in new innovative ways. Across the world, there is huge unemployment, increasing landlessness and loss of sovereignty. Governments tend to be more responsive and accountable to international corporations and financial institutions than to their own citizens. The civil society, such as voluntary groups, NGOs, trade unions, faith-based organisations, indigenous peoples’ movements and foundations, faces huge barriers in many countries, especially when they are not recognised by the state as legitimate. In some countries, these organisations are oppressed by governments, in others they are marginalized by large corporations or overlooked in favour of a narrow focus on the private sector. Most success seems to occur where all these actors work together but also where civil groups, when truly anchored in local communities, have a significant voice. Yet, their involvement in determining what comes after the MDGs from 2015 remains uncertain.
Although most civil organisations and experts agree that it is necessary to have a set of goals like the MDGs to focus energies and policies and that the general thrust of the current goals are relevant and need to be continued, there is a huge amount of discussion both about which actors should be involved in agenda setting and what the agenda in detail should be. Prime possibilities for greater focus after 2015 include sanitation, food security (especially child nutrition), employment, water, climate change, inequality (in the jargon being used: ‘inclusive growth’), the role of new technology and especially the Internet, computers and mobile phones, plus transparency and participation.
The role of social innovation in tackling poverty
Poverty is a multi-factor issue cutting across most of the policy areas of the SI-DRIVE project. Although the greatest and most pressing concerns remain in the developing world, Europe is by no means immune and has its own set of societal challenges to confront when tackling the many issues surrounding poverty. One issue is how similar or different these are in relation to the global scene? Poverty is also a relative concept, certainly in the way it is measured, as it is normally best to see it in the context of the overall conditions in a given country or region.
There is a strong consensus that social innovation approaches are imperative for finding solutions to the interconnected challenges of poverty reduction and sustainable development. Social innovation can be necessary for finding solutions to the interconnected challenges of poverty reduction and sustainable development (Babu and Pinstrup-Andersen 2009; Couto Soares 2012). As the recent STEPS Centre (2010) manifesto on innovation, sustainability and development clearly states, despite the important advancements in science and technology, “poverty is deepening, the environment is in crisis and the progress towards the MDGs has been stalled”. Social innovation has the potential to generate far-reaching and sustainable social welfare, while safeguarding the environment. To achieve these goals, however, public policies and funds, as well as social entrepreneurship, need to be effectively designed and employed, and in many cases balanced partnerships need to be made with SMEs, as well as corporates.