The Poverty Stoplight Approach
By Laura Bergh
Possibly the biggest question facing organisations working to alleviate poverty is “How do we know if we are moving the needle of transformation?” Through monitoring and evaluation, The Clothing Bank (TCB) knows that their holistic 2-year Enterprise Development training programme is successful at empowering unemployed mothers to start small retail businesses that allows them to transition from a life of dependence to becoming financially and socially independent, but is poverty being permanently eradicated from their lives? Additionally, the following questions have been haunting the programme’s impact and the team has been determined to find these answers:
- How do we know if our programmes are successful unless we define what “not poor” means?
- Why are some beneficiaries stuck below the national poverty line despite years of financial inclusion?
- What is the intrinsic difference between the beneficiaries who overcome poverty and those who do not?
- Being poor is not who you are; it’s a set of circumstances that you find yourself in
- Poverty has many dimensions
- Poverty does not affect families uniformly, therefore solutions out of poverty will differ for each family
- The main protagonists in eliminating poverty must be the poor themselves. Additionally, an individual must adopt certain behaviours and attitudes in order to overcome poverty in all its dimensions and to maintain a standard of living that is not poor
- A poverty-elimination strategy must be scalable, which implies that it must cost very little to implement and, ultimately, must be financially self-sustaining
- Additionally, definitions of poverty – who decides what it means to ‘progress out of poverty’ – should be decided through democratic participation with the poor in describing their experience /situation
- Martin Burt and Luis Fernando Sanabria from Fundación Paraguaya, who presented on the philosophy and history of Poverty Stoplight and how it has been adapted to different institutional and geographic settings
- Katharina Hammler from Tulane University, who examined Poverty Stoplight’s complementary role to existing poverty indexes such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index and Social Progress Index
- A (digital) cameo appearance by Michael Green on the Social Progress Index (SPI) for South Africa
- Tracey Chambers and Nicky Edwards from The Clothing Bank, and Emma Sexton from The Business Place Philippi, who are using the Poverty Stoplight approach
- Laura Bergh, an independent Sustainability Leadership professional, who has been assisting in the development and localisation of the Poverty Stoplight approach for a South African context
Further to sharing findings and success in using Poverty Stoplight, TCB wanted to acquire an indication of how many NPOs and Social Enterprises would be interested in using the tool and the possibly joining a Forum constituted to support and enable organisations utilising the Poverty Stoplight approach. Feedback from the conference attendees was positive and enthusiastic, with over 30 organisations submitting expressions of interest and a desire to start using the tool as soon as possible.