The Blog

How to Help the Poor?

Through my experience with the Kiuyu Mbuyuni MVP, I believe that an integrated approach to grassroots development is essential to a Post 2015, SDG world. I also think that, given the size of the challenge, we need to celebrate those willing to innovate because finding a way to eradicate poverty will not happen by accident or by good intention.

A Lesson on Integrated Development for a Post 2015 World

Five years ago, Kiuyu Mbuyuni, a village of nearly 10,000 people in the Micheweni region of Pemba Island, part of the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar, was a clear example of the extreme poverty faced by one billion of the world's poorest people. In stark contrast to the natural beauty of the island, villagers faced a daily struggle to survive without access to even basic sanitation and healthcare or sustainable livelihoods or reliable markets for their produce.

Over the same five year time period I have led KPMG's support for this community through the Millennium Villages Project (MVP). The MVP's purpose is to help sub-Saharan rural communities end extreme poverty by working towards the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on poverty, health, gender equality and disease. I also sit on the global Board of Millennium Promise which oversees the MVP.

I'm pleased to say, that as a result of our support, Kiuyu Mbuyuni has a new maternity ward and an improved primary healthcare unit with infant and child mortality now close to zero. We have also laid over 3km of water pipes giving over 90% of the village access to clean water for the first time; we have installed an electricity grid which has reduced the health, environmental and financial costs associated with kerosene lamps and cookers; and we have upskilled the local credit union which now manages over US$120,000 of loans to support enterprise and livelihood development in the community. Also seaweed farming, once considered a nuisance to fishermen, in high season now employs over 2000 people.

When I first visited Kiuyu Mbuyuni over seven years ago there were few shops, no electricity and no sanitation, with health and education services insufficient to meet the acute needs of the community. Mobile phones were unheard of. Now they are everywhere. Our biggest achievement, however, is that we have affirmed the people of Kiuyu Mbuyuni with dignity and supported their ambition to improve their lives. Our total investment exceeds US$2m. It's a proud commitment.

This year will be my final visit to Kiuyu Mbuyuni. Since we started our commitment, I have had the annual privilege of visiting the village to see how the community is growing and how an integrated approach to helping some of the poorest people on the planet is having an impact.

The Size of the Challenge

As the MDGs expire in 2015, these will be followed by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will set as a pinnacle of its ambition the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has clearly stated that ending extreme poverty should be part of our generational obligation, along with limiting the worst effects of climate change.

Ban Ki-moon is right, this is our opportunity, yet it is also our challenge. And a pretty sizable challenge it is! Development economists, despite their best efforts, have made little progress in answering the big question of how to solve poverty.

According to the recently published UN report, State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, only 72 of the world's 129 developing countries have met the MDG for reducing the proportion of hungry people by half in the last 15 years. The UN's assessment says that South Asia faces the highest burden of hunger, where 281 million people lack sufficient food, with sub-Saharan Africa having the highest prevalence of hunger, with more than 23 percent of the population not getting enough to eat.

Although MDG1, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, has not been met universally there is still room for optimism. The number of people living in extreme poverty has halved since 1990 and the number of people going to bed hungry has fallen by 167 million people over the last 10 years.

With 795 million people still going to bed hungry, development economist, business leaders, civil society activities and our elected politicians have to think radically to find solutions that will allow every single man, woman and child the opportunity for a better life. An opportunity to live free from the shackles of extreme poverty.

The Importance of Integrated Development

Eliminating extreme poverty cannot be measured by per capita income alone. It has to be measured by an assortment of factors such as income, health, safety and the environment including climate change.

The SDGs, set to be adopted this September, need to become the central public policy framework for our generation. As we seek to weave a tapestry of policy interventions that will deliver upon the promise of economic development, social cohesion and good governance, as well as environmental sustainability, we need to innovate on how we deliver solutions to meet these multifaceted challenges.

The SDGs will set an ambition for the world to follow that can improve income, health, safety, the environment and curb the worst effects of climate change. With an integrated policy framework like this, surely we need an integrated approach to development? Without it, don't our efforts run the risk of coming up short?

Through my experience with the MVP, adopting an integrated approach to development opens up a number of benefits. For example, in trying to remedy food insecurity, particularly for a community living on an old coral bed and prone to drought, we have been able to supplement incomes while improving nutrition, health, soil quality and increasing enrolment and retention in school.

One of the primary methods of the MVP model is its grassroots-based interventions. Through our support, we have piloted and scaled up the use of kitchen gardens. With a focus on high value, drought-resistant crops, the villagers have been able to grow highly nutritious and more valuable vegetables such as aubergine, tomato and onion. This has seen nutrition and health increase while at the same time supplementing household incomes and improving the local environment. With improved incomes, school enrolment and pupil retention has increased to over 68% as children no longer have to work to support their families.

Measuring Impact

These are more than just anecdotal outcomes, and yes, their impact will need proving over time. The shoots of long-term, grassroots, economic impact are being witnessed, however. In the words of a community leader in Kiuyu Mbuyuni, "the MVP is making our village famous".

I've heard development likened to venture capitalism. In that world, 3 in every 4 start-ups fail which means a success rate of 30 percent is considered a triumph. In the world of international development, we face a barrage of criticism for every mistake, mishap or for every intervention made that is less than 100 percent successful. Yet we know that long-term, sustainable development can be elusive.

To understand what is successful we need to measure impact and measure it better. We also need to scale projects. Like venture capitalists, we need to innovate and take risks because when we try to do something as hard as fighting poverty and disease, we need to learn from our mistakes and engage with communities to work together towards success.

Through my experience with the Kiuyu Mbuyuni MVP, I believe that an integrated approach to grassroots development is essential to a Post 2015, SDG world. I also think that, given the size of the challenge, we need to celebrate those willing to innovate because finding a way to eradicate poverty will not happen by accident or by good intention.