On June 28 and 29, 2018, leaders in the humanitarian sector gathered in Toronto, Canada to discuss ways to address the global state of ultra-poverty.
The ultra-poor of the world are people who eat below 80 percent of their energy requirements despite spending at least 80 percent of income on food. They are the excluded, marginalized and stigmatized bottom 7-10 percent of the population who are full of unleashed potential. In 1970, an estimated 50 percent of humanity lived in ultra-poverty. With the engagement of many humanitarian practitioners and organizations, that percentage dropped to nine percent in 2015 and estimates suggest that by 2030 it will further drop to six percent. There is much more work to be done in order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 and the Ending Ultra-Poverty Summit is an undertaking that aims to help accelerate the trend.
The goals of the Ending Ultra-Poverty Summit and Retreat were to gather pioneers in the field to share and discuss ideas on the ways to empower the ultra-poor, the financial tools that can be used to do so, and the links between these financial tools and other areas such as education, health and climate change.
One of the many tools discussed was microfinance and particularly, savings groups. Jeffrey Ashe, an internationally renowned expert in the field, known as the pioneer of savings groups, contributed to a panel discussion that recognized the need for organizations to help mitigate the ultra-poor’s necessity of sacrificing long-term savings goals for immediate needs. The group discussed the importance of teaching financial literacy and creating trust in the relationships between the ultra-poor and the organizations who wish to help empower them. Alex Counts, founder of the Grameen Foundation, also shared his ideas on how the Ending-Ultra-Poverty Summit can learn from the microfinance movement to create lasting change.
John Hatch, founder of FINCA International, Anahit Tevosyan, Assistant Director of Research at FINCA International, and Stéphanie Émond, Executive Director of FINCA Canada, participated in a panel on using renewable energy and asset-based community development to fight poverty and climate change. They were joined by Lucia Di Poi from the Haitian Center for Leadership and Excellence, with whom FINCA collaborates in Haiti. The panel contributed to understanding how financial tools can be leveraged to address food security, access to water, sanitation, education, political stability and climate change. Speakers discussed how the basic psycho-social needs of the ultra-poor, and not merely their financial needs, must be addressed in order for them to rise out of ultra-poverty. They emphasized the importance of connecting financial services with health and energy services, for example, as FINCA does through its BrightLife program.
One of the key takeaways of the Summit was the importance of the grassroots approach to ending ultra-poverty. The true drivers of lasting change must be the voices of local communities, and there was a recognition of the criticality of building an inclusive civil society-led platform to aggregate and unite diverse solutions for reducing ultra-poverty. Those solutions must be adapted to local realities in order to create grounded optimism, tangible momentum, shared and applied learnings, and unstoppable political energy to get the job done.