Are women really 70% of the world’s poor? How do we know?

February 3, 2010
Doing research for advocacy (which is a large part of my job) is a balancing act. The pressure to come up with clear findings and ‘killer facts’ that speak to policy-makers can easily tip over into something much more questionable. I once challenged a colleague at another NGO on a ‘fact’ she was using on Bolivia. ‘Well, it’s politically true’, she replied with

Want to help write this year’s Human Development Report?

January 13, 2010
2010 marks two decades years since the first Human Development Report was published by the UN Development Program in 1990. Besides subsequently spawning huge numbers of useful national and thematic reports, the global HDRs have become some of the most influential of annual development analyses, for many years providing an invaluable intellectual counterweight to some of the excesses and errors

Tobin tax update: how momentum is building for a Financial Transactions Tax

December 17, 2009
The momentum behind the Financial Transactions Tax (a tiny levy of 0.005% on all financial trades would raise about $30bn a year for climate change, development and/or filling fiscal holes) continues to grow since my last post (Why has the Tobin Tax gone mainstream?). The French government, which as far back as 2003 was the first to seriously propose the

Population: why it’s a dangerous distraction on climate change (and makes us feel uncomfortable)

December 11, 2009
Trust the military to give it to me straight. Population comes up at virtually every talk I give – on climate change, development or just about anything else. But usually my questioners are a bit more circumspect than the man from the armed forces who recently asked what could be done about ‘women popping them out’ in poor countries. People

A unique 30 year portrait of a shanty town and its people

November 25, 2009
In 1978 Caroline Moser, a young British anthropologist went with her two children and film-maker husband to Indio Guayas, a new squatter settlement in the swamps surrounding the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil. They built a 4 x 8 metre bamboo house joined to dry ground by long, rickety walkways, and lived there for 7 months while Brian Moser made a

What can the BRICS teach us about reducing poverty?

November 19, 2009
An excellent new paper from the prolific Martin Ravallion, head of the World Bank’s research department, compares the successes in poverty reduction in three of the biggest beasts of the developing world: China, India and Brazil. Between them, these countries are home to a bit less than half the world’s poor people, but it used to be a lot more.

Which governments are best/worst at ending hunger?

November 13, 2009
League tables are a powerful weapon in the armoury of NGO advocacy. Politicians in the country that ends up in the top slot feel like they are getting some fleeting recognition for their efforts, while those at the bottom are annoyed and hopefully prodded into action. Newspapers love them too as they reduce a complex issue to a nice simple

100 indicators of well-being or just one? Stiglitz v Layard

October 30, 2009
The OECD conference I’ve been attending is winding down. Lots of banquets, but not much booze, so I never had to try the hotel’s tempting room service item ‘outer leaves of cabbage broth to chase a hangover.’ What’s the takeaway (ideas rather than food)? The key debate seems to me to be over complexity. The various presentations described literally hundreds

How could we measure well-being in a crisis? Some thoughts from Korea

October 28, 2009
I am currently in Korea’s second city, Busan, attending a big OECD conference on ‘statistics, knowledge and policy’, organized by its ‘Measuring the Progress of Societies’ project. The massive conference centre looks out on a consumerist paradise, including a giant Tesco’s supermarket (everything’s big here, giving you that sense of suddenly having shrunk that you get in Tiananmen square) and

Migration and development: how to improve on a feeble new Human Development Report

October 20, 2009
The Human Development Report, published by UNDP, is traditionally the best of the UN annual tomes. This year’s HDR, entitled Overcoming Barriers, discusses migration. It’s a critical issue in development – moving in search of work and a better life has always been a strategy for people living in poverty as most modern-day Americans and Australians can testify (not including indigenous inhabitants,

Portfolios of the Poor – a great new book

October 13, 2009
Portfolios of the Poor gave me the same feeling of excitement as the World Bank’s epic ‘Voices of the Poor’ study. Both of them are the fruit of intense scrutiny of the real lives of poor people that uncovers insights and destroys stereotypes. Poor people are most definitely not financial illiterates, but often sophisticated managers of complex financial portfolios that

What comes after the MDGs?

October 8, 2009
Gave a presentation on this last week. I’ve blogged before on the strengths and weaknesses of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but if you want more,  ‘Promoting Pro-poor Policy after the MDGs’ a recent conference organized by EADI, ActionAid, IDS and others has dozens of background papers (prize for most world-weary title goes to Pietro Garau for ‘The MDGs are modest,