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Giving the tools for people to design their own future

In early April, a conference on extreme poverty in Asia was organized by the USAID in collaboration with UNCDF. Fighting against poverty has become one of the missions of USAID and this clearly links to the call of the US President Barack Obama for eradication of poverty by 2030.

There were almost 200 participants from various organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Grameen Foundation. Representatives from governments of Laos, Vietnam, and number of civil society organizations like Oxfam and Asia Coalition for Housing Rights also joined the event, which took place on April 7th – 8th.

Interestingly, most participants agreed about the need to give the tools to people so that they will be able to design their own future. They also emphasized the needs of partnership among development actors, governments and civil society. Even USAID’s poverty reduction mission begins with the statement “we partner to end extreme poverty’.

I think this could mark a good opportunity for better collaboration in the fight against poverty and inequality if everyone really walks the talk.  However, I am also wondering myself whether I am too naive. This seems to me not something new. We or at least the civil society has talked about it for decades.

owever not all development programmes really give the tools that enable people to design their own future. Poor people, especially women and marginalized groups, have not been able to participate in shaping institutions, policies and actions either, resulting in widening gap between them and the rich.

Multi-dimension poverty was among the topic discussed, with the majority sharing the need to adopt this concept and use it to measure poverty, rather than just using income-based measurement. Urban poverty, for example, is one complex issue that needs thorough insight and stronger efforts. It has recently become a focus of some development partners like the ADB. Inequality, the buzzword of the past several years, is in fact another side of the poverty coin. Reducing inequality will help reduce poverty.

And we still find many challenges in having fruitful partnership among different actors. But I think, as Oxfam, we will continue to get ourselves regularly updated about and engaged more actively in the debates of different schools of thoughts, as well as efforts on reducing poverty and inequality.

I see this as the civil society’s responsibility in holding the governments and development actors accountable for their mission/mandate in the fight against poverty and inequality. Through policy reform and commitment from all sides, we will be able to provide the tool of change.


Nguyen Thu Huong is Senior Programme Coordinator – Governance Programme, based in Vietnam.



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