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A New Paradigm in Poverty Reduction

From May 25 to 27 in Shanghai, several heads of state, more than 80 ministers and heads of agencies, along with some 1,000 development specialists, public and private sector executives, academics and social representatives, will meet on the world’s most urgent important topic: how to scale up the fight against global poverty.


Along with the government of China, which is cosponsoring the meeting, Presidents Lula of Brazil, Mkapa of Tanzania, Museveni of Uganda and Prime Minister Zia of Bangladesh will participate in the discussion of the central question facing the world today: with more than half the people in developing countries--2.8 billion--living on less than US$2 a day, how can we possibly achieve the Millennium Development Goals without large-scale solutions that can be widely applied?


In New York, at the Millennium Summit in 2000, the international community agreed on the Millennium Development Goals--including halving the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty by 2015. In Shanghai, we are looking to find solutions that can help us meet those goals. Solutions for developing countries from developing countries. Solutions that can travel.


In fact, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been reduced by half over the past 30 years. On current trends, however, most of the targets for 2015 in education, health, the environment and other areas, will not be met by most developing nations. To not miss our targets, we need to speed up action now--and we need to find a new way of doing business. A new paradigm: scaling up.


"Scaling up" means taking successful programs, policies, or projects and expanding, adapting, and sustaining them in different places and across time, which requires learning more about what works and what doesn’t.


Scaling up can take place at the country level, based on growth-oriented strategies coupled with policies that aim specifically to reduce poverty; at the program or project level, by expanding and enlarging them over time and space, and by ensuring their sustainability; and at the global level, by encouraging spillovers from village to city, from city to region, from region to nation, and across countries. 


The more than 100 case studies that have been prepared for Shanghai provide a wealth of experience and embody lessons of failure and as well as success. On balance, they show that getting to scale is not a smooth linear process but rather a long, arduous, unpredictable journey.




  • In northeast Brazil, a decade of piloting and expanding rural, community-driven programs has benefited some 7.5 million rural poor and resulted in 35,000 community associations and 1,500 representative municipal councils. Ninety percent of project resources directly benefit the people.


  • Indonesia’s Kecamatan Community Development Program benefits about 35 million poor people, expanding from 25 villages in 1998 to 28,000 villages today. The program gives power to communities by placing funds and decision-making directly in the hands of villagers. 


  • In Uganda, even in the face of recurring internal conflict, a committed political leadership achieved sustained economic growth during the 1990s and reduced urban poverty from 28 percent of the population to 10 percent in 2000.


  • The Yemen Social Development Fund provides clean water, education, cultural restoration and health delivery in rugged rural communities, which decide on their own priorities, contribute a percentage of the costs and play a key role in maintaining the services themselves.


    These are very different countries, very different experiences. Yet a number of common elements shine through: good governance of projects and programs as well as good economics; a clear focus on client--not donor--needs; communication and transparency, to guard against corruption; a spirit of learning and experimentation and a culture of monitoring results in a way that can be communicated for adoption elsewhere, as well as to gain political support to reach for higher levels of achievement.


    There are messages also for aid-givers and partners, including the importance of “ownership” of development projects and programs--solutions cannot be imposed from the outside--and the importance of the quality as well as the quantity of aid. 


    The millions of people who have participated in, and benefited from, fundamental shifts in development policy and investments over the years have a wealth of knowledge to share. The World Bank and the government of China hope that the Shanghai conference can help unleash this knowledge on a global scale.


    Achieving the millennium goals requires decisive and urgent action. Shanghai will push the process in that direction. With 2 billion more people to be added to the world’s population over the next 25 years--95 percent of them in the developing countries--the fight against poverty represents the great challenge of our time.


    For the sake of our children and our children’s children, we must scale up.


    (James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank Group, contributed this article.)


    (China.org.cn May 24, 2004)


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