From a global measure to South-South collaboration on poverty measurement

The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) was established in 2007 as an economic research centre within the University of Oxford’s Department of International Development. OPHI’s purpose is to build a multidimensional economic framework for reducing poverty grounded in people’s experiences and values.

OPHI’s first major intellectual product, initially published in 2007, was the Alkire-Foster methodology for measuring multidimensional poverty. This is an academically robust yet practical way of measuring poverty across multiple dimensions, such as health, education and living standards. On the basis of this methodology, and with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report Office, this led to the calculation and publication of a Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) in 2010. The inclusion of the Global MPI in the UNDP’s Human Development Report propelled multidimensional poverty into the international development agenda.

The Global MPI was designed as an internationally comparable index where countries could readily get an indication of their performance in multidimensional poverty reduction. It is not, however, sensitive to particular local realities or policies. For this reason, some countries approached OPHI for advice in developing a national MPI tailored to their context. Mexico, Colombia and Bhutan were early and enthusiastic adopters of the new method, and were the first to announce official national statistics on multidimensional poverty. As the poverty metrics started to effect policy and improve people’s lives, these countries became advocates for other countries to follow suit in designing their own tailor-made national MPIs.

OPHI shared their enthusiasm, and in 2013 the Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network (MPPN) was launched in Oxford with high-level government representatives from some 20 countries. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urged Network participants to use the new MPPN platform to share their experiences and build their collective knowledge on global and national MPIs. The President also stressed ‘the urgency of implementing a multidimensional approach in our battle against poverty’.

The MPPN has been instrumental in the increasing uptake of multidimensional poverty measurement among countries, states and even cities. The annual MPPN meetings gather high-level representatives who galvanise the political support and impetus needed to carry out policy changes that use these new metrics to fight poverty, as well as the senior civil servants who direct and guide much of the necessary research and analysis.

This South-South Network has grown organically and connects people in an immediate and informal way. New country members visit others with multidimensional measures. And together the countries of the Network have sponsored side events at the UN General Assembly and the UN Statistical Commission over the last three years, educating policymakers and statisticians on multidimensional poverty. Today, more than 40 countries take part – some at the ministerial level, others through national statistics directors or other senior civil servants – and the membership of countries and international agencies keeps growing. Official statistics of multidimensional poverty have either been published or are in the making in many of these countries.

Sabina Alkire
Director, OPHI, and Professor of Poverty and Human Development

Photo: James Jewell / OPHI