The App Changing the Way We Look at Poverty

> Posted by Martin Burt, Executive Director, Fundación Paraguaya & Teach A Man To Fish

The following post was originally published on the World Economic Forum blog. 

If we’re aiming to not simply alleviate poverty but eliminate it altogether, we need to understand its causes. But we also need to know what non-poverty looks like.

Until recently, this has not been easy. Now, technological innovation is helping us achieve things that were once impossible, and the effects are far-reaching.

At Fundación Paraguaya, we have developed a methodology called Poverty Stoplight. To assess levels of poverty, we show people a series of three photographs and ask them to choose the one that best describes their situation. We do this in each of 50 “critical indicators,” such as access to water, levels of nutrition, dental care, and so on. These pictures are color-coded to represent degrees of poverty: red is critical, yellow is poor, and green is non-poor.

This method is based on the Anna Karenina principle: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same is true of poverty.

Previously we collected this data using traditional pen and paper, which meant the assessment of a household could take an entire afternoon. But then we partnered with Hewlett Packard to convert the process into an app displayed on a tablet device, and now people can simply tap on the appropriate photograph.

But what is taking place here is more subtle than that. The personalized strategy reveals critical data about the particular poverty of each family. More than that, families are able to self-diagnose their level of poverty and, by glimpsing alternative photographs, visualize potential solutions.

The technique allows us to ask unusual questions. For example: do you feel the capacity to plan your future? An illiterate woman in a rural village has probably never considered such a question. She may tap the red or yellow picture, but in considering the green she sees what non-poverty looks like. The result is that she may well say: “I can achieve that.” Often, the proof that she can is there in her village – someone is already doing it.

To read the rest of this post, visit the World Economic Forum blog.

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