Inclusive Growth

Getting to Zero Poverty: How to Reach the Last Mile

The Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and the Center partner to advance innovative solutions to achieve the SDGs.

August 30, 2016

How do you deliver a vaccine campaign to slum dwellers who have no address? How do you deliver maternal health interventions when more than 200 million children around the world have not had their births registered? How do you deliver a nutrition intervention to Brazil’s poorest citizens who live off the grid in the Amazon Rim?

Many of the world’s most impoverished and marginalized live under just those conditions. Those who are at the base of the pyramid, the poorest of the poor, the most geographically distant and the most marginalized, are often the hardest to reach.

In 2015, the global development community unveiled its next agenda, the very ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The top SDG is explicit: End poverty in all its forms everywhere. “Everywhere” means ending poverty for all those who have been left behind.

Despite the extraordinary achievements of the Millennium Development Goals, which took on extreme poverty, hunger, disease, and lack of shelter, many of the world’s poor continue to suffer. Indeed, many countries that have advanced nationally on development indicators have become more unequal with time. Anthony Lake of UNICEF put it best: “Our … national successes are masking moral and practical failures. People are left behind simply because they live in rural communities or urban slums, in conflict zones, as part of indigenous groups, with disabilities or because they are girls.”

Reaching the poorest of the poor and the world’s most marginalized people poses a technical challenge that demands practical solutions. We in the global development community must devise and implement innovative, cost-effective ways to deliver social services to those who have no address or live deep in the countryside. Some solutions will be technological, like the introduction of mobile money schemes in many parts of the Global South (Africa, Latin America and developing Asia and the Middle East). Other solutions will require more human efforts, like deploying community health workers in hard-to-reach communities. High-tech or low-tech, we need innovative ways to deliver supports to the poorest of the poor.

Reaching the hardest to reach also requires tremendous political will. Delivering development interventions to the very poor is expensive, not because of the price of the intervention, but because of what it costs to identify, find and deliver services to the poor and marginalized. For example, getting textbooks to far-off schools or ensuring teachers are doing their jobs poses additional costs to the government. This means officials must spend public resources, and likely face political opposition. Government regulations matter as well. Despite the success of the M-PESA mobile money option in Kenya, for example, banking regulations in other developing countries have undermined efforts to introduce innovative solutions for financial inclusion. Governments must, in other words, be on board.

We also need to learn from one another. Innovative ideas are being implemented around the world. Some fail, but many succeed in reaching the hard to reach. We need to distill key lessons—the do’s and don’ts—from those experiences to the Global South. The partnership between the Munk School of Global Affairs and the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, along with this blog series, is an effort to share these lessons and animate a global conversation about the imperative to reach those who have been left behind.

The global development space is filled with great ideas and innovative solutions for reducing poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, from high-tech interventions to novel policy ideas and programs. What motivates the “reach” agenda, however, is the simple question: How do we get these great ideas and innovative solutions to those who most need them? The question is simple, but the answer has eluded development practitioners, governments and academics.

We encourage you to share your perspectives and join the conversation on #How2Reach on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Joseph Wong is the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.