Voices of the Poor study oversold by Bank

15 April 2000

In mid-March the World Bank launched the first of a new set of studies, Voices of the Poor. This effort to understand poverty from poor peoples’s perspectives is a summary of testimony from over 60,000 men and women in 60 countries. It emphasises that poorer peoples’ lives are shaped by hunger, powerlessness, social isolation, gender inequality and lack of voice in key decisions that affect their lives.

Steps to discover directly how poorer peoples’ view their experiences are very welcome. However, the way the Bank’s external affairs team launched the report has caused confusion. Incredibly, the Bank’s press release claimed “World Bank says findings already mainstreamed into its development work”.

The Voices of the Poor series is based on two separate sets of interviews and research methods. The report Can Anyone Hear Us?, launched in March, is based on material generated in Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPAs) for the Bank throughout the 1990s. The second volume will be based on a new body of participatory research undertaken specifically for the Poverty WDR during 1999, involving the World Bank, Institute for Development Studies (IDS) and many other research institutes.

Anne Rademacher, a team member on the Can Anyone Hear Us? exercise cautioned, in a posting to the electronic conference on the Poverty World Development Report, that “the book tells us more about struggles within the Bank as an institution than it does about what those at the margins have to say about poverty.” She said the study has to be read carefully because PPA data were collected using mixed and inconsistent methods and “… the very purpose of PPAs is to “counter” the urge to generalize about poverty and its experience, outlining contours like race, gender, class, ethnicity, and history for a particular place and social group. The act of aggregating PPAs to a global level, then, fundamentally negates their local, place-specific value for understanding poverty.”

Further information: poverty/wdrpoverty/conspoor/