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Overview


Poverty is pain; it feels like a disease.
It attacks a person not only materially but also morally.
It eats away one's dignity and drives one into total despair.
— a poor woman in Moldova

Poverty is like living in jail, living under bondage, waiting to be free.
— a young woman in Jamaica

What is poverty? Who are the world's poor women and men? What are their aspirations? Why do the poor remain poor?

Bolivian family
Family in the Bolivian community of Horenco, with whom the researchers consulted

At the turn of the new millennium, the World Bank collected the voices of more than 60,000 poor women and men from 60 countries, in an unprecedented effort to understand poverty from the perspective of the poor themselves. Voices of the Poor, as this participatory research initiative is called, chronicles the struggles and aspirations of poor people for a life of dignity. Poor people are the true poverty experts. Poor men and women reveal, in particular, that poverty is multidimensional and complex -- raising new challenges to local, national and global decision-makers. Poverty is voicelessness. It's powerlessness. It's insecurity and humiliation, say the poor across five continents.

The immediate impetus for the Voices of the Poor study was to prepare the World Development Report 2000/01. Published every year by the World Bank, the World Development Report is a leading resource on development strategies. In the World Development Report 2000/01 on"Attacking Poverty", the World Bank wanted to make sure the voices of the poor - their experiences, priorities, and recommendations - would be taken into account.

Consultations in Ethiopia
Consultations in Ethiopia

The research findings have been published for the World Bank by Oxford University Press in a three-volume series: 
  • Can Anyone Hear Us? analyzes the voices of over 40,000 poor women and men in 50 countries from participatory poverty assessments carried out by the World Bank in the 1990s;
  • Crying Out for Change pulls together reports on fieldwork conducted in 1999 in 23 countries involving over 20,000 poor men and women; and
  • From Many Lands offers regional patterns and country case studies.

To understand what poverty means, researchers visited poor urban and rural communities around the world and facilitated discussions on four issues:

  • What is a good life and bad life?
  • What are the poor people's priorities?
  • What is the nature and quality of poor people's interactions with state, market and civil society institutions?
  • How have gender and social relations changed over time?

In presenting the study findings during the 1999 Annual Meetings, World Bank President, James Wolfensohn said:

"These are strong voices, voices of dignity... There needs to be a passionate rededication to each other as we enter the next century. All of us have to assume a responsibility for global equity which is the only assurance of peace."


Website Roadmap

To learn more, read Listen to the Voices for a summary of the study findings. To read the full text of the Voices of the Poor studies, visit our Reports page. For background on the research and methodology, visit Study Purpose and Design, and meet the Project Team. Go to the page on From Voices to Action to find out about follow-up activities.  And visit the Global Coalitions page to read about an activity that aims to create spaces in international fora for the voices and priorities of poor people to be heard and answered.

For more information, please email empowerment@worldbank.org.

Back to Voices of the Poor