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From Voices to Action

Sometimes they will help you, sometimes not. First they will look at your face in order to decide if they will help you... if it pleases them... if you don't go with money (to bribe them), then they don't help you... This has been going on forever... This is why poor people cannot get help." — man from Pajan, Ecuador.

He's lying to the people. There's no roads, no money for food, yet he'll build a huge villa. When was the last time any improvements were made here? — spoke a Roma from Bulgaria of the local mayor.

There is much bitterness, especially in the thought that any opportunities that may come will be taken by the rich ... — Dahshour Village, Egypt.

The dissemination, discussion and follow-up of the Voices of the Poor work is only just beginning inside and outside of the World Bank. The study is a powerful call to action to development actors at all levels engaged in fighting poverty. Economics Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen says these "unrestrained voices deserve attention not only of scholars and academics, but also of governments, international institutions, business communities, labor organizations, and civil societies across the world."

New Approaches to Poverty Reduction

I would like to say that, as far as the Bank is concerned, this listening to the voices [of the poor] and acting on the focus of their remarks is going to be central to our work as we move forward. Both institutionally and as individuals, we have to judge what we are doing vis-à-vis these voices. — World Bank President James Wolfensohn, September 1999 Address to the Board of Governors.

Consultations in Indonesia
Consultations in Indonesia

In response to the study, the World Bank will be scaling-up its portfolios of community-driven development (CDD) programs and carrying forward such programs that more directly benefit the poor. Community-driven initiatives transfer authority and control over development funds to community institutions and give priority to strengthening the local groups' organizational capacities to identify priority needs and to manage development projects.

In addition, many decisions that affect the wellbeing of poor women and men are made well beyond the community level. On this broader agenda, development partners need to explore and support national and international processes that will help to give poor people more voice on development policies and actions. To reduce poverty, actions are needed at the global level to remove constraints poor countries face, for example in exporting agricultural products; at the country level, to ensure that poverty reduction strategies have clear goals, are designed and monitored with the help of the poor, and focus on actions that will actually make a difference. (See the Global Coalition for Voices of the Poor home page).

The studies are already beginning to have an impact in the 23 countries that participated in the 1999 fieldwork (for more information, read or download the Voices national reports). In Vietnam government officials were actively involved in designing the Voices of the Poor research. The findings were discussed and debated with national officials at local-level feedback sessions, and most recently at a round-table meeting with donors. High-level officials requested donor support for mainstreaming participatory tools into policies; and at the local level, authorities are already requesting support for addressing the problems raised by the study. The World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Oxfam (UK) and others are working together in new "pro-poor" partnerships there.

Consultations in Ethiopia
Consultations in Ethiopia

Elsewhere the study findings are serving as important inputs to World Bank strategy documents and projects. In Nigeria, the study is informing two community-based poverty projects for urban and rural areas. In Argentina, Ecuador, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, and Vietnam, among other countries, the Voices of the Poor work is being incorporated into poverty assessments and country assistance strategies. The national Voices reports are informing poverty reduction strategy processes among a wide range of international and national development partners in Bolivia, Bulgaria, and Kyrgyz Republic. In Brazil , where the study was carried out in poor urban settlements, it is contributing to a Bank urban improvement strategy. Other participatory studies that directly engage the poor are underway on a wide range of issues, including social exclusion in Paraguay; informal social protection strategies in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador; and the links between poverty reduction, off-grid electrification and gender in China, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Many others besides the World Bank are of course on the frontlines of making sure that poor people's views and priorities become key inputs into development policies and actions. News from other partners is just starting to trickle in of projects being launched in communities that took part in the Voices research. In Bowerbank, Jamaica, projects are underway with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that respond to the priority problems identified during the fieldwork for Voices. We have news from Argentina that the Government there used participatory tools for the first time in a poverty study. Similarly, several donors and NGOs have let us know that The Methodology Guide (256kb PDF) is a useful reference tool for their work.

We plan to continue reporting on follow-up activities. Please send news to

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