Global health and academic impact on poverty were the discussed during the second day of Human Rights & Economic Justice: Essential Elements of the Post-MDG Agenda at Yale this Saturday. A global health panel showcased innovative proposals to improve access to healthcare, ranging from proposed reforms to the World Health Organization to a new method for powering vaccine refrigerators. The academic impact-focused panels featured the heads of poverty and global justice research centers around the world and their efforts to influence poverty-alleviation policy and development practice.
Kaveh Khoshnood, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Yale University, chaired the first session, which featured Julian Cockbain, a Ghent-based patent attorney; Steven Hoffman, Assistant Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at McMaster University; Thomas Pogge, President of ASAP; Harvey Rubin, professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; and Sigrid Sterckx, Professor of Bioethics at Ghent University.
Pogge presented the Health Impact Fund (HIF) as a way to extend access to new medicines to people around the world, regardless of their ability to pay, and announced that in the coming year there would be a pilot of the HIF in India, focusing on multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Rubin shared his Energize the Chain (EtC) initiative, which will provide vaccine refrigerators in remote areas using electricity from cell phone towers. Rubin told his audience that more than 2 million people die from vaccine-preventable disease each year, in part because of breaks in the “cold chain” of vaccine refrigerators. In areas where electricity for refrigeration is unavailable, vaccines breakdown and become unusable. He argued that the prevalence of cell phone towers throughout the developing world makes the EtC proposal the best available solution to this problem.
ASAP Board Member Luis Cabrera led the “impact” sessions of the conference, which spanned Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. These sessions were inspired by his Impact: Global Poverty initiative and featured academics who have worked to make an impact on poverty and global justice. To date, Impact: Global Poverty has been a tool to share widely the stories of academics who’ve led successful poverty alleviation efforts, and Cabrera said that he hoped the conference would illuminate new ways in which ASAP could support impact work by academics.
Martha Chen, Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, spoke about the work of Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), of which she is International Coordinator. In her talk, she argued that there is a strong link between informal employment and poverty and that widespread informal employment is generated by unjust structures in the global production system and urban politics in developing countries. WIEGO has led many successful advocacy campaigns to improve the lives of women working in the informal economy.
Mitu Sengupta, ASAP Board Member and President of ASAP Canada, chaired the first Impact: Global Poverty panel, which focused on impact and the Global South. Teddy Cruz, Co-Director of the Blum Center for Cross-Border Poverty Research and Practice at the University of California-San Diego described public art and urban design projects he had led in an effort to promote social connections and learning across cultural and income differences. Nidhi Sadana Sabharwal, Executive Director of the Indian Insitute for Dalit Studies, described research on the impacts of social exclusion and discrimination in India and the policy agenda that has emerged from that work. Andries du Toit, Director of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape, spoke on the opportunities and challenges presented by the “pro-poor consensus” in South African politics. Juliana Martinez Franzoni, Associate Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Costa Rica, spoke on the merits of universalist social policies as an alternative to narrow anti-poverty programs. According Professor Martinez: “universalism must confront segmentation and marketization” in order to build the cross-class solidarity necessary for achieving social justice.
Amy Gordon, Researcher and Sessional Lecturer in Philosophy at Dominican University College, chaired the panel Impact in Comparative Perspective, which featured Jonathan Morduch, Managing Director of the Financial Access Initiative at New York University; Alberto Minujin, Executive Director of Equity for Children at the New School; and Alberto Cimadamore, Scientific Director of the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP). Morduch spoke on the dilemmas he’s faced as an academic pursuing poverty impact, especially as his research has focused on microfinance. He told the audience he’d chosen to act as a constructive critic of microfinance, rather than a cheerleader, but that this choice involved significant traeoffs. Minujin described the challenges of defining and measuring poverty and equity for the policy advocacy efforts of Equity for Children. Finally, Cimadamore outlined CROP’s advocacy on the MDG successors and the challenges of influencing public discourse around poverty.
The day concluded with keynotes by Sukhadeo Thorat, Chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, and David Hulme, Executive Director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester. Thorat focused on the importance of research for understanding the needs of the different groups living in poverty around the world and of fighting discrimination. During his speech, Hulme gave a critical assessment of the MDGs, saying they had made a “small net contribution but [were] NOT transformational” and that the UN-led process of identifying goals to succeed the MDGs had failed to reshape public attitudes and mobilize the grassroots. However, he expressed optimism about the potential of the post-MDG framework to encompass more of the commitments necessary to end poverty.
You can read about presentations made during the first day of the conference here.