The Global Poverty Consensus Report (GPCR) is a joint project between ASAP and the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP). It aims to highlight the existing academic consensus on the causes and remedies for global poverty. Based on thirty-nine interviews done by Gilad Tanay in 2012, the analysis was written by Alberto Cimadamore and Lynda Lange. The final report is now available for download. More information on the project is available here.
In this article, we outline reasons why academics whose research or teaching focuses on poverty and related issues should want to join Academics Stand Against Poverty, and we discuss the kinds of impact gains that might be realized through collaboration in the ASAP network.
Despite some rosy reports about global poverty reduction, and despite highly publicized commitments such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the number of persons who simply can’t get enough food to eat remains staggeringly high. The United Nations recently reported that the achievement of MDG Goal 1, halving by 2015 the number of persons facing chronic hunger globally from a 1990 baseline, may be within reach. Yet, the same report notes that when chronic hunger is measured according to the food needed for ‘normal activity’, rather than a ‘sedentary lifestyle’, more than 1.5 billion fall below the threshold. A full 2.5 billion have too little food to fuel ‘intense activity’, and progress on hunger reduction has slowed dramatically since 2007-08.
The need to do better remains urgent. Yet, why should academics focused on poverty, as well as on related issues such as climate change, think that they have special responsibilities to contribute to public dialogue, outreach and impact efforts? Further, why should those who already have extensive experience in poverty policy and dialogue efforts feel compelled to help mentor others?
We would offer three main reasons. The first is that academics in the UK and similarly affluent countries hold a relatively privileged position within societies that themselves hold privileged positions globally. Thus, we are the beneficiaries of current supranational arrangements in trade, investment, finance, etc., which tend to be tilted in our favour. As such, we are likely to have special responsibilities to explore and highlight structural injustices that our governments design and uphold in our name. These could be negative responsibilities to avoid harming others through such institutional arrangements, or positive ones to use our favoured positions to aid and protect people much less advantaged than we are.
Second, and more narrowly, when there is an important public debate, for example, on levels of overseas development assistance amid continuing domestic economic hardship, academic silence can be interpreted as acceptance that the main views represented in the public debate are credible or widely accepted amongst researchers. If empirical evidence or robust normative arguments suggest otherwise, then those who can offer the counterpoint have some responsibility to do so.
Third, academics have more general duties based in the potential to use their subject expertise to make contributions that are significant, distinctive and complementary to existing efforts, such as those of some large development NGOs. Those economists, environmental scientists, development studies specialists, political scientists, philosophers, and others with expertise salient to the problems of global poverty, can and should feel compelled to put their skills to good use in the public arena. Those already deeply immersed in such activities can magnify their impact through closer coordination with like-minded others in academia, and through various forms of mentoring to help others enhance their own impact, especially those working in less-affluent countries.
What sorts of specific contributions, then, can and should academics seek to make? First, in terms of public outreach, we can share expertise through popular print, online and broadcast media, in public debates, official testimony, and through collaboration with civil society organizations and some types of firms. Such activities can be crucial for presenting new findings, challenging assumptions in public discourse, and for helping to frame the discourse around global poverty with appropriate academic input. And again, those with long experience of reaching public audiences can help others become more effective in doing so.
Further, we see an important and potentially much more expansive role for academics in contributing more directly to poverty alleviation. For example, an ASAP-sponsored project surveying leading researchers’ assessments of the Millennium Development Goals called the Global Poverty Consensus Report has made important contributions to the current dialogue on what should replace the MDGs when they expire in 2015. A separate effort, GiveWell, involving academics and civil society representatives, works to assess the effectiveness of poverty and development NGOs in order to help donors make more informed decisions. Another effort, the Health Impact Fund, is developing a complement to the way pharmaceutical innovations are currently incentivized and rewarded through patent-protected markups that predictably render new medicines unaffordable to the world’s poor. All offer examples of very concrete ways in which academic expertise can be put to work in interventions.
We close by inviting university researchers, teachers and graduate students interested in poverty reduction to join Academics Stand Against Poverty. The initiative was launched by academics in several countries who were seeking better ways to leverage scholarly expertise on global poverty and promote collaboration across disciplines. Initial organizing efforts have led to conferences involving hundreds of participants in 2011-12 at Yale University, the University of Birmingham, University of Oslo, University of Notre Dame London Centre, University of Delhi and Ryerson University in Toronto.
ASAP’s web site has numerous collaborative features, including open forums, a dedicated social network, and ongoing calls for articles on specific aspects of poverty policy, impact efforts and events. We invite all interested academics to join the organization and make their own contributions toward enhancing positive academic impact globally on public dialogue, policy and civil society efforts to reduce severe poverty.
Thomas Pogge and Luis Cabrera*
*Thomas Pogge is Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University and the Chair of the Board of Academics Stand Against Poverty. Luis Cabrera is Reader in Political Theory at the University of Birmingham and an ASAP Board member. A longer version of this article appears as Thomas Pogge and Luis Cabrera. 2012. “Outreach, Impact, Collaboration: Why Academics Should Join to Stand Against Poverty”. Ethics & International Affairs 26(2). Other articles in the issue also address the idea and promise of ASAP. A version of that article is available from the University of Birmingham.
The conclusions of the Global Poverty Consensus Report (GPCR), an ASAP effort to identify academic consensus on priorities for poverty alleviation, will soon be tested. ASAP board members Gilad Tanay and Keith Horton are working with a small research team to analyze the results of fifty interviews with academics on poverty-alleviation policy post-2015. In the coming months, they hope to produce a map of areas of agreement and disagreement on policy priorities for the development framework that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015.
The conclusions Horton and Tanay draw will be tested in a survey of academics who have published on topics related to global poverty.
David Rodríguez-Arias, a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of the Spanish National Research Council, led the effort to create a comprehensive database of academics around the world who have published peer-reviewed papers on global poverty in the last three decades. He and his team of volunteer researchers managed to gather basic data and contact information for 1,429 different academics who had published on topics relevant to the GPCR.
Rodríguez-Arias sees an urgent need for the GPCR effort. “Within the academic field of global justice,” he said, “too much focus on disagreement sends the misguided and potentially paralyzing message to the society that a common agenda for global poverty eradication cannot be defined. Academic experts in global poverty need to be consulted when policy makers define sound and effective policies. In that respect, this is a very important moment: the Millennium Development Goals are about to expire, and the post MDG framework is being defined. Any academic consensus on what the Beyond 2015 agenda should look like can achieve a considerable positive impact for the face of global poverty during the 21th century.”
Rodríguez-Arias and Tanay identified six academic disciplines that are highly relevant to the field of global poverty: social science, economy, political science, philosophy, public health and environmental studies. For each of these disciplines, Rodriguez-Arias searched a prominent bibliographic database for papers on the Millennium Development Goals, global poverty, and development policy. Volunteer researchers Janina Pescinski, Mario Ascolese, Amy Wood, Beatriz Carrillo, Iason Gabriel, and Gulrez Azhar turned this long list of publications into a database, complete with authors’ names, affiliation, location, and contact information.
Pescinski described the process as being “as broadly inclusive as possible, from disciplines to geography”. She said “it was especially difficult to find contact info for non-
Northern or non-English speaking scholars, but I think this speaks to many of the inequalities ASAP targets”.
Ascolese had not expected they would identify so many academics writing on the topic of global poverty and development. “It was stunning and encouraging,” he said. “It means that many efforts already exist to promote change in academia, and that maybe a project aiming at coordinating these efforts can be useful”.
The Global Poverty Consensus Report project aims to identify and clearly articulate academic consensus and disagreement on global poverty alleviation and to feed these points of consensus into the MDG replacement process. To date, the team has interviewed more than 50 poverty researchers, with more to come. They are particularly concerned at the moment with interviewing academics from the Global South. The interviews are currently being transcribed. Once the interview phase is completed, the team will write a report highlighting the major recommendations for development policy post-2015. Next, they will test the consensus identified in the report, circulating a survey amongst academics who have written on the MDGs and MDG successors. Finally, they will organize consultation meetings with impoverished communities on three continents to present the report and get feedback on its key policy proposals.
Two new groups of ASAP volunteers — the Quick Response Team and Campaign Coordination Team — will work together to provide research, consultation, and other support services to Beyond 2015.
Beyond 2015 is a global coalition of more than 500 civil society organisations from over 80 countries calling for a strong and legitimate development framework to succeed the UN Millennium Development Goals, which are due to expire in 2015. Beyond 2015 is working closely with the UN to ensure that its work on the post-2015 development framework is inclusive, participatory, and responsive to the voices of people living in poverty. The High Level Panel appointed to advise the UN General Assembly regards Beyond 2015 as a key source of civil society input in the MDG replacement process.
ASAP is well placed to contribute research and consultation to Beyond 2015 because two ASAP projects, the Global Poverty Consensus Report and the Institutional Reform Goals, focus on co-ordinating academics’ research and recommendations for the MDG successors. Beyond 2015 has recognised ASAP as a leading source of academic knowledge concerning poverty alleviation and other development goals.
In order to provide Beyond 2015 with the best academic input possible, ASAP has recruited volunteers from around the world to form the Quick Response Team and the Campaign Coordination Team.
The Quick Response Team consists of 25 academics who specialize in poverty alleviation from diverse disciplines, including philosophy, political science, social science, economics, international business, environmental management, medicine, and other fields. Team members are based in a wide range of countries, including Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. The diversity of the Quick Response Team leads to rich interdisciplinary analysis and research on questions concerning poverty alleviation. Specifically, the Quick Response Team offers the following services:
- Providing research-informed responses to urgent questions from Beyond 2015.
- Fact checking position papers written by Beyond 2015 member groups.
- Translating Beyond 2015 materials into other languages.
- Identifying academics who are conducting leading research on poverty alleviation and international development.
The Campaign Coordination Team consists of four members who are responsible for liaising between ASAP, the Quick Response Team, and Beyond 2015, and for coordinating the efforts of these groups. Specifically, the Campaign Coordination Team recruits academics from the Quick Response Team to contribute to Beyond 2015 policy briefs, delegates research tasks amongst the Quick Response Team, and synthesizes research findings.
To date, the Quick Response and Campaign Coordination Teams have worked together to provide substantive academic feedback on several Beyond 2015 policy briefs, spanning the themes of Health, Food Security and Nutrition, and Environmental Sustainability. The two teams are also collaborating to compile a list of potential contributors to the Global Poverty Consensus Report who represent a variety of nations and academic disciplines.
The development of the Quick Response and Campaign Coordination Teams marks a pivotal step for ASAP’s work in facilitating discussion between civil society and academic researchers, and in providing an avenue for academics to engage in poverty-alleviation activism and contribute directly to the efforts to eradicate global poverty.
For more information on the Quick Response Team, please contact Brent Peterkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.