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Global Development Institute

Open Access: What Works for Africa’s Poorest?

22 August 2017

The edited volume is available as a free download through the Open Access scheme.

The book, edited by three GDI researchers, Professor David Hulme, Dr David Lawson and Dr Lawrence Ado-Kofie, studies why policies and programmes work to reduce poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa – and why sometimes they don’t.

There is growing recognition that extreme inequality is harmful – from IMF studies on its negative effects on overall economic growth, to widening inequality cited as a top global risk by the World Economic Forum. We know that if policies don’t work for the most disadvantaged populations, then we all lose out. We also know that the poorest people rarely benefit from poverty reduction programmes, and this is especially true in some Sub-Saharan Africa nations.

Despite often impressive growth rates, the continent’s prosperity isn’t trickling down to the poor and the very poor, with much of the wealth created by ‘Africa rising’ captured by urban elites and offshore international businesses. It doesn’t help that looming on the horizon are a number of structural problems, which include the end of the commodity ‘super cycle’, the breaking of the wave of democratisation, and growing adverse effects of climate change.

“With an increase of almost 200 million African in deep/extreme poverty [between 1990 and 2012], it is difficult to celebrate the ways in which contemporary globalization is incorporating the continent into the world economy”

David Hulme, David Lawson and Lawrence Ado-Kofie

Yet, the editors advise against falling into a new era of Afro-pessimism, advocating “the emotions that need to be fostered are outrage about the lack of political and economic change in many African states and in the international relations of 21st century globalization, and tempered optimism”. The examples of innovation and learning the edited volume presents can incrementally contribute to improved prospects for the economic and social advancement for Africa’s poorest people.

Working to reach the poorest involves considering multiple layers of exclusion and deprivation as well as trade-offs between competing groups. It’s complex. But it isn’t impossible:

“Poor African men and women, bureaucrats who want to do their job, committed professionals, resilient aid-programme managers, NGO field staff, and other like-minded local politicians are making practical progress and are deepening the understand of ‘what works’ for Africa’s poorest people.”

David Hulme, David Lawson and Lawrence Ado-Kofie

Grounded in evidence and research but stepping away from theory, What Works for Africa’s Poorest delves into the field to examine policies and programmes and the mechanics of how they work with specific groups of poor people in a specific context.

What Works for Africa’s Poorest looks at who Sub-Saharan Africa’s extreme poor actually are, how they can realistically be reached, and what has (and hasn’t) worked for them so far, exploring the lessons that emerge along the way. Chapters analyse a variety of innovative programmes in eight countries, including life-stage specific initiatives that promote infant survival and childcare; fast growing interventions such as cash transfers and other social protection programmes; employment policies, including the role of public works and “graduation programmes”; and efforts that focus on girls and women to reduce gender inequalities. Though there are some pan-African policy prescriptions, the overall evidence points to the need for poverty reduction programmes to be context specific and carefully adapted at the national or even sub-national level.

Following in the footsteps of East Asia focussed What Works for the Poorest, What Works for Africa’s Poorest is a unique cross-section of country-specific case studies combined with cross-country analyses of important programmes, written by practitioners, academics and policy advisers, providing valuable insight into poverty reduction policies on the African continent.

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