A few weeks ago, I read an interview that the Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), Patricia Danzi, gave to Women in Foreign Policy. She said that ‘it’s important to have a genuine interest in people, and their lives’.
When we show a genuine interest in people and their lives, we’re essentially facilitating a human-centered development. And this’s at the core of the “leave no one behind” agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Human-centered and inclusive development is ever more urgent and timely because of the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just imagine this: the impact of the pandemic is estimated to add as many as 150 million poor people by 2021. People are more than statistics, and a count reveals only so much.
Easier said than done, huh? But how can we contribute to a human-centered and inclusive development beyond convictions or declarations of good intentions? Here’s an emerging experience of a regional program, RECONOMY.
The starting point: grasping the many faces of exclusion
RECONOMY targets women and youth in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and the Western Balkans. This is too broad a label and doesn’t reflect the heterogeneity of women and young people in the region. What we did was the segmentation of the target groups. For this, we used the multi-dimensional poverty analysis (MDPA) tool developed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
“By doing so,” says Elina Scheja, Lead Economist of Sida, “we sought to practically understand and operationalize the different faces of poverty that the SDGs talked about.” In a previous blog, I argued that inclusiveness isn't just about achieving economic growth or addressing economic inequality (in absolute or relative terms). It's also about agency: the capacity to participate meaningfully in development initiatives and achieve social and political inclusion.
Indeed, we’re aware that one can easily become captives to tools while missing out on the purpose they’re created and used for. We aren’t thinking of the MDPA as a solution to innovation. The tool helps us in breaking down a problem into manageable and definable chunks, along with its causes and effects. The idea, thus, has been to link the segmentation of the target groups with the main reasons for exclusion — lack of power, voice and respect for human rights, lack of opportunities and choice, and/or lack of human security. Covering all these four dimensions may also be too much for one development initiative; however, the dimensions are interlinked, and we can systemically address them.
Who are the excluded anyway?
RECONOMY covers a broad region of Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and the Western Balkans, consisting of 12 countries. Women and young people are diverse in the region with different worldviews, needs, or concerns. We segmented them into three categories.
We first looked at their socio-economic status. This specifically means minorities (ethnolinguistic groups like Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian, Yazidis, and Assyrians); those who are excluded from the economy in connection to civil disorder/political repressions; female-headed households; victims of gender-based violence; older women; young people Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEET); and members of the LGBTQI community. While poverty and exclusion in some of these groups are visible, targeting and reaching out to others (e.g. victims of gender-based violence, LGBTQI) is difficult due to increased stigmas attached in societies of the region.
We also considered location-based livelihoods and their consequences for poverty and exclusion. Women and youth living in rural areas tend to be poorer and more excluded from opportunities and services. Geographical inequalities between rural and urban areas are reasons for the shrinking population in rural areas and migration outflows from different countries. Those living in urban slums are also part of this category. In addition, poverty and exclusion affect Internally Displaced People (IDP) due to conflicts and natural or human-made disasters (e.g. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, & Ukraine). IDPs are largely clustered in areas adjacent to the conflict zones, and in or around major cities.
Third, health-related poverty and exclusion such as for women and youth with disabilities prevent them from participating on an equal basis with others. Together with the misperception of society, these disadvantages often result in a lack of skills, as well as low confidence, expectations, and achievement. Barriers include long-term physical, mental, intellectual, and sensory impairments. Even if people with disabilities are able to get a job, limited options for accessible public transport for commuting between home and work, particularly for those who live in remote and rural areas, create additional barriers. Wrong assumptions from employers about the ‘productivity’ of people with disabilities add to their struggles. The pandemic has been essentially a health crisis, which directly affects people with disabilities. It also worsens their economic and social vulnerabilities, making it a ‘triple crisis’.
Understanding the many faces of exclusion and the segmentation of those who are excluded help us targeting and reaching those in whose name development cooperation takes place. This way, the selection of economic sectors and related cross-cutting systems (e.g. finance, regulatory reforms) become more relevant not just addressing reasons of exclusion but also making the sectors relevant to the target groups.
Let me provide an example by taking access to opportunities and choices from the MDPA. For minorities, it is all about inadequate or absence of productive employment, education, markets, and information. For people in rural areas, it’s a matter of inadequate or absence of productive employment infrastructure/energy and information. For people with disabilities, the issues are about inadequate or absence of productive employment, education, markets, information, and health services.
Linking the above to economic sectors, the choice of the textile and apparel economic sector, for example, is relevant and offers opportunities for people with disabilities (staff of sorting facilities) and rural population (staff of recycling factories outside of large cities). The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector becomes important for women and young people living outside of the large cities, and other disadvantaged groups willing to re-skill and enter the sector.
To conclude, inclusiveness is primarily about poor and disadvantaged people who are diverse. It doesn’t stop there, either. To achieve sustainable and scalable impacts, we must work with the private and public sectors as well as civil society. Therefore, it is critical for development initiatives like RECONOMY to go beyond the moral imperative of “doing good” and understand what the key barriers to inclusion are. This, in turn, requires good strategies like understanding and addressing the many faces exclusion and targeting and reaching the excluded ones.
This is all that matters….