Eight Ways to Create Fiscal Space for Social Protection in the Poorest Countries

This post was originally published on The Povertist.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) argues that the poorest countries can afford to finance social protection, and there are eight options to create fiscal space.

Does Africa Need Innovation or KAIZEN?

This post was originally published on The Povertist.

How Different are Innovation and KAIZEN? Innovation is Like a Lottery. KAIZEN is Invention Without Innovation.

Social Policy and the Elimination of Extreme Poverty

This post was originally published on The Povertist.

“In middle-income countries, it may be that growth has lifted all the poor out of poverty who can be lifted; for the rest, social policy will be needed (Raj M. Desai 2015).” Thinking about approaches towards the goal of poverty elimination by 2030, this may be a sentence that we can cite to convince people who believe economic policies alone are enough. Here is some summary of my weekend readings as follows.

In The Last Mile in Ending Extreme Poverty, Desai wrote one chapter Social Policy and the Elimination of Extreme Poverty. He emphasises that social policy will play an essential role to end poverty, and political economy of social policy will be a key in developing countries.

Between 1990 and 2010, developing countries halved poverty headcounts to 22 percent, mostly thanks to improvements of labour-based income. However, this may not be the case for the next decades. According to evidence, the labour income effect on consumption diminishes in middle-income countries because the poorest people remain vulnerable.

Even so, he argues that the elimination of extreme poverty is technically possible with a combination of adequate social policies, but political economy will be a critical issue. Social protection systems with strict targeting mechanisms cannot gain critical support from nonpoor populations. It leads to the slow expansion of social protection. Instead, a comprehensive universal social protection system will most likely be sustainable with nonpoor supporters.

Desai concluded the chapter by addressing three points regarding the role of social protection in eliminating extreme poverty.

Inclusive Growth: A good mix of income growth and inequality reduction has an effect to reduce extreme poverty. Some literatures show increases in labour income are responsible for poverty reduction to 15 percent. Beyond this, social protection becomes a key player.

Institution Development: The development trajectories of institutional development for social protection were varied between welfare-state countries that industrialised before the twentieth century and low- and middle-income countries in this century even at the same level of income. The latter made a slower progress due to different conditions such as increased global competition, larger shares of workers in informal economies. It results in budget constraints and targeted programmes of social protection.

Lacking Universality: The exclusion of middle-income could lead to the political unsustainability. Historically, the group played a key role in scaling up social protection. The central obstacle is the domestic politics that affect the scale and duration of redistributive programmes because it potentially results in increasing or decreasing reputation of politicians and public officials.

Cross-class Solidarity: Towards the completion of the last mile, the social protection systems need to rebuild cross-class solidarity between the poor and the nonpoor, in order to build up well-functioning states in managing social protection. The donor community tends to prefer targeted programmes to reduce poverty. However, if the goal is to end poverty, developing countries need to have a more comprehensive system to manage risks and vulnerabilities.

Author: Ippei Tsuruga is the Editor-in-Chief and the founder of The Povertist. He has extensive experience and knowledge in poverty and social protection in Asia and Africa.

Book Review: The Last Mile in Ending Extreme Poverty

This post was originally published on The Povertist.

If The End of Poverty by Jeffery Sachs and The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier are classics for development studies during the era of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), The Last Mile in Ending Extreme Poverty will be a classic book for the era of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) towards 2030. As SDGs aim, the book explores approaches towards the eradication of extreme poverty. Here, I review some of the key elements that its introductory chapter emphasises.

From a Billion to Zero: Three Key Ingredients to End Extreme Poverty

Ending poverty is different between countries. How long they travelled so far defines how long to the last mile. China greatly reduced poverty while Côte d’Ivoire experienced an adverse development progress. Albeit MDGs’ Goal 1, halving poverty, was achieved seven years ahead, individual countries have different situations. That is because the achievement of MDGs was measured by an average of developing countries.

The last mile requires no one left behind. China contributed to halving global poverty. In particular, the rapid growth of coastal regions raised an average income while the hinterland remains poor. Likewise, the northern regions of Côte d’Ivoire became impoverished.

Economic growth is certainly an engine of poverty reduction. However economic policy alone is not enough to end poverty, where growth is intermittent and benefits are unequally shared.

In order to end poverty, key ingredients are peace, job and resilience.


There are a wide range of studies that shows poverty triggers conflict, and conflict results in poverty. In fact, poverty remains large in fragile states. Cessation of conflict is however not a start of immediate economic growth. Recovering process takes time and countries need a long term expectation of peace.

It is obvious that there are several countries that have low poverty rates and internal conflicts such as India and the Philippines. However, households in the affected regions are potential groups left behind development and remain in poverty.


Lack of productive jobs leads to poverty. Poverty is also a hindrance to productive employment. A study of countries that achieved a large poverty reduction shows the source of additional household income to help them out of poverty was an increase in labour income, and another dominant factor was an improvement of labour productivity. Productive work for poor households means to have wage occupation, access to value chain and higher yield in smallholder farming. Without such factors, they are probably disadvantaged.

For job creation, structural transformation is a catalyst for raising labour productivity and enabling poor workers to change occupations, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Underinvestment in people’s connectivity to markets is another constraint, which is caused by high fixed costs due to landlocked.


Resilience, the mitigation of shocks, is necessary to complete the last mile. Shocks happen at different levels: illness and job loss at the household level; poor harvest and disaster at the community level; and political instability and commodity price rise at the national level.

Poverty is a driver of vulnerability. Poor people live in places that lack institutions to provide resilience. They often have no access to formal coping mechanisms such as insurance and credit. An empirical study shows there are only 23 percent of adults below $2 poverty line have access to formal coping strategies. Instead, the poor tend to rely on unreliable sources like informal kin mechanisms.

Vulnerability to shocks is a cause of poverty. Coping shocks with unsustainable ways like selling productive assets to maintain a subsistent level of consumptions causes long-term negative effects. A study shows 10 years after droughts, Ethiopia and Tanzania still had consumption of the poor 17 – 40 percent lower than pre-disaster levels.

People above poverty lines are also vulnerable to falling into poverty. A research finding illustrates that people even with doubled consumption from a poverty line had 10 percent probability of backslides.

Cost benefit analyses show effectiveness of risk management interventions. Although the poor are the least resilient, coverage of social safety nets in low income countries remains as low as 10 percent.

Author: Ippei Tsuruga is the Editor-in-Chief and the founder of The Povertist. He has extensive experience and knowledge in poverty and social protection in Asia and Africa.

Implementing SDGs to End Poverty and Malnutrition through Sustainable Development

This post was originally published on The Povertist.

At the United Nations General Assembly in this month, representatives will adopt a new sustainable development goals (SDGs), consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets. It illustrates a road towards 2030. One single message word would be no one should be left behind. Another key word is environment. Though there is a general agreement to work on poverty eradication and environmental friendly development, it has not been identified how to implement.

On September 2, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) organised a panel discussion ‘Road to New York: Keeping the SDGs’ Agenda in Focus’ to discuss how the development community should be engaged in SDGs. Here is my brief memo for what panellists argued.

At the end of panel discussion, Nabeeha Kazi, Humanitas Global Development, the moderator, asked each panellist, ‘what to take to New York’ as important agenda. The answers were ‘poverty eradication’, ‘implementation’, and ‘data’.

Francisco Ferreira, World Bank

  • The World Bank will aim at twin goals of reducing extreme poverty to 3 percent, and promoting shared prosperity for the bottom 40 percent. We are pleased to see SGDs include an inequality goal. With the goal, we cannot simply target absolute poverty through growth but also need to focus on distribution.
  • There is an agreement of importance of multidimensional poverty. But there is no agreement on what indicators or dimensions to be included. Income poverty targets may be achievable but what of other dimensions? Inequality will be another problem. Reducing poverty is no longer enough.

Homi Kharas, Brookings Institution

  • Hunger, food security and nutrition will be an important area to work on (Goal 2). A challenge is how to measure or what indicators to measure achievements. It is estimated that the number of malnourished children will possibly decrease from 12 percent to 7 percent with a business-as-usual model. However, it will be challenging to get it closer to zero.
  • Public investment in nutrition is extremely limited. Nutrition budget is about $205 per capita in developing countries. Of which $180 come from their self-financing, while ODA and FDI contribute to very few proportion.
  • Data collection and analysis are multi-stakeholder’s tasks. Data does not necessarily come from a national statistical office. Thanks to technology, we can think about methods to collect data from individuals, remote sensing etc.

Claudia Ringler, IFPRI

  • All goals and targets related to agriculture production and environment system will be important. It is good that SDGs put goals and targets on developed countries as well, for climate change related issues.

Andrew Steer, World Resources Institute

  • Monitoring is important. In order to measure the achievement of each goal, we need to think how to monitor. Monitoring means how to count and scale. For example, how can we monitor deforestation?
  • To eradicate hunger, we need to deal with food loss and waste. Again, how can we measure? Thanks to technology, data collection has been improved.

Shenggen Fan, IFPRI

  • Food security and nutrition are our focus (Goal 2). Since April 2013, those issues are under serious consideration. To work on, we need data. To achieve this goal, a role of research community is vital.
  • Eradication of malnourishment or hunger can be achieved by 2030. Malnutrition and child stunting will be a critical challenge. By 2025, it is estimated that there will be still 40 percent of children suffering from malnutrition. Good news is there are some cases that show a significant achievement within a short period of time. Thailand has reduced child stunting from 30 percent to 7 percent for 20 years. Vietnam, Bangladesh and Ethiopia also made great progress.
  • A key of success is to take combined approaches across health, social protection, direct intervention of nutrition, community works and so on.

Japan Starts Emergency Assistance to Dominica over the Tropical Storm Erika

This post was originally published on The Povertist.

The tropical storm named Erika hit the Commonwealth of Dominica on August 27. Over dozens of losses and the ongoing catastrophe, Japan decided to support the country.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is shipping generators, water purifiers and water storage tanks. Further details will be announced at the following websites.



Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (Japanese)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (English)

Ending Chronic Poverty by 2030: What is Required for Implementation?

This post was originally published on The Povertist.

Do we ‘still’ have 15 years to 2030? No. We have ‘only’ 15 years. In order to eliminate extreme poverty, we need to take immediate actions to tackle chronic poverty. What are the potential challenges? How can they be overcome?

For the past decade, policy makers and researchers have paid great attention to pro-poor growth, focusing in particular on what types of growth would decrease poverty. With the post-2015 era approaching and with smaller poverty headcounts compared to the past, debates surrounding poverty have started seriously considering the elimination of extreme poverty in the coming decades, rather than just its decrease.

The paradigm shift from reduction to elimination requires future growth to be aware of whose poverty counts. High growth and consumption increases are likely to benefit many of the poor, but what of the chronic poor who structurally remain in long-term poverty. The chronic poor are chronically poor because they could not benefit enough from the past growth. We need to think about specific measures that aim to remove their structural constraints. The latest Chronic Poverty Report calls for the implementation of a comprehensive set of protective and preventative measures for those living in chronic poverty, or those moving in and out of poverty over time.

Implementation is a key. At the country level, it is necessary to understand how many people are chronically poor, what their characteristics are, how they would be targeted, and what sort of measure they need. The answers must be realistic and practical. We do not have much time left. Getting zero poverty by 2030 requires immediate actions now that provide adequate environment for all the children living in long-term poverty to have good health and education, so that they will have income generation capacity to feed their families in 15 years’ time.

For implementation, data is another challenge. The use of panel data is certainly useful to estimate chronic poverty. However, most developing countries cannot rely on panel data as they simply do not have one to estimate a national figure. The reality is without panel data they often need to fight chronic poverty. In such case, only measure left for policy makers is to use existing sources to identify those kept in a vicious cycle of poverty.

In my recent research, I attempted to estimate a chronic poverty incidence and characteristics in rural Cambodia without panel data. Applying a blend of nationally representative qualitative (participatory poverty assessment) and quantitative sources (household survey), I primarily estimated chronic poverty headcount rates, based on multidimensional criteria defined by the poor.

Surprisingly, despite the excellent progress in economic development and the significant drop in consumption poverty by 40 percent, the chronic poverty headcount ratio little improved from 11 percent between 2004 and 2010. The result implies that rapid economic growth has successfully raised the consumption of chronically poor households but done little to help them accumulate productive assets and human capital to break a vicious cycle of poverty. Structural constraints are identified in their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, including: limited asset ownership, low human development, female-heads of household, high child dependency, fewer economically active members, small household size and many young members.

From a policy perspective, one striking finding is that consumption measurements based on the current national poverty line cannot be used to identify a majority of the chronic poor. This is not merely a matter of different measurement applications because the chronically poor identified in this study are just as deprived as the consumption-based poor in some other attributes like human development. The evidence suggests that poverty reduction programmes should take into consideration the multidimensional criteria identified here to avoid leaving the chronically poor behind in the country’s development. This policy implication is particularly important for targeting mechanisms of social protection instruments implemented under the National Social Protection Strategy, which are key measures in ending poverty in Cambodia.

In the paper above, I demonstrated one practical way to better understand chronic poverty using widely available data, and illustrated characteristics that could be potential targeting criteria for social assistance and other targeted interventions. To design a tangible programme, development practitioners and policy makers will need such analysis, which does not require additional data collection, and begin interventions to combat chronic poverty sooner. We do not have much time left by 2030.

Why does Japan not Tweet? Compliance and Public Relations

This post was originally published on The Povertist.

In development communities, it is often said, ‘we don’t know what Japan does’. People in the world think Japan is invisible. There are a lot fewer practitioners, researchers and leaders who have public accounts on Twitter, Facebook or other social media in Japan, compared to Europe and the rest of the world. I personally believe this is why Japan is invisible. But the question is, ‘why is that?’

Why do they not use SNS more actively in their public relations? Before getting into this question, let me review an interesting post from Institute of Development Studies (IDS), which is one of the most successful organisations in using SNS to disseminate activities and research works with 140,000 followers on Facebook.

James Georgalakis, Director of Communications, explains how IDS has made this outstanding achievement.

We have never restricted ourselves to corporate news and IDS led research activities and regularly promote the news and content of others, drawing in particular upon the research centres, consortiums and hundreds of global partnerships to which we belong.

So the IDS top tips for success on social media are as follows:
1. Systematically and promptly broadcast across all your channels using devices such as BufferApp
2. Share partner content as well as your own
3. Identify those with shared interests and follow them
4. Reply to messages from your followers and fans promptly
5. Target specific communities within your fan base
6. Implement a social media policy that protects you and your staff from social media meltdowns

As I manage this website, I can fully agree with these tips and values. The question here is, ‘What can Japanese organisations implement, and what cannot?’ Looking back into my experience, I would say they have a conflict of interest between compliance and public relations.

From my view, Japanese organisations have the following constraints.

  1. Use of New Services: Large organisations tend to have a lot of internal discussions before making a new decision. Compliance and responsibility are always an issue. Who will take responsibility if something bad or unexpected happens using new service? It leads to a long discussion and complicating administrative process to get approval. I can imagine how big decision such organisations make just to create the first Twitter account.
  2. Risk of interaction: Japanese firms tend to be more afraid of ‘bad’ user on SNS. Bad users are people who make unfavourable and unproductive comments or discourage other users. If corporate staff try to interact users on SNS, how can they behave, and whose responsibility for that? They do not like to take such risks even though they might have more advantage of using SNS.

Due to these risks, Japanese organisations may not be able to take an advantage of using SNS. They tend to restrict themselves to corporate news and limit to share other’s posts, because they are afraid to show agreement with someone’s opinions, because again, it will then become a matter of whose responsibility, if something bad happens.

Solution is there. Japan’s development communities can learn from Tips No. 6 of James Georgalakis. Implement a social media policy that protects staff from social media meltdowns. I really hope Japan will learn from his post to become more publicly visible.

Can Graduation Programmes End Child Poverty?

This post was originally published on The Povertist.

Can social protection lift up and sustain households out of poverty? The keyword of this sentence is ‘sustainability’. Social protection commonly and theoretically aims to cut a vicious cycle of poverty, which also refers to long-term poverty or intergenerational transmission of poverty. Nevertheless, social protection in practice tends to focus on short- and medium-term impacts. How can social protection address long term poverty?

Tackling child poverty is one of possible approaches. Taking the moment that graduation has become increasingly more popular topic in debates on poverty and social policy, Institute of Development Studies (IDS) has recently published articles on graduation. One of the articles attempts to conceptualise children and their role in sustainable graduation.

Keetie Roelen, Research Fellow at IDS, argues that graduation programmes should consider ‘twofold investment trap’ to cut intergenerational process of poverty.

As a result of graduation programme’s failure to acknowledge and engage with an intergenerational time frame of graduation, households with children participating in graduation programmes are required to perform a balancing act between meeting investment requirements for short- to medium-term intergenerational graduation.

According to her conceptual framework, with twofold investment traps, households have to make choices including:

1. The distribution of resources to children

  • The competition for monetary resources: Households face a distribution issue when they receive cash transfers, how they will spend. In this regard, there is a lot of evidence on the positive impact of cash transfers on children.
  • The competition for time: There is a potential conflict between productive activities and unpaid care works.

2. The contribution by children to the household

  • Productive activities: There are trade-offs between household well-being and child well-being. When households spend more time in productive activities, time for child care would decrease.
  • Household chores and care: Children might directly contribute to household activities to increase their productivity.

I share the same view that social protection debates need to take into account a hock between social protection and how to stop an intergenerational process of poverty. In the post 2015 agenda, the development community is aiming to eradicate extreme poverty during the coming decades, and also recognises social protection as a key player for poverty and vulnerability reduction. In order to bridge the issue and the means, the approach of twofold investment traps particularly for child poverty is an useful framework.

I believe that operationalising this approach may be the next step both for researchers and practitioners.


Keetie Roelen (2015) The ‘Twofold Investment Trap’: Children and their Role in Sustainable Graduation.

Civil G8 Dialogue

On April 23rd and 24th, “Civil G8 Dialogue” took place in Kyoto, to put forward civil society perspectives on the issues on the official agenda of the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit. I worked part time and joined it as well. That was my first international conference ever.