At Give A Billion, we promote 3 steps to help overcome more poverty sooner, with the same or less resources. These are: Define poverty; Map poverty; and Focus the fixers. Central to poverty mapping, is an effective system of poverty measurement. Finding a consistent, underlying approach to measurement across all 7 Layers of the Poverty Model was daunting indeed. However, using the unifying idea of ‘humanitarian concern’, we have created a visual illustration we call “The Humanitarian Impact Spectrum”. It is our best shot at developing an integrated conceptual model, for the ‘otherwise-virtually-incomparable’ range and variety of types of human suffering. Curious? Then read on.


There is a widely adopted expression, used to describe the highest guiding PRINCIPLE of all moral choice and action – including such things as our own humanitarian concern for those facing poverty, in all its forms. It is expressed in the question: What result generates “the greatest good for the greatest number?” This thinking was originally articulated by Jeremy Bentham and others, in a philosophical framework called “utilitarianism”. At first glance, this seems self-evident genius. That is until one asks the pertinent question: How exactly does one fairly measure the relative “good” of wildly DIFFERENT intended outcomes, particularly when those outcomes are themselves UNCERTAIN at the point of decision? If you want to dip into some more detailed thinking on this, click here. If you just want to learn about the model itself, then read on…

measuring humanitarian impact

Resources are finite, so we all have to make CHOICES on some kind of basis. You may not even be aware of your own internal moral framework, even though it guides you all day every day – however imperfectly. It is what gets you by and helps you live with yourself afterwards. But what if you were suddenly put in charge of meeting the needs for all 7 Humanitarian Basics, for literally billions of people worldwide? Tricky, right? Well, just in case you should ever be put in that tricky position, we have an idea that we think will help crystallize your thinking a little. But first, we have to make things a bit worse, before we help them get better. Sorry.

Balancing stones

You see there is another entire side to the moral spectrum. Yes, really. It is not enough to consider real life choices from among a theoretical range of “goods”, even if you COULD figure out which one of them was in fact the greatest. No. In real life, we must also allow for a range of BADS. If we can imagine a spectrum going from morally neutral, all the way to the ‘greatest good’, then we must similarly allow for that same continuum to extend all the way to the ‘greatest bad’. This creates a complete theoretical SPECTRUM: from the greatest bad at one extreme, through morally neutral, all the way to the greatest good at the other end. Agreed? Fairly simple to imagine in principle; very hard to work out in practice. But practice is where it really counts, so try we must. Let’s press on…

From impossible to the possible

Underlying all that potential difficulty – and in fact mankind’s moral conundrums on the whole – is the challenge to COMPARE and CONTRAST between options. We may feel able to make moral comparisons, distinctions and hence moral choices – between scenarios which have certain clear similarities. So the more consistent our scale of comparison is, the less problematic our choices become.

balls balance

In our view, the way forwards lies in considering what constitutes being ‘humane’, in treating another person as we would like to be treated ourselves. In particular, when it comes to poverty, we propose focusing more on the avoidance, or removal of existing poverty ‘bads’, as our overall guide to achieving the ‘greatest good’ in overcoming poverty overall.


At the risk of being controversial, we would rather offer something practical and illustrative, in the absence of anything universal and definitive. So, in a nod towards the hit American TV series of the same name, we’ve set about “Breaking Bad” into 4 distinct, but overlapping categories of human woe. They all begin with D – just to help you remember them. How considerate of us, right? You can think of them as the 4 horsemen of the Humanitarian Apocalypse…


All 4 categories of ‘bad’ are relatively ‘ranked’ in terms of perceived SEVERITY of their humanitarian impact. Let’s start with the worst impact first. Death. Of the permanent, no-coming-back variety. We absolutely recognise the concept and possibility of there being “a fate worse than death”.  However, on the moral (and hence usually legal) spectrum, cultures around the world typically recognise death as the worst category of negative impact you can usually inflict upon another human being. Death as a category of impacts, then, sits at the worst extreme of our Humanitarian Impact Spectrum.

Breaking Bad_4 Horsemen_Venn1_large

The next most severe ‘bad’ category, is one we have labelled DISFIGUREMENT. The point here is that it is not generally considered as ‘severe’ as death in humanitarian terms, but it shares the same notion of a permanent and severe ‘bad’. It involves a lasting, negative change to the individual’s normal bodily form and function (limbs, organs, faculties, or appearance). Whilst we readily recognise the idea of different degrees of disfigurement, this can still be heavily influenced by the person’s culture and personal preferences. The causes of such disfigurement can be manifold, frequently including factors originating in our next category of ‘bads’.

Breaking Bad_4 Horsemen_Venn2

This is the category we have labelled DISEASE. Disease is clearly closely linked with the ‘bads’ either side of it (Disfigurement and Discomfort). The distinguishing characteristic here is one of an outcome’s PERSISTNECE, rather than permanence. It involves direct harm, or dysfunction to the individual’s normal bodily function and condition. Note also, that there is often an extra dimension to the ‘bad’ of Disease – that of potential numerical impact. Diseases can and do SPREAD to others.


The last of our 4 D’s is DISCOMFORT. This is deliberately meant as a broad and inclusive term. It can be taken as covering unpleasantness to any of the human senses. There can be discomfort associated with smell and taste (eg with water quality), as well as chronic and severe physical pain. All register somewhere in our broad scale and category of Discomfort. It is down to common experience and subjective assessments, as to how minor, major, or extreme an individual’s discomfort level might be, when assessing ‘bad’ humanitarian outcomes.


Straight away, we imagine you may be coming up with your own overlapping scenarios. For example, what about the person suffering from such severe pain, that they feel they would rather take their life, than face another day of it? There are valid distinctions and we have tried to allow for them in the Simple Assessment questions and grading system we advocate elsewhere. The breadth and inclusiveness of the category helps complete the proposed impact continuum across 4 severity category divisions. Some may wish to suggest alternative bases of distinction between the various types of ‘bad’, even while recognising that there is often overlap and blurred lines between categories in the real world.

Breaking Bad_4 Horsemen_Venn4 Overlap

One way of expressing the overlap, would be using a Venn diagram concept. However, since each category contains examples that might be deemed as serious as instances of scenarios in higher categories, perhaps this is better expressed as overlapping triangles, extending up inside other triangles, generally considered as more severe categories on the spectrum.

Breaking Bad_4 Horsemen_Arrow4

In the absence of a better, or more useful common scale, each of the 4 ‘bads’ could be further split into notional (but necessarily subjective) extreme, high, medium and low severities. Extreme is added as a category to account for the notional extension of one category into categories above. Hence ‘extreme’ in the Discomfort category, would include scenarios where the pain felt was so severe, that the individual might consider it on a par with Death, or Disfigurement alternatives. The aim here is not to be definitive, or prescriptive, but to help create a common language and terminology, that permits a basis for sensible discussions, comparisons – and indeed hard choices – between otherwise seemingly incomparable alternatives.

Difference and Similarity. Abstract Concept.

These types of distinctions have influenced the 21 questions of the Simple Assessment. The numbering system it uses, broadly reflects the high/medium/low/none options, where ‘none’ correlates to extreme, or severe conditions, typically reflecting crisis conditions in the given dimension of poverty, for the individual concerned.



acid test

We have given you the Humanitarian Impact Spectrum model, to help unpack answers to the utilitarian question: What decisions will lead to the greatest good for the greatest number? We recognise the ideas of overlap, degree, blurred lines and subjectivity, yet still feel the model is flexible enough to accommodate these, without losing the usefulness of its basic shape and structure. You are free to disagree. The real test comes in the real world. If you find it works – great. Keep it and use it with our blessing. If not – ditch it and look for (or invent) something better!

Until then, we thank you for being…One in a Billion

Tackling Poverty: How Much Does The Metre Matter?


Did you know that mankind has been measuring length and distance for millennia? Of course you did. After all, how could the Pharaoh’s have built the pyramids, or Noah the Biblical Ark in ancient times, if nobody else knew what the equivalent of a ‘cubit’ was? What you might not have grasped was that there was no international STANDARD for such systems of measurement.


In Europe, a standard length of measurement used to be set by such things as the distance from the tip of the King’s nose, to the tip of his thumb, when his arm was fully outstretched. I think you can see the problem here. What if the King’s extended arm grows – or even shrinks? What happens when one King is replaced by another. And that happened quite a lot in Europe, over the centuries, believe me. But the BIGGEST problem of all was that measurement lacked any International Standard.


You can imagine the problems that followed. When one railway using one gauge of measurement in one country wanted to join with the network from another country, how could that work when the tracks (and the train wheels that ran on them) were different distances apart? Have you ever tried buying a suit or a dress in a country with a different sizing system? Exactly. Not helpful.


However, it was actually international trade and shipping that eventually helped drive the need for global standardisation on length and distance. Did you know that this was how the metre came about? It was decided that rather than relying on a King’s reach to determine a standard unit of measurement, we should pick on something that wouldn’t change: so they picked the Earth. Hence, a ‘metre’ was defined as one ten millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the planet’s Equator. Now the Metric System (ie the ‘system of the metre’) has gone global. True story.

Red thumbtack on globe. Isolated 3D image


Today, we have established international standards for weights, measures, volumes, quality, business continuity, IT management – and a whole host of other things besides. Yet still no international standard for defining and measuring poverty. Does that not strike you as odd? We acknowledge principles drawn from such disciplines as quality and IT management, that state: “You cannot manage what you do not measure & you cannot measure what you do not define”. Centuries ago, recognition of this core principle drove the international definition and adoption of the metre, to better guide international shipping and trade. Surely the time is right for us to establish and adopt an international definition of poverty, that we can ALL work to.

Poverty Profile Example V1_2014


There is no magic in the metre itself. The magic is in having a standard we all agree on. Similarly, we claim no intrinsic magic in the 7 Layer Poverty Model. We DO claim there is some ‘magic’ in agreeing a common standard, as the basis for a common method of measurement. To have NO such method, to our mind, is madness.

So join our efforts to make our world a little less crazy, by promoting a common international standard for poverty definition and measurement. For that, dear friends, truly matters to over a billion people.

If you are ready to do your part in an epidemic outbreak of such sanity, then we thank you again for being…

One in a Billion!


How Can A Model Solve Poverty?


Poverty is a problem, but whose problem is it to solve poverty?  And how exactly can a poverty model help? This article answers both questions.  We promote a 3 Step Plan to solve poverty, namely: define it, map it and focus its ‘fixers’. That’s it. All problems, at their heart, are human in origin.  Don’t agree? Then take the example of the polar bear. It may be true that some of their natural habitats are under threat, through global warming. However, polar bears themselves do not perceive this as a ‘problem’, as such.

polar bear oblivious to global warming and desire to solve poverty

For those that it affects, it is just their immediate reality. For those that it doesn’t affect, they remain blissfully unaware of the issue. In the same way, global poverty is a human problem, not just because it is human in origin, but that ‘problems’ themselves are ultimately all human in nature. Nature itself doesn’t register a formal opinion either way. If it did, it might well consider human poverty as another form of ‘natural selection’; an enforced instance of ‘survival of the fittest’. In contrast to such anthropological Darwinism, human history provides a long track record of human problems being solved by human ideas. Karl Marx (1859) claimed that “Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve”.  We contend that solving poverty is no different and that the 7 Layer Poverty Model may prove just such an idea. So let’s examine it together and see if you agree.

Solving global poverty, poverty images, Thailand, Akha village, Akha people


The challenge to solve poverty is a human one. The 7 Layer Poverty Model is a human idea. It is not the complete answer in itself, but it is a key tool in solving the puzzle, in that it provides a COMMON and consistent way of understanding the complex problem of poverty and its many contributory causes. It is intended to be sophisticated enough so that most experts can use it, but simple enough so that most people can understand it. It draws from simple concepts that are familiar to us all and shows an effective way of combining them in a single, 3-dimensional model, consisting of a 7 layer cone sat on top of a ‘target’. Like this…

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

It uses a standardised definition of poverty that can be simply understood and simply communicated. That definition can be given in 7 child-friendly words. Poverty is: “not enough of 7 things we need”. To the expert, that translates to “the relative absence of 7 Humanitarian Basics”. But let’s just take the child-friendly definition for a moment.

It breaks down into 3 simple ideas:

1. There are some things we all need as humans

2. There are 7 important ones to keep in mind

3. ‘Poverty’ means not having enough of them.

The 7 Humanitarian Basics are: water, food, clothing, shelter,  healthcare, engagement (within the community) and freedom from oppression. Could you explain these things to a 5 year old in language they can understand? Could they then explain it to their friends?  If so, that is more than half the battle: defining the problem in such a way that most people actually understand it. But is it still powerful enough for experts to use? Let’s now consider the problem from the perspectives of those whose job it is to actually solve poverty – those whom we call ‘the fixers’.

Sadhu, Holy man, religions often prioritise solving poverty within beliefs



The 7 Layer Poverty Model recognises seven ‘players’, ‘actors’, ‘stakeholders’, or those who otherwise recognise they  have a particular role in solving poverty for any given individual on the planet. First and foremost is that individual themselves (excluding those who opt for some form of poverty out of choice and preference). You may have heard the phrase: “God helps those who help themselves” in this context. The Poverty Model recognises that the person typically most motivated to lift any given individual out of poverty, is the individual themselves. The model therefore starts by identifying that motivated individual, represented by the 7-layer cone at its centre – at the ‘bulls-eye’ of a sequence of concentric circles – like an archery target.


With some rare exceptions, people around the world mostly choose to organise their living among others. That model of organisation proves pretty consistent globally. Individuals tend to cluster into households of one or more. Households tend to cluster into communities. Both such ‘social structures’ are thus represented by the two ‘ghost’ cones surrounding the central, individual cone. One can imagine that in many (but not all) cases, the relative absence of Humanitarian Basics experienced by the individual will also be experienced at the household level.

One can also imagine aggregated assessments for Humanitarian Basics taken at the whole Community level, using techniques like the Small Area Estimation approach adopted and promoted by the World Bank. The risk of such aggregated information is the loss of detail for the individual and their household. This is one of the strengths of the 7 Layer Poverty Model, relative to Small Area Estimations, where levels of granularity only extend as far as the community as a whole.


Within the 7 Layer Poverty Model, the individual, their household and their Community are the first three out of our 7 key ‘fixers’ recognised and represented. The other 4 are represented by the 4 sectors of the target pattern underneath the cone. These fixers are: multilateral agencies, non-governmental organisations, social entrepreneurs and in-country governments. Statistically, countries do not tend to change their boundaries that much, or that often, even though some remain in dispute to this day. This enables us to look consistently at remarkable aspects of the history of poverty globally, at the macro-level, over 200 years and for some 200 countries, using published statistics from the United Nations.

Poverty issues face Three generation of himba women. Epupa-Kaokoland-Namibia

So, surrounding the individual, the Model recognises a household, which may be one or more persons, but is otherwise largely self-defining. They are considered a single ‘household’ because they think and act as such. Beyond that boundary, there is the Community to which the given household is considered to belong, however loose, shifting, or complex those relationships may prove to be in practice.  Underpinning Communities is the support (however tangible) of the government of the country to which it is typically considered to belong – such that it would think of that community as its citizens and thus, to some extent, its responsibility.

Red thumbtack on globe. Isolated 3D image

While countries have long seen themselves as part of various geographic empires, regions and continents, recent decades have also witnessed a particular rise in new multilateral entities, formed through alliances between multiple countries and across continents. Of particular note and influence in the context of solving poverty, are the United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union. These are referred to collectively within the Poverty Model (and elsewhere), as examples of ‘multilateral agencies’. They are another of the seven fixers, represented in the Model as one of the 4 ‘sectors’ making up the ‘target’ pattern underneath the cone. We think of it as operating like a ‘safety net’, underneath the individual, their household and their community.

solving global poverty, eradicate global poverty, global poverty model, poverty profile


Multilateral agencies have a publicly declared interest in the general wellbeing of citizens who exist beyond the borders of any one constituent member state. The United Nations was formed with the idea that ‘an attack on one was an attack on all’. This reflected a sense of shared problems and shared responsibilities among the member states within the multilateral agency. Member charters and codes of practice define what each member state commits to sign up to.  It is typically considered part of the price of ‘membership’.


Such shared public commitments have variously extended to such significant things as: the International Bill of Human Rights; the Geneva Convention; and the Millennium Development Goals. Such internationally recognised standards and commitments are impressive enough in themselves. So many authorities, from so many differing countries, speaking so many different languages, over so many years, have all agreed on them – at least notionally. Those agreements may not go far enough for some member states, but their great power is in their perceived consensus. So it is with the 7 Layer Poverty Model.

organisations solving poverty, poverty models, overcoming global poverty


Within the Model, non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) may include both charities and religious groups, operating at a local, national or international level.  However, this category is usually seen to exclude companies, in the traditional sense. NGO’s may have a tight focus on one particular community, or their reasons for being may extend all the way to international ambitions and activities. The Red Cross, or Red Crescent is a well-known example of the latter. Poverty-focused charities are of obvious interest for us, within the 7 Layer Poverty Model, but clearly most faith group members around the world would also recognise some common responsibility towards ‘the poor’ – even if it may prioritise the poor among the group’s own notional ‘membership’.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in church


The Poverty Model does not expressly exclude companies from having a place within the broad category of NGO’s, insofar as they are usually organisations which are not actually ‘governments’, despite some of them being ‘state-run’ or part state-owned.  Companies do have an important  role to play in providing employment, which is a factor recognised within the “Engagement” layer of the 7 Layer Poverty Model. Some companies even make notable contributions to charities, financial or otherwise.

Closeup of business people shaking hands over a deal

However, companies are not treated as a separate priority group within the Model, as their stated goals are not typically seen as primarily distinguishing and serving ‘the poor’ as such, or addressing poverty, specifically.  Yes, some of their actions may help alleviate some aspects of poverty, but they would not see it as their primary “job”. Companies have priority obligations to their own stakeholders, as part of their own reasons for being. These may include ‘society’ as a whole, but the majority of companies usually see themselves as geared more towards satisfying shareholders, customers, suppliers, management and staff. ‘Society’ may be ‘in the queue’, but it’s not at the front.

Hand and word Teamwork

We also think that efforts at persuasion are best directed at the individuals who invest in and run those companies – all of whom may enjoy a greater degree of individual free choice than some of the people their decisions can adversely affect. We recognise that there are many techniques of persuasion in such circumstances and we wholly advocate the positive, constructive ones, recognising such free choice. We do not support the use of intimidation and violence to achieve our goals and in that sense, we do not advocate any perceived need “fight fire with fire”. So how DO we aim to help solve poverty?

solving global poverty together, overcoming poverty, how can i make a difference


We define poverty as the relative lack of 7 Humanitarian Basics. These Basics are organised in a tiered-hierarchy, in recognition that this stepped idea broadly reflects how an individual’s priorities work out in real life for those facing poverty – in its multiple dimensions. Each Humanitarian Basic forms a Layer within the cone structure.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

Each Layer can then be subject to a Simple Assessment in terms of 3 considerations: Attributes, Access and Availability – for every individual on the planet and without the need for data aggregation. Such an Assessment is qualified with a measure of high, medium, low or none, based on categorising responses to 21 questions. Conceptually then, every individual can be represented by a 3-dimensional cone, with each of the 7 layers of the cone made up of 3 inter-connecting sectors – all of which can be subject to Simple Assessment. Each individual is represented as being surrounded by their household and Community, in the from of ‘ghost’ cones. The cones together sit on top of a ‘safety net’ made up of 4 sectors, representing the 4 macro-scale fixers.

Conceptual image of sphere and arrows. Isolated.

Together, these constitute the 7 key fixers that we recognise as having a sustainable, long-term interest in solving poverty for every individual facing it on the planet. The collective, shared intention is to assist each motivated individual to improve their own life and circumstances – sustainably. The value of the model is to facilitate a common language and understanding, enabling us to better define poverty, map poverty and focus the fixers sharing the same common agenda. That is how a simple model can help solve poverty. It is a simple, but powerful tool, that can be used alongside Systems Thinking, to overcome more poverty sooner, with the same or less resources.

Global poverty images, Can Tho floating market, Delta of Mekong, Vietnam.

We hope you will share this agenda with us and with others who will do the same.

And we thank you again for being…

One in a Billion!