Category Archives: Poverty Profiling

Building data profiles of individuals and groups, using the 7 Layer Poverty Model, to be used when mapping poverty

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!



Can You Compare Chalk And Cheese?


There are over 7 billion people on the planet. Some 1.75 billion of those are ‘living in poverty’ according to recent UN figures. And every one of them is different. How then can you consider the idea of relative poverty? Isn’t comparing one person’s poverty to another just like comparing “chalk and cheese”?

relative poverty comparisons as part of a global poverty model

Well yes. If by ‘comparing chalk and cheese’, you mean comparing two things that initially seem to be very different, yet can still be compared in rather useful ways! Let us explain.

On the one hand, chalk and cheese are VERY different. Chalk is a mineral. It tastes disgusting. Cheese is a type of food. It tastes…well yes, some people might say some cheeses taste disgusting too, but that is not the point. The point about such comparisons is, that things can seem similar, OR different – it depends on WHICH ATTRIBUTES of those things you are comparing and which you are contrasting.

relative poverty comparisons and solving poverty

Don’t agree? Well, let’s consider chalk and cheese specifically then. They’re different, right? Except…that they are both nouns. They both begin with the letters ‘ch’. They both exist in the real world. They both contain things that are beneficial to human health. We could go on.

poverty measurement and overcoming poverty

It is the same with relative poverty. When you try to compare 1.75 billion people to each other, they may seem different, or they may seem similar – it all depends on WHAT you are comparing at the time and HOW you decide to measure it. From the UN figures, the guidance is that anyone living on the equivalent of under US$2 per day is living ‘beneath the poverty line’. Anyone living on less than the equivalent of US$1.25 per day is considered to be in ‘extreme’ poverty.

poverty model and overcoming poverty

The average GDP per capita figures used here are the single attribute (suitably adjusted for inflation and purchasing power) that is being compared, in order to arrive at such comparisons and distinctions. If we were to subscribe to the idea of absolute poverty, GDP/capita is a fairly absolute measure. It has the appeal of being reasonably easy to calculate for large populations and across the world, through the last 200 years of history. It can also be compared between billions of people. That’s useful. At least, up to a point.

global poverty measurement and poverty models in overcoming poverty

So we have come up with something else that’s useful too. It’s called the 7 Layer Poverty Model and it enables you to take some of the thinking and insights of relative poverty and apply them in absolute terms – enabling you to compare one person’s experience of poverty with another – and with a reasonable degree of consistency.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

What the model does, is the equivalent of defining what are the specific attributes of ‘chalk’ and ‘cheese’ that we are going to compare, when it comes to assessing an individual’s experience of poverty. It achieves this by first taking a very specific definition of poverty – one that we can then work with effectively. Don’t panic. It is not wildly different from dictionary-type definitions, or the prevailing thinking of thought-leaders on poverty the world over. It is just more explicit – because it needs to be, if we are to use it the way we want to. It needs to be, if we are to understand relative poverty in absolute terms. You might call them: ‘relatively absolute terms’.

measuring poverty and relative poverty versus absolute poverty

Our familiar illustration of this is human height. You cannot explicitly define what “tall” is globally. But we can ALL measure “tallness” in absolute terms – with a tape measure, for example. we call that measure “height”.

poverty description and measuring poverty with poverty models

The Poverty Model just uses a different form of tape measure for the 7 layers of the model. It also uses some common concepts, between each layer, for which we are doing the measuring. Some of those layers are easier to use our ‘measure’ on than others. We understand that. For us, this is like comparing the ease of measuring a person’s height, to the difficulty of measuring their ‘waist‘. For some people, their ‘waist’ can be pretty hard to find, let alone measure! However, in such complicated cases, we do NOT give up and say that it is “impossible” to measure. Instead, we say that it is “possible to measure, but with some difficulty“. This positive attitude enables us to move forwards with our Assessments and still make useful comparisons between them.

poverty description what is poverty, relative poverty model

Once we are all agreed on the definition of poverty, on the  7 Humanitarian Basics which form the layers of the Poverty Model, on the key aspects that we are measuring for each layer (attributes, access and availability), on the measuring method (Simple or Detailed Assessment) and on the planned Scope of any given Study – then we can begin.

overcoming poverty, eradicating poverty, solving poverty and poverty solutions

To some, it may seem as bizarre as trying to compare chalk and cheese. To others it may seem an endeavour doomed to failure from the outset. But NOT to us. We think it just LOOKS too difficult to do until you break it down into sensible pieces. If you are one of those who thinks that the whole task seems too difficult to take on, then please don’t stand in the way of those of us who intend to get it done anyway.

solving poverty as a complex problem with a poverty model

We have the Model and the Method. All we need now is the volunteers. There are over 2 billion people out there already with internet access. We intend to engage at least a billion of them. An Assessment isn’t so hard to do, after all. Go ahead and try our online version of the 21 questions for yourself. You will find a link to our Global Poverty Survey from the main Menu. Create your OWN Poverty Profile, using the Simple Assessment. Multiply the three resulting factor numbers you get in each  layer and that’s it. You will have the 7 numbers you need to create your own Simple Poverty Profile, from Water through to Freedom From Oppression.

Poverty Profile Example V1_2014

For now, you can compare those scores with others who are interested and might like to take the Assessment too. More usefully, you may be aware of just the right kind of Study project, where you could produce Poverty Profiles of an entire group, or an indicative Sample of Profiles from within a much larger group. That is for you to decide. We have put the Model and the Assessment method out there for you to use – and adapt as you see fit. In the future, we hope to be able to provide a common online platform for you all to upload and share your Poverty Profile Studies, using the Standard Statements we are providing. These would then be pinned to a specific GPS location, to produce our own global poverty map, for cross comparison with the relevant UN-released maps.

defining poverty, measuring poverty, mapping poverty, solving poverty

For now, you will just have to find ways of sharing them between yourselves, through emails, through hyperlinks, through forums and through social networks. If anyone uses Twitter or Weibo, try publicising your Studies with the hash tag #PovertyProfile and include your Country, your closest City, your 7 numbers separated by commas (water first) and maybe a URL to where you have uploaded the full data – if there is space for all that in Twitter’s 140 characters!

relative poverty, solving global poverty, poverty solutions and poverty models

So that’s relative poverty: owned. Now, whether you are chalk or cheese, get to it! Let’s see how quickly we can get this trending worldwide.

And thanks again for being…

One in a Billion!