Tag Archives: solving poverty

Solving Global Poverty


Solving global poverty?  It’s a pretty big ask.  Surely if it was that easy, someone would have done it by now, right?  And aren’t there hordes of smart people working on that problem already? I mean, what about progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals?  At ‘Give A Billion’, we do recognise that much good work has been, and continues to be done on tackling the problem of poverty worldwide. But consider for a moment, the global problem-solving power of a brand new IDEA.


Imagine just how different things might be  today, if the first person ever to invent the wheel had been able to share that simple and brilliant idea with everyone – globally and immediately. Today, the internet is the world’s best global delivery mechanism for such powerful new ideas. You just have to have a good one. And that’s what we think we have. A REALLY good one, in fact. But why don’t YOU be the judge of that? If you want to discover what it’s all about, you can start with  the image below. It sits right at the heart of all our poverty thinking – just like the hub of a wheel…

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

But first, a quick word to those who might initially be tempted to quickly dismiss our own efforts, without even understanding them. We would first politely ask this question: When it comes to overcoming world poverty, are we all, collectively, already going about things the best way humanly possible?  Is there no room in our minds to consider the prospect of a better way of thinking and working together?



We think there is. It is called the “7 Layer Poverty Model“. You can find out all about it on this web site.  Functioning like the hub of our conceptual wheel, it sits at the heart of our 3 step plan to solve global poverty, namely:

  1. Define poverty
  2. Map poverty
  3. Focus the fixers

The 7 Layer Poverty Model is the core concept that links these 3 steps together and integrates them all. To help any remaining sceptics to at least hear us out, let’s consider the phrase “5 a day”.  What does that phrase mean to you?  For hundreds of millions of people around the world (in their own language of course), that phrase means something like: “We should all ideally aim to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, because it is good for us”.


Now, hold on just a second, where exactly did that phrase start?  People have been eating fruit and vegetables (among other things) for thousands of years before that phrase.  Who decided on 5? And how did they persuade us all to believe them anyway? And will someone please tell me EXACTLY what a “portion” is?!



The fact is, eating a mix of fruit and vegetables each day probably is a pretty good idea for the health of most of us, if we have the option. In that sense, it’s nothing new. Before the idea became established, there was perhaps a broad awareness about the general health benefits of various types of fruit and vegetables.  We all knew we “should” eat them, but there were nagging questions, which confused the issue for us and blurred the lines of decision. How much? Of what type and variety. And how often? When people get confused, they tend to make poorer choices. Better education of the masses was required. In that particular case, regarding the somewhat complex matter of personal nutrition.


Then along came some bright spark and told us the MODEL ANSWER was FIVE! Five portions of fruit and vegetables every day was the magic number.  Years later, this idea has caught on very well among more developed nations.  All kinds of produce suppliers now seek to promote their products as “one of your 5-a-day”.  The model has become part of every day life and conversation for many of us.  We all automatically know what they mean, without any further explanation. Or at least, we think we do.



But there are a few problems with the model, admittedly. Some of them quite serious. Do we know at what AGE a child should begin their 5-a-day regime?  Are 5 portions of grapes as ‘good’ as 5 different portions of leafy green vegetables?  Do fast food fries and potato chips count the same as broccoli?  And is a portion driven by size, or weight?  There are also the issues of food allergies, processed versus fresh fruit and vegetables, the starch levels in some vegetables, the nutritional impact of how the vegetables are actually cooked, the relative merits of cooked versus raw vegetables, and so on.


Whoever came up with the 5-a-day model was probably aware of these potential issues too. However, we assume that they decided that the BENEFITS of standardising on a single nutrition model of 5-a-day, outweighed the disadvantages of people not properly understanding all the details. The purpose of such models is to simplify reality to such a level that most people can understand it.

sprout in hands over the water and sky


This is the same principle we are promoting in the 7 Layer Poverty Model. It is a tool in the service of solving global poverty. It is recognised as a simplification of the real world, but it is a very useful one. It is based on both scientific knowledge and common sense. It helps convert a rather vague and abstract general notion of ‘poverty’, into something definite that even 5 year olds around the world can relate to.


They know what it is to feel thirsty, or hungry. They understand what clothes are and what having a place to live means to them. They know what it means to get ill and to get better. They will also have some understanding of what it means to be forced to do something they disagree with and what it means to feel included – or left out of a group.  All these basic ideas have their own place forming the 7 Layers of our Poverty Model.

Poverty itself is a 7 letter word. We define it helpfully in 7 words. We have set out a compelling plan to solve it with only 7 words. The Model has 7 layers and identifies 7 key ‘stakeholders’ or ‘actors’ in overcoming more poverty sooner, with the same resources – or less. This unique Model stems from fresh and innovative thinking regarding solving global poverty, using Systems Thinking to help. The 7 Layer Poverty Model remains the conceptual hub, but there is a whole ‘wheel’ of supporting ideas to work with it. And what better way to help end the systemic cycle of poverty, than with a conceptual wheel? To discover more, why not start with our ‘Best 7 Ideas’ page?



Our guess is that hundreds of millions of people around the world now know something of what “5-a-day” is meant to mean. Our goal is to help a billion people understand the 7 Layer Poverty Model and how that understanding translates into solving global povertyovercoming more poverty, more quickly and more effectively. Now you’re here, YOU can play your own big part in that.

So we thank YOU personally for being…

One  in  a  BILLION!

How Close Are We To Solving Poverty?


We want to introduce the notion of ‘closeness’ in driving action towards solving poverty. We use it deliberately, as a term that most people can relate to and feel they understand, without requiring a dictionary definition of the term. Closeness is a ‘feeling-based’ summary of one’s overall attitude towards another. People use it in their most valued relationships, to describe how they feel towards each other, in a common language: “I feel so close to you right now”. The same common idea is used to describe matters when things are not going so well: “You seem so distant”. Although technically speaking, ‘closeness’ is meant to be a measure of physical proximity, we habitually use it to give a sense of how ‘unified with’, or ‘separated from’ another individual we think we are. It is a simple way of describing and summarising the complex way we may actually feel. We believe that the relative presence or absence of this feeling of closeness, materially affects how we collectively respond to the needs of the poorest billion people on the planet.

closeness drives action in solving poverty

Clearly, as human beings, we are used to our behaviour being driven by how we feel. If we are tired, we might sleep. If we’re hungry, we might eat. If we’re concerned over a given situation, we might act. Our simple idea is that people who feel closer to others are more likely to be motivated to ACT on their behalf. The closer we feel, the stronger the motivation to act. Agreed? Consider the strength of motivation a mother can have in protecting her child, based on the sense of ‘closeness’ she feels to that other human being. This is not simply a genetic thing. There are biological mothers who admit to feeling little for their own children, in some instances. While elsewhere, a person may feel an immense closeness to a child that is not even their own.



Whatever the reason, the idea of closeness has come to be used between people, to summarise their overall strength or weakness of feeling towards each other. Degrees of closeness then, though quite possibly hard to actually measure scientifically, certainly seem reasonably easy for people to express. While people may not ADMIT to any sense of absolute measurement of closeness, they can certainly respond more readily to questions of comparison: ‘Which of your friends do you feel closest to?’ We do not know how this concept translates into other languages. We hope that the universal experiences of touch, physical proximity and interpersonal relationships will mean a common language equivalent, via interpretation, throughout the world.



OK, fair point. To recap then, a sense of ‘closeness’ drives motivation and motivation in turn, drives our behaviour. Motivation MOVES you to action. When solving poverty, well-informed, timely, effective, sustainable ACTION is precisely what we want, so anything that leads to that outcome is of keen interest to us.  It is this kind of action that we look for among any or all of the 7 key poverty ‘fixers’ recognised in our 7 Layer Poverty Model. It is recognised that MANY other motivations and forms of action may abound in the realm of seeking to overcome global poverty.  Our own interest is in how EFFECTIVE a given course of action is and what helps motivate and focus the fixers towards that kind of action. We cannot reasonably ASSESS any such outcomes, without some reasonable approximation to MEASUREMENT. We accept that all attempts at measurement of progress against poverty metrics are, to a degree, “truth-substitutes”. They cannot tell us exactly what the situation is, but we accept the compromise in getting us the closest thing to the truth we can reasonably expect to obtain, under the circumstances and within given constraints.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014


‘Focusing fixers’ is the third of our proposed 3 steps to solve global poverty. When focusing fixers, we aim to use measurement in assessing action impacts and the notion of ‘closeness’ as a key variable when assessing various ‘fixer’ motivation levels. So the loaded question arises: “What are the key factors which then drive a sense of closeness between people?” We can think of a few categories of things. Chief contenders among these seem, to us, to be: emotional, familial, social, ethical, moral, religious, practical, circumstantial, physical, sexual, geographical, political, functional and awareness-driven. That’s quite a list, so allow us to unpack it just a little.


Imagine a circle broken down into many segments, rather like an orange cut in half and viewed from the top. Each of the potential factors in our list is like an individual segment of that circle. The thickness of each segment can give an indication of how relatively important a given factor is in the overall sense of ‘closeness’ between two people, while the bigger the whole circle, the stronger that overall strength of feeling. Got it? With that metaphor fixed firmly in your mind, we will continue. Let’s start with an easier one. Imagine the same mother and baby scenario we referred to earlier. There are reported instances where mothers have been motivated to go to EXTREME lengths in the protection of their children, in some cases lifting off massive weights from their physically trapped children, in order to rescue them from some disaster. By weights, we mean things like cars! That would be a powerful overall strength of feeling represented by a large circle and we would expect the biological relationship to represent a large segment within that whole. Now consider the size of the circle and the thickness of the segments within it, for other types of relationships you have.



If you ask parents around the world if they feel equally ‘close’ to all their children, the answer in many cases, will be ‘no’. It is not necessarily that they feel ‘close’ to some and ‘distant’ from others, but that they experience DIFFERENT DEGREES of closeness. You may have experienced the same thing with your FRIENDS. You feel closer to some than to others. In English, we even have the phrase “close friends”, to distinguish them from others who are – not so close. And there are certain things we would be willing to do for CLOSE friends, that we wouldn’t be willing to do for OTHER friends. This relative distinction becomes important when considering the relative motivations of our 7 key poverty fixers.


Yet not everyone fits neatly into one of those 3 categories: ‘not a friend’; ‘friend’; or ‘close friend’. There are billions of others who we don’t even know yet, including the vast majority of those facing poverty. So just how “close” do we feel to them? It is not even the simplest answer, which would be ‘not at all’ – because in fact we can and do feel DIFFERING DEGREES of closeness, even to people we don’t actually know personally. Have you ever witnessed the devotional behaviour of fans of pop stars and movie icons? Remember, we are not suggesting that such feelings need to be reciprocated by the person you feel close to, just that YOU can sometimes feel surprisingly close to those you don’t even know – whatever the degree.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in church

So, if we can feel different degrees of closeness to people we don’t necessarily know, then what sort of things drive that? We accept the more obvious things like family relationships and friendships, but there’s more. There are also other perceived ties, that bind two people closer. A sense of common religious views can be one. You may have witnessed references to the sense of ‘brotherhood’ between Muslim men worldwide. You might also be aware of Christians who describe themselves as ‘one in Christ’ with others who share the same faith. The differing extent to which those stated beliefs are felt, or actually practiced, is a different matter. The principle is that those of a common faith will often experience a greater sense of ‘closeness’ with those who share the same faith. But the tie of common beliefs and loyalties is not exclusive to religion. We previously mentioned fans of pop stars. Have you heard of teenage girls describing themselves as “Beliebers”, after the surname of their heart-throb, Justin Bieber? Similarly, sports fans will share a sense of closeness to others who support the same team – and a sense of distance from those who support an opposing team. They may even label themselves as ‘fans’ – which is short for ‘fanatics’. And fanaticism itself can become a common bond, increasing a sense of closeness between people.



We don’t debate whether the origin of such senses relates back to former times, when one ‘human tribe’  needed to know if a member of another tribe was ‘in or out’, friend or foe. We simply wish to acknowledge the fact that this sense of ‘closeness’ is common to human beings and is felt to varying degrees and for different reasons. Let’s briefly consider some more of those reasons. Social: if they are part of our community, sub-culture, country membership, language and so on, we feel a greater closeness to them than those that differ – all other things being EQUAL (which they often aren’t). Emotional: plenty to choose from here, ranging from the natural pity humans seem to have for nearly all babies, through to the intense closeness that can be felt for those you most identify with. Political: a greater sense of closeness to those from the same or other countries, who share the same political ideologies. Practical: a greater sense of closeness felt between people facing similar predicaments together. Functional: a greater sense of closeness felt to those who are deemed your ‘responsibility’ in your job, whether fellow staff, or those your job role specifically serves (customers, clients, the cared-for). There are clearly more, but you get the idea.

Rice field

Underlying it all, is the necessary sense of personal AWARENESS of and IDENTIFICATION with the other individual or group. If you are unaware of another person’s existence, then a sense of closeness simply doesn’t register. The greater the level of awareness of another person, the greater opportunity there will be to develop any sense of closeness based on OTHER factors – instead of the ultimate indifference and distance typically felt otherwise. Perhaps this partly drives the idea that: “charity begins at home”. We are naturally more aware of the possible needs of those in our immediate vicinity – in our home, in our community. There is less likelihood that we will have the same level of closeness to those who live in a different country, or on a different continent. Less likely, but not impossible.

Feeling closeness is not primarily driven by physical closeness, but by awareness and identification. Consider friends who met in one country, moved to completely different countries, but remained friends. Physical distance NEED NOT be an issue, but it is certainly one of the key factors to consider. People talk about the idea of the “global village”, where modern transport and the global spread of telecommunications means that people never need feel that far away from each other. You can now talk to someone the other side of the world as if they are standing in the other room.


Red thumbtack on globe. Isolated 3D image

So what of it? Assuming we now accept that awareness and identification drive closeness and closeness in turn drives motivation to action, what does that mean for solving global poverty?

It means this: That we will be MORE motivated to act on behalf of those we feel CLOSER to. Conversely, we will feel LESS motivated to act on behalf of those we feel more distant from. Campaigns on behalf of poverty charities realise this. If they are to get you to feel closer to the people needing help, they have some obstacles to overcome. Firstly, you don’t know the people involved, so they give you their NAME. The more familiar the kind of name given, the greater the probable sense of closeness. A name turns a ‘some thing’ into a ‘someone’. It is personal. It even works on paper and radio. But we want more closeness – so we give you a picture. When you SEE the person, then what was unfamiliar and unknown starts to become more FAMILIAR – and perhaps closer. If the picture is of the kind that you will respond to more readily (a wide eyed child, for example), so much the better. And a moving, rather than a mere photo image is best of all. It all helps to identify them as human and ‘like us’ in that way. That is why we at Give A Billion seek to use close up pictures of REAL PEOPLE on this site so often. We think it is important to remind all our welcome visitors that we are talking about the lives and livelihoods of real people. Photos help us do that. They help us to feel closer to the person we are seeking to help overcome poverty.



So then, we recognise the principle that an increased sense of closeness leads to an increased sense of motivation. We also understand that different sets of related FACTORS all add up to give us an overall relative ‘closeness’ measure. The strength of that sense of closeness can VARY over time, so our overall closeness ‘score’ would change with it. We also point out that our goal at Give A Billion is to facilitate a ‘coalition of the willing’, in overcoming more poverty sooner for a billion people. Hence, the greater the genuine sense of closeness we can help foster, between those who want to help and those who could use some help, the better.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

So let us return to the 7 Layer Poverty Model once more, to check where this consistent notion of ‘closeness’ helps us and can be incorporated. Remember the person facing poverty stays central to the Model. Of all those feeling ‘close’ to that person, the individual themselves must surely feel closest of all. They are typically the most motivated to overcome their own poverty circumstances. They will remain so, long after others may have given up and gone home. Which brings us onto the next most motivated group typically – the individual’s own household. In most cases, if an individual is facing poverty, it is likely that their whole household may be also be facing certain similar aspects of that same poverty scenario. As the ones ‘closest’ to the individual, it is normal to anticipate that the household of the individual will be the first and next most motivated to ACT to end poverty for that individual, if they can.



If the household is NOT acting that way, then the household is not functioning as one would normally expect a household to function. It is being ‘dysfunctional’ in that sense. If the household is AWARE, has the necessary RESOURCES to act and does not – then the issue is with the dysfunctional household, not identifying closely enough with the individual. Let us call this a ‘Cinderella Syndrome’, after the fairy tale character who suffers neglect and maltreatment at the hands of members of her own household. In the same way, if the household exists as part of a wider Community, that is again AWARE of the poverty circumstances faced by the individual, has the necessary RESOURCES to help the individual overcome those circumstances, and yet does not act – then it is the Community which is now being dysfunctional. This then, is ‘Cinderella Syndrome by proxy’. We are not suggesting that the Community should prop up all individuals for any and every reason, but as we explain elsewhere on this site, there is a recognised minimum standard that we would want all people to exist above, in each of the 7 Layers of the Humanitarian Basics. On that assumption, the “why” reason to act is to be consistent with our own personal standards of being ‘humanitarian’. If we DO NOT act consistent with our declared aim of being humanitarian, then we should not be surprised if we lose that particular label in the minds of others – locally, nationally and internationally. If the immediate Community of a person facing poverty circumstances and trying to overcome them, will not ACT to help that individual, then it should not be surprised if the wider global community asks them to account for such inaction. Is that not reasonable?


Beyond Communities that are either dysfunctional, or lack the necessary resources to assist individuals among themselves facing poverty, then the issue naturally escalates to the relevant Government of the Country (or region) to resolve. Remember that Government is one of the 7 key poverty ‘stakeholders’ in our Model and one of the 4 constituent members of the ‘net’ that underpins the individual, the household and their Community. Perhaps you have heard the saying: “God helps those who help themselves”? Well, certainly Communities can be more inclined to help individuals who help themselves and in turn, Governments can be more inclined to help Communities who help themselves. But they first need to be AWARE of “what” the poverty issues are. That is where the Simple Assessment can help. Rather than giving vague, anecdotal stories of how bad poverty is for certain individuals within certain areas, Government politicians and decision-makers can be better informed and prompted, by more tangible evidence of actual circumstances.



A word of caution on this point. Do not expect too much of politicians. Remember that it is best that they are left to do the things they can do well. Keep in mind the issue of ‘closeness’. If a Community does not feel close enough to an individual who lives within their midst, why would anyone believe that a politician would feel closer and more inclined to act than the relevant Community? In the UK, by way of comparison, there is about one politician for every 10,000 people – and that is in a fairly politician-dense country! What is the ratio in your own country? We ask this, because this site is visited by interested thinkers from over 125 countries around the world, so we are always curious to know. Your own situation could be far worse – maybe even 50,000 people per politician. What can one such politician do to address the many and various needs among 50,000 people, within the constraints of time, budget, mandate, local law and other resources at their disposal? In our opinion, Politicians are best left to help in the best way that they can, through such things as supportive legislation, protection of the vulnerable, humanitarian constitutions, the effective national and local rule of law, freedom from oppression and policies that facilitate individual productivity and innovation. They can also help engage and co-ordinate with the relevant local ‘chapter’ of the ‘coalition of the willing’ stakeholders. When others know the Government is genuinely supportive, it helps increase levels of motivation to act. Solutions often involve the need for local politicians to play their part – and share in the positive impacts of practical success on the ground. Those are things a politician can reasonably spend their time doing. Individual projects and situations are a tougher call. After all, which of the 10-50,000 people in your area do they reasonably focus on? If they have to prioritise, how should they decide which community’s needs come top?

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai

Beyond the national level, we still have the NGOs, the Multilateral Agencies and the Social Entrepreneurs. In terms of closeness, it is variously part of their chosen and defined ‘roles‘ to help overcome poverty. Hence, a degree of empathy is already assumed. For NGO’s, their own reasons for being may limit them to a particular focus, or a particular issue, but they can still play their role within a co-ordinated whole. The larger organisations have the benefits of scale of resources, but greater volumes of need to respond to. The smaller scale social entrepreneurs have the advantage of flexibility and potentially local proximity to the point of need. Most international NGO’s are under pressure to fulfil their expected roles cost-efficiently. They often seek to achieve this through “local partners” in the relevant country. This way, they can show donors that much of the money donated is spent in-country, rather than on central administrative overheads. The local ‘partners’ have the benefits of local expertise, language, knowledge and resources. For these collaborators, ‘closeness’ SHOULD be less of an issue. But it still can be. Local operations can be subject to local prejudices. Preference can be shown in the allocation and distribution of funds and resources, that should have been shared equally among all. The UNHCR Handbook makes this clear in its guidance on fair and equitable treatment of all refugees within its camps.

Balancing stones


So what have we learned about closeness and its role in focusing the fixers? The ‘closer’ we feel to someone, the more likely we are to want to ACT on their behalf, when it comes to helping them overcome poverty circumstances. But that motivation is best CHANELLED into fruitful and effective action. Not all actions will prove equally effective. We believe that the 7 layer Poverty Model will inspire better focused action, on more relevant criteria, with more widely engaged resources, to overcome the relative lack of Humanitarian Basics in the lives of a billion people around the world. Closeness gives us a measure to assess ‘fixer’ motivations and potentially why a given Social Structure is not effectively performing its intervening function as expected. Closeness also helps direct our thinking, when it comes to engaging more people in the ‘coalition of the willing’. The ‘closer‘ we can get each willing volunteer to feel to the person they are helping, the more they will be inclined to invest their time, efforts, energies, attention and resources in helping THAT INDIVIDUAL overcome poverty. We encourage a one-to-one sponsorship relationship wherever practical. We encourage households facing poverty to demonstrate their own closeness by their own action on behalf of the individual. We encourage Communities to demonstrate their own actions on behalf of each individual, before they look to outside bodies to help. If someone is richer, they may be better EQUIPPED to help a poorer individual, but they will not have the same degree of motivation of ‘closeness’ that should be manifest among that individual’s own household and Community. If the Community is not already offering such help themselves, then such Communities should not be surprised when they are not offered such help themselves.

Conceptual image of sphere and arrows. Isolated.

There are some supremely wealthy individuals on the planet. Many of those are already major philanthropists. We believe that they will be far more likely to INVEST in projects, where Communities and Countries have already established a solid track record of ACTING EFFECTIVELY  themselves. As one commentator put it: they are keen to give ‘hand-ups, not hand-outs’. It is always easier to suggest that someone else should be doing what we are perfectly capable of doing ourselves.


We comment elsewhere on what any Community can reasonably do to demonstrate that it is already seeking to help itself. Such demonstrable action and results will more likely encourage others to lend their additional support. And some of those others may well be billionaires! And if every dollar helps in solving poverty, then a billion should help even more.

So it just remains for us to say, thanks again for being…

One in a Billion!

More Than Gut Feelings When Solving Poverty?


Our condensed 7 word plan for solving poverty is: define poverty; map poverty; focus the fixers (6 words if you leave out “the”). We have written elsewhere an introduction to the third step of ‘focusing fixers’. You may find it helpful to read that article before you delve into the detail of this one. Here, we plan to expand on how fixers can focus more on outcome impacts, through the effective mechanism of MEASUREMENT.

Solving Poverty, comparing apples with apples

The 7 Layer Poverty Model takes advantage of a specific definition of poverty, that we can use effectively for measurement. Our proposal, in the absence of some better tool, is to use the metrics from Simple Assessment Studies or estimates, to provide an approximation to the overall impact of any course of action, or poverty reduction initiative. This is a useful approach for comparing and choosing between investment decisions BEFORE any commitment of resources has been made.  The same tool can be used to conduct a separate Simple Assessment after the particular project, allowing decision-makers to assess the ACTUAL impact, versus the PREDICTED impact.



We are going to stick our necks out here. Almost all decisions made by any group anywhere in the world ever, have 3 KEY COMMON COMPONENTS. Like we said – necks out. All decision-making can be better understood by gaining a better idea of how those 3 components operate and affect the resulting DECISIONS. We are particularly interested here in how those decisions help us solve poverty, but they apply equally to all types of decision. They are:

  1. The Decision-Making Unit (DMU)
  2. The Decision-Making Process (DMP); and
  3. The Basis of Decision (BOD).

Boat woman wearing palm-leaf conical hat, Can Tho floating market, Delta of Mekong, Vietnam.

The DMU can be anything from an individual, through to the entire national voting mechanism of the World’s largest democracy (India), which is currently under way in April 2014, with over 800 million people potentially involved (ie. the ‘electorate’). The ‘decision’ in this latter case, is who should be elected into national political power for the next term in office. But at the other end of the scale, the decisions the individual makes can be as simple as ‘shall I have a coffee now?’ Both the individual and 800+ million Indian voters constitute ‘decision-making units’, for those different scenarios. Thankfully, we don’t need to ask 800 million people every time we want make a decision about a cup of coffee. Imagine the wait in line at Starbucks!


And this is partly our point. We give various decision-making tasks to various different groups, of all shapes, sizes and memberships – but they are all DMU’s. There is no single PROCESS for all such decisions that they make, but they still all FOLLOW a process – however, haphazard and obscure such processes may sometimes seem, or indeed be. Some people may make serious life decisions based on horoscopes, or a throw of the dice. Elsewhere, the decision-making process may be by such things as secret ballots, canvassing opinions, a ‘show of hands’, or it may just be that whoever is considered the overall leader has to make the final decision – as will often be the case in military decisions and organisations. At the other end, you may have made some of your own decisions on the toss of a coin, or by trusting a “gut feeling“. In all cases, there was a process. The same is also true of our fixers, when it comes to making their decisions about tackling poverty.

Conceptual image of sphere and arrows. Isolated.

Countless decisions, by government politicians, NGO Boards, multilateral Councils and their various equivalents, are made around the world, in the common pursuit of solving poverty – always following their respective processes. In many cases, the process will include the presenting of information, before the relevant members of the DMU assess that information (through internal or external discussion and debate) and then move towards a decision. That decision may be put to some kind of majority vote, left to a single individual, steered towards or consensus, or deferred. However, even a decision to defer a decision is also a decision itself.  Such DMP approaches have been used worldwide for centuries – even millennia. But what of the flawed and fallible people who MAKE those decisions?


Their individual BEHAVIOUR is determined by the third item on our list: the Basis of Decision. The BOD is perhaps the hardest element to work out, for each individual involved. We recognise that information of some sort will typically have been shared, before any decision is sought. However, it would be wrong to assume that all decisions are made on the basis of the content of that information alone. There may be all kinds of other factors influencing the BOD of each member of the DMU – and each individual’s BOD may itself be different – sometimes significantly so.


A simple illustration would be the example of a bribe. If a member of the International Olympic Committee has to vote on the selection of the next City venue for the Olympics, it is conceivable that they may make their decision based on the expectation of a bribe – rather than the specific merits of any given city, or the information presented about it. (We neither confirm nor deny such ideas; we merely state that they are conceivable). In other circumstances, individuals in decision-making meetings may have some less obvious vested interest in a particular outcome. They may also simply dislike the person making the proposal, so will vote against the ideas based on that negative feeling, rather than a lack of compelling information. On a more positive note, people may be inclined to vote based on conscience, faith, practical limitations, personal fears, differing risk assessments, or just plain strength of “gut feeling”. They may not even be able to explain to you exactly WHAT their BOD was, after they have cast their vote. As human beings, we regularly have to operate on limited information – and even the information we do have may itself be misleading.


One of the areas where this is currently globally evident is around the complex area of global climate change. In this arena, we find lots of passionate debate, by various experts, around what the likely future climate scenarios will be and the best ways to respond to them.  Gathering the ‘fixers’ to solve poverty can sometimes appear equally challenging. However for poverty, there is no single, internationally recognised group, interfacing as a ‘boundary organisation’ between decision-makers and differing expert opinions, with the overall brief to arrive at a consensus. For climate change, there is the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change). For poverty, which is literally killing millions more every year than climate change, there is no such consensus body. Even if there was this single DMU, it would clearly not replace the many other DMUs, DMPs and BODs that would still continue to operate around the world every day.



So how can we FOCUS all the disparate groups collectively involved in overcoming poverty better? We have no plan for changing their DMUs, but would welcome the global equivalent of the IPCC for poverty. We have no alternative model for their respective decision-making processes either. The KEY area where we advocate improvement, is in their respective BODs. This may in turn influence change in the other 2 key decision-making elements, but that is not specifically our agenda here. We firmly believe that better quality information will facilitate better quality decision-making overall. The 7 Layer Poverty Model provides a compelling conceptual framework for a better understanding of what poverty is and how it can be overcome more effectively in a co-ordinated way.


We have proposed and included below an Excel spreadsheet, that incorporates certain ideas for focusing fixers. ‘If you want to improve in any area, measure it more frequently’. People tend to focus more on what they think they will be measured on. Regarding improving the BOD on any and all decisions being made with respect to solving poverty, we want to focus attention on measuring output impacts for given project ‘inputs’. These range from your own individual decisions about where you invest your own time, efforts, energies, attention and resources – to where the UN and the European Union decide to invest theirs. We believe that the final BOD on behalf of all public and charitable bodies can be much clearer and more transparent than at present – and we want to help make that transition a little easier.

Investment Priority Evaluation Template_V1_April 2014


We have come up with 25 useful things that the spreadsheet above helps bring out. There are more, but these will do for now. We suggest you download the spreadsheet and ideally have it open (or a copy of it) so you can cross check each point we make.

  1. The first column is entitled ‘Item Ref’, as any user of the sheet may wish to allocate their own unique internal project code, or identifier. Each separate line of the sheet may be allocated to parts of an integrated project, that may have different kinds of impact benefits in different layers of the 7 Layer Poverty Model. An example might be a village water project, intended to have drinking water, health and sanitation (shelter) benefits, all from the one project. This can be represented as 1 cost line and multiple benefit lines, or the overall cost may be divided between the multiple benefit lines.
  2. The Poverty Model category relates to the most relevant layer of the 7 Layer Poverty Model, that any project or initiative fits into.
  3. The list of Project and Program types will be a list that is most relevant to the organisation using the sheet. We have included a range of visible and varied types, which are evident in public literature on solving poverty. Our short list of 21 items illustrates just how varied those poverty reduction initiatives can be.
  4. We have shown project cost in thousands of US dollars, as a recognised international currency standard. This is perhaps easier for international sharing. Clearly, the currency header can be changed, along with later calculation columns using the cost figures.
  5. The next 3 columns deal with measures for Importance, Urgency and Ease. These are intended to relate to these factors in the destination location for the activity, meaning how urgent the felt need is ‘on the ground’. We have proposed a system where 1 is the top priority, so the smaller the number, the greater the priority. It could equally be used the other way around, such that the higher the number, the greater the priority. It is the user’s choice. Each organisation must determine its own set of criteria for determining importance, urgency and ease. Importance may be driven by assessed impacts on lives, health and quality of life measures for estimated total populations. Urgency will typically reflect the relative effects of certain inflexible time pressures, such as drought season dates, harvest times and time to exhaustion of current key supplies at current consumption rates. Ease will reflect multiple compound conditions that all operationally help or hinder activities.
  6. The figures for urgency, importance and ease are then MULTIPLIED in our system. This increases the effect on the overall scale of possible resulting numbers. It is intended to reflect the compound benefits and prioritisation of things which are important, urgent and easy to fix. These would typically commend themselves as top priorities on these metrics alone – in terms of operational project desirability. The ‘ease’ measure only reflects in-location operational constraints, rather than other wider potential constraints.
  7. All the columns have Excel Filters activated, to enable the user to show just the rows of a given type, or ranked high-to-low, or low-to-high. This enables quick and easy cross comparisons between projects on different rows.
  8. The right-hand side of the sheet comes on to deal with IMPACTS. In the absence of some better measures, we propose the number of people impacted is a key measure. Note, we have only assumed positive impacts, but recognise that some may need to reflect potentially negative impacts too and will need to amend this basic template accordingly. The number of people in all cases will need to be a best estimate, rather than no estimate at all. Assumptions which any estimate is based upon can be recorded as notes on the sheet as necessary.
  9. The people number estimates are divided into ‘first year’ and ‘lifetime’, recognising that various organisations may need to show progress and results in different timeframes. Projects may need to be broken down into phases, such as construction and maintenance phases, for example. The different time periods allow decision-makers to make comparisons between possible short term goals and long term objectives.
  10. The ‘average model score increase’ may be different between the first year and lifetime of a project. In all cases, an average assessment may be challenging, but the aim here is the ‘best available data’, rather than ‘no data at all’. When projects are undertaken, there is a reasonable expectation that certain individuals will benefit in certain ways. These should be measurable in most cases by the Simple Assessment method. Otherwise, some alternative key performance indicator estimate will need to be used. The average score is suggested, as some may benefit more than others. For example, a new water pump will benefit more remote households less than those in its immediate vicinity.
  11. The numbers of impacted people are then multiplied by the average model improvement impacts, to give a total year 1 score and a lifetime score. The significance of appropriately measuring the lifetime scores in terms of benefits becomes apparent. This may assist with an understandable tendency towards short-termism in certain scenarios. For example, those with elections coming up may be pressing for quick progress on certain key publicity projects, while there may be significantly greater benefit for projects that deliver long after the elections are decided.
  12. In the absence of some better measure, we propose the overall ‘Model Improvement’ per US$1000. This might equally be any other relevant currency unit, or unit scale of measure, depending on the needs of the assessment. A village will clearly be looking on a different scale than a nation, but they can still both use the same common principles of impact measurement.
  13. The 2 yellow shaded columns relate to INTERNAL factors within the organisation. The last column might be used to identify various project stages, such as: under consideration, approved, under way, maintenance phase, completed and so on.
  14. The other yellow column is an internal weighting factor. There may be various things that determine this number, which are organisation-specific. They may relate to the kinds of things sponsors are particularly pressing for, or there may be reasons that the organisation wants to make a particular project type a higher priority – such as a proof-of-concept, or pilot study projects. There may also be external factors too.  Action Aid in the UK has a commitment from the UK government to MATCH any donations given by a specific date this year, specifically related to a gender equality initiative. Hence, they may weight the programme more heavily up until that date, as effectively half their associated costs would be externally matched. The single weighting factor allows for a consolidated, overall internal assessment of how different projects might suit different organisations. The “impact” figure that results may simply be used for internal decision-making purposes.
  15. There is quite a dramatic difference in the impacts of certain initiatives when measured this way. A certain amount of ‘sanity-checking’ between impact estimates and other projects is wise.  Any significant anomalies can be referenced and explained in notes within the sheet itself.
  16. One of the things that may be identified, is where certain projects may NOT be to an organisation’s strengths, but could have significant impact increases, if completed by a collaboration partner. For example, when building wells, one organisation may be set up for construction. Another might be set up for re-training local farm labourers as mechanics. The former might share the benefit of the ‘lifetime impact’ figures with another organisation, which can train the engineers to keep the water pumps repaired. This way, significant lifetime benefit increases can be shown with minimal increase in costs. This highlights the multiplied benefits of collaboration between organisations, when overcoming widespread poverty.
  17. Note that the internal weighting factor we used worked on a scale of 0-10. This permitted fractions, where a given project was not in an organisation’s core skills to deliver.
  18. The types of projects listed range from direct local action to high-level political advocacy. Both have their merits. At the higher levels, where multiple organisations may be conducting advocacy, co-ordination between those organisations on the commonly-agreed benefit estimate would be more compelling than a diverse range of estimates. By contrast, we have included ‘Shoes Project #1’ as an example of the “bright idea” project, where organisations think of something that they intend to capture the public imagination. In this case, the idea was to send 1000 pairs of shoes from Europe to the poor in Africa. In practice, the project would be very expensive and time-consuming, yielding little actual benefit. However, it might be the kind of thing that captures media attention and free publicity for more impactful projects.
  19. The model improvements are calculated by working out theoretical (but possible) numbers for the relevant individuals on the relevant sections of the Poverty Profile of the individual. This is all condensed into a single number for calculation purposes. In the average model score increase for year 1. within the cell, the component calculation is shown. It is possible that the calculations happen on a different sheet (eg a Simple Assessment source sheet) and the resulting Poverty Profile numbers can then be fed directly into this sheet, for impact calculations. This helps reviewers understand the origins of the different impact measure calculations.
  20. The significant impact of the ‘zero’ effect on overall totals, can be seen with the Africa Water #1 project. In the imagined scenario, the availability and accessibility of the community water supply were already ‘high’, but the pollution of the existing supply required an urgent newly-drilled replacement well. This turned a zero figure into the maximum 27 figure on the impact assessment model improvement. This highlights the potential for certain ‘quick-wins’, with dramatic potential improvements possible in certain situations. This scoring system will help highlight such projects and so help motivate fixers to take swift and effective action on them.
  21. The difference between certain projects can be well-illustrated using this approach, The cost of building a primary school is illustrated Africa Primary School #2. It’s impact can be measured directly by how many pupils can be expected to attend that school. However, many of those pupils might still attend ANOTHER school, of that new school wasn’t built. So the new school impact should really be measured in terms of convenience and NET increase in school attendance numbers. School projects may be popular with locals, as it can directly save them significant school costs per child. In that respect, the project is changing the accessibility to the Engagement aspect of primary school education, rather than its availability, or its attributes necessarily.
  22. In terms of child sponsorship, it may be that the ability to purchase uniforms and materials is the key requirement, having the biggest net impact on local school attendance. Having a measurement system like this gives a more analytical way to compare overall positive impacts per donor dollar, for different kinds of solving poverty ideas. Providing transport to a school and child sponsorship within it may prove more cost effective than building a new school, for example. Only accurate assessment based on informed local insight can tell.
  23. It is recognised that the higher levels of the Humanitarian Basics can be more challenging to quantify, in terms of impacts. The example of advocacy for freedom of the press in Civil Liberties #3 illustrates this, The number of people impacted over the lifetime of such a project could be very high, but there is also a risk component attached. The lobbying may take place and no change could occur. This could be reflected in the internal weighting measure, Such higher risk projects may be better shared with other organisations, who also share the costs.
  24. Remarkable claims should ideally be backed by remarkable levels of evidence to substantiate them. Hence, if the number of people impacted in a project lifetime runs into thousands or millions, then clearly decision-makers will want to have such claims backed up by more rigorous research data. It may even merit a pilot project to further back up the claims in practice.
  25. The columns, calculations and project examples are our own. The 3 decision drivers of importance, urgency and ease of execution have been tried and tested. The application of the Poverty Model improvement measures is new. Our purpose is to give decision-makers a flexible tool and an idea of how to use it to arrive at better, more structured and more consistent decision-making. Users are free to adapt it to come up with better versions themselves. The common goal is to help focus fixers on maximising their output impacts, in the interest of overcoming more poverty sooner.

We trust that you find this examination of our basic template useful. We would be interested to hear of helpful experiences of using it in practice in solving poverty. As ever, if you have better ideas on how to better focus the poverty fixers, we would love to hear them.

Until then, we thank you for being…

One in a Billion!