« back

What does it mean to be poor in 2015 in Latin America?

 December 2015 / Marie Marchand, Programme Officer Division Latin America and Caribbean, Swiss Department for Development and Cooperation

Lima, 21 to 23 October 2015: The management of the SDC Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) division met with Ambassadors and Heads of Cooperation from Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru in a 3-day regional management workshop. One slot of the workshop was dedicated to quality assurance issues with specific attention to poverty focus in SDC programing. The objective of the slot was first to refresh participants’ knowledge about the reference frame used by the SDC to apprehend poverty and its dynamics. Secondly, it was to reach a common understanding on the meaning of “being poor” in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), a region that has seen almost all of its countries graduating from low to middle incomes countries in the course of the last decade.

Interesting insights on the poverty dynamics in LAC were gained through a small participatory exercise where participants were asked to answer the questions: “What does it mean to be poor in 2015 in my country?” Beside universally known and commonly cited deprivation factors such as lack of access to basic services and lack of income, additional structural poverty issues were raised: For instance, the notion of poor people being socially “disconnected” from the prevailing social, political and economic system emerged as a main feature across the region, in stable and fragile contexts alike. As an example, the lack of access to the parallel economy be it crime-fueled or remittances-fueled was identified as one of the limitation poor people were facing in many LAC countries, highlighting the interconnection of poverty with the structural distribution of power. The absence of social protection mechanisms was also mentioned while more political dimensions such as lack of freedom or lack of political rights did not emerge in the discussion. On the protective dimension of poverty, exposure to violence, particularly by women in the case of gender-based violence or by young people in the case of small-arms violence, emerged as a common feature among many LAC countries.

As a conclusion, it emerged from the discussions that targeting poverty in the middle incomes countries of the LAC region means understanding the interconnections between several poverty dimensions and addressing them through a systemic approach adapted to each specific context. This implies moving beyond quantitative income-based poverty measurement practices toward a more qualitative approach based in understanding more precisely inclusion-exclusion dynamics at play and systematically promoting inclusion mechanisms in SDC programming.