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"Comments on CAP Report:,"

by Jill Cunningham July/August 2007 issue of Poverty & Race

“In the fight to overcome extreme poverty, the poorest families are the first ones to take action. Make us your partners as you move forward on the agenda of peace, development and human rights for all. Let’s pool our knowledge, yours and ours. Let’s act now, no longer separately, but together.”

Such was the call to partnership that Tita Villarosa, a grandmother who has lived in a cemetery in Manila for more than 15 years, delivered in a face-to-face meeting with then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on October 17, 2005. She was part of a small delegation from impoverished communities in 8 countries (including the US) who dialogued with Annan on that International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. (

It is Tita’s call for a partnership involving the experience, know-how and participation of people in poverty themselves that, in our view, is lacking in the CAP’s nonetheless comprehensive report. To have seen people with a direct experience of persistent poverty as experts on the CAP Task Force on Poverty, and to more expressly acknowledge what struggling families do already to fight poverty, would, in our view, have strengthened the report’s ambitious and far-reaching policy proposals.

In November of 2005, independent UN expert Arjun Sengupta followed this vital strategy, consulting with those hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, as well as people affected by long-term poverty in other communities. In his report on extreme poverty and human rights in the US, he emphasized that “The full participation of people living in poverty should be ensured in the design, implementation, monitoring and assessment of programs for combating poverty. Such programs should build on poor people’s own efforts, . . . responding to their actual needs.” (, p.2, my emphasis). We commend CAP’s idea of an annual report on progress, but would like to see the expressed framework for people in poverty to be part of that evaluation.

Such a multi-voiced partnership is not easy, nor automatic. Families and communities in extreme poverty have had sometimes generations of humiliations and failures. Very few initiatives in society have proven to them that they have an expertise to share. Thus, we need to create more opportunities that bring people from different social backgrounds together to work on common aspirations. Such initiatives create greater understanding of the obstacles faced by families in poverty, and can help generate greater social cohesion and solidarity.

Cutting poverty in half—whether in the US or internationally—is insufficient. Tita and others like her, here and abroad, do not ask to halve poverty; they want to eradicate it. Our experience has shown that, unless anti-poverty strategies make special efforts, from the start, to reach those living in extreme poverty, the gap between them and the rest of the population simply increases, economically and in terms of social exclusion. Programs that effectively include the “hardest to reach,” however, have proven to benefit all concerned. To this end, we appreciate CAP’s “progressive universalism” approach and applaud the real goal: “to end American poverty in a generation.” Or sooner. As Tita said, “Let’s act now…together.”

Jill Cunningham is the Director of the Fourth World Movement, the US branch of the human rights-based, anti-poverty organization, International Movement ATD Fourth World. She acknowledges Janet Nelson, International Board member and former UNICEF Regional Deputy Director in Geneva, for help with this comment.

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