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OXFAM | Paul Smith/Panos

© OXFAM | Paul Smith/Panos

Public pessimism and misunderstanding undermining fight against global poverty

Global survey suggests new efforts to reframe communications for continued success.

The highly successful fight against global poverty is being lost badly in one critical area – people’s minds.

A new global survey published today by the Dutch research firm Motivaction on people’s values, lifestyles and views on global poverty coincides with the anniversary of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  

It reveals that 87% of people around the world believe that global poverty has either stayed the same or gotten worse over the past 20 years, when the exact opposite is true – it has more than halved.

The scale of pessimism and misunderstanding could threaten the tough job of pulling “the second billion” out of extreme poverty. However, people’s opinions differ depending on who and where they are, and what they do and believe in. This suggests smarter news ways for governments, donors and NGOs to engage different people in different countries.

Motivaction’s survey, called Glocalities, questioned 26,000 people in 24 countries and 15 languages. The survey was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Motivaction has partnered it with Oxfam and Global Citizen to help shape anti-poverty work.

Global poverty has more than halved since 1990 according to the World Bank’s “$1.25 a day” measure, from 1.9b to 840m people. Growth particularly in Africa and Asia, coupled with more equal income distribution, more open societies, and stronger South-South trade, has made this a staggeringly successful human achievement. Technology advances have been very important too.

It will be slower and more difficult to lift those who remain living in extreme poverty– but not impossible. Economic growth needs to be maintained and made more sustainable, and more concentrated efforts made to tackle rising inequality in all countries, poor governance and conflict.

The Glocalities survey highlights the crucial role that public belief plays. ‘’Now we are half way to eradicating poverty, it is time for more enhanced public engagement strategies to help finish the job,” says Motivaction research director Martijn Lampert. “However the fact that public belief is largely missing is a big barrier to future success.”’

Only one person in every 100 can correctly state that global poverty has halved. Five out of 10 believe their personal actions can make little or no difference to help end global poverty anyway.

Oxfam Campaigns Director Steve Price-Thomas said: “The halving of global poverty is the biggest unsung success story in recent human history. The achievement shows what is possible – but also highlights what remains to be done. We still have a long way to go and need public energy now more than ever. The success could start to reverse quickly if we don’t tackle with equal passion the rise of inequality and abuses driven by conflict, land grabs and climate change.”

People’s opinions and understanding vary hugely both between and inside countries. In China for instance, 50% of those surveyed think correctly that poverty has decreased, compared to only 8% in Germany and the US. “Chinese people can actually witness the success in tackling extreme poverty in their own country. It is instructive that people in richer nations cannot,” Lampert said.

Global Citizen spokesperson Michael Sheldrick said: “These findings bear out the fact that more of our supporters are coming from countries where great transformation or high economic growth are taking place. For example, in the top 10 countries represented on one of our Facebook channels, among the 156,000 followers are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, The Philippines and Kenya. The key is now providing those who believe their actions can make a difference with a way to get involved and to help, including by raising awareness amongst other parts of the public.

Meanwhile, Motivaction has identified important groups of change-makers in the survey who are better informed, believe that their actions can help and are ready to get involved personally. They are more likely to believe that ending global poverty by 2030 is possible and often occupy influential positions in society, politics and business.

Research director Lampert says: “They are active and willing to make a difference, spread the news and ask others to join poverty eradication initiatives. They are highly active on social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook. By using these networks, engagement and information strategies can be far more effective than ever before in human history.” Motivaction’s survey suggests new ways these groups can be reached and motivated, whether visually or via evidence, and how they engage with the conversations that move them.

The survey report can be downloaded at www.glocalities.com/poverty.


OXFAM 2016

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