Plant With Purpose works in areas like Cornillon, Haiti where struggles with poverty are widely experienced.

What is poverty, anyway?

Understanding poverty can be complex

Plant With Purpose strives for a world without poverty, where all people have the opportunity to thrive. That requires understanding the obstacles people face. We are constantly improving our own understanding of poverty to empower individuals and communities. 

Thanks to your support, we’ve seen incredible progress. On average, families working with Plant With Purpose cut their level of poverty by two-thirds. As we continue to learn and measure what works, we can have an even greater impact.

We know we’ve been successful when families no longer struggle to survive, and instead talk about the sense of hope they’ve gained. But how do you measure struggle? How do you measure hope?

Measuring a single statistic like income often fails to capture all the nuances of life in poverty.
Measuring a single statistic like income often fails to capture all the nuances of life in poverty.

There is no perfect way to measure poverty

In short, there is no perfect, simple way to measure poverty. Scientists and economists have been trying to define and measure poverty for centuries. Our understanding has been limited by what we are able to measure.

For a long time, poverty was only measured as income. Even now, many continue to define poverty as the people living under a dollar a day—sometimes $1.25 or $1.95. The amount often changes, but this way of measuring poverty fails fully capture the depth of the issue. 

While a person living on $2 a day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is poor, their ability to survive would not be as unthinkable as someone living on $2 a day in California. Sometimes, measuring cash is misleading. Earning money from planting on a neighbor’s farm instead of your own leads to a quicker profit, but reflects less independence. Short term solutions never address the complexity of poverty. In many situations children are often taken out of school to provide additional labor. Quicker cash may come from chopping down trees to make charcoal, an act of desperation rather than sufficiency.

 

Plant With Purpose's MPI is valuable at allowing us to monitor the progress made in places like Cornillon, Haiti
Plant With Purpose's MPI is valuable at allowing us to monitor the progress made in places like Cornillon, Haiti

We’ve developed a multidimensional poverty index (MPI) to capture the nuances. 

In 2010, a team from Oxford University and the United Nations Development Programme developed a method to measure poverty in a way that captured the impact it had on people’s lives and well-being. It was called the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). 

This measure went beyond looking at income and instead revealed the ability of any given person to invest in their future. It measured factors like health, nutrition, education, and living standards.

Plant With Purpose has since adapted the concept and added an extra category of ecosystem health to be even more appropriate for our work. The result was a twelve-point index that measures health, quality of life, assets, and finances. This methodology doesn’t just measure whether or not a person is in poverty, but also how far from poverty they’ve come.

 

The materials and quality of one's physical home can be one of several indicators of lived poverty.
The materials and quality of one's physical home can be one of several indicators of poverty.

Here’s what our MPI entails

Health and Quality of Life measures explore a person’s physical well-being and safety. Health and nutrition are often compromised as poverty takes its toll.

  • Do you have a dirt floor in your house?
  • How many rooms are in your house?
  • Does your family eat at least two meals a day?
  • Do you have a balanced diet (based on a nutrition index)?

Asset Building and Financial Risk indicators look at a person’s economic security.

  • Do you own land?
  • Do you save cash?
  • Does your family have more than one source of income?

Ecosystem Health is important to rural residents who must rely on the long-term health of their land.

  • Do you grow at least four different crops?
  • Do you apply at least two sustainable agriculture techniques?
  • How healthy is your soil? (on a scale of 1-5)

Opportunity/Cost of Time indicators help reveal how much agency a person has over their own situation.

  • Does it take more than 30 minutes to get water?
  • If your family has a daughter of secondary school age, does she go to school?

 

An outcome like hope is difficult to measure, but by monitoring how families are able to make plans for the future, we know our efforts are worthwhile.
An outcome like hope is difficult to measure, but by monitoring how families are able to make plans for the future, we know our efforts are worthwhile.

This is why it matters. 

This methodology can seem complicated, but it is worth it in the end. The difference between easy and complicated can be the difference between eating today and feeding generations to come.

Plant With Purpose began to measure the indicators that make up this poverty index in 2008 and has been using it to measure its performance ever since. Those years have brought about tremendous insight and learning, allowing partnership with twice many people at half the cost. 

Together, we can continue to learn what works. Our work is not complete until all families can thrive and grow as far out of poverty as they choose.

To date, you have helped partnering families grow their savings, along with a sense of dignity and empowerment through their accomplishments. Empowered people are eager to invest in their environment and as savings grow so has the number of trees planted. 

To continue to help turn this insight into impact, sign up today to become a Purpose Partner!

Philippe Lazaro

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