After our own genetic evolution nothing is more fascinating in human civilization than the path towards prosperity. Progress is ultimately driven by this intrinsic human urge to succeed that seems to be encoded in our DNA since the day we were born. Indeed for centuries generations of human beings have gathered their efforts to improve their lives and systematically have tried to do better than their parents and generally to have a better life than their ancestors. This need of surpassing and overcoming our expectations from one generation to another is what has led to an extraordinary process of improvement of living standards throughout the years.
In history we have found several moments where progress was remarkable. During the XV century navigation around the World has created progress in countries such as Holland, Portugal and England and spread technological innovation into colonies. One of the most life-changing periods was surely the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain during the XVIII century. It has dragged out of deprivation an unprecedented and gigantic amount of people putting the western world into a new trajectory through what was called the Great Divergence. It has definitely shaped the world relations with the UK, Western Europe and USA leading the way in a divergent path from the rest of the world. Other decisive events such as inventions and technologies, for example the discovery in 1900 that germs kill along with vaccines and antibiotic have determined global human mortality making people live not only better but also longer lives.
In these waves of progress one result is for sure not all people escapes poverty at the same time, so progress is always associated with some kind of inequality. For centuries aristocratic societies were structured by a group of rich and poor people but what progress has done throughout years was to democratize prosperity by building a ladder that poor people could progressively climb to evade from poverty and have better living conditions. What we have witness in the XX century was precisely the creation of what was called the middle class that illustrates this powerful ongoing social and economic transition. However this evasion out of poverty was never easy, in fact it is one of the most hazardous journeys in human lives. It is jeopardized by conflict, disasters, accompanied sometimes by social unrest, or blocked by institutions, infrastructure, and culture or even by their counterparts that have just climbed the ladder but assure that no one else does!
But let`s stay positive: we have witnessed a staggering progress in poverty reduction in recent decades. The post-war growth has promoted a significant poverty reduction based on the optimistic feel of development sharing with the underdeveloped regions. This modernisation theory based on a western vision of development would prevail up to the 70`s with the USA at the center as the model of modern economy. But the greatest evasion out of poverty since the 80`s was driven by China and India dragging a billion people out of poverty. The Millennium consensus endorsed by the international community through the MDGs has also contributed to a staggering progress in poverty reduction never witnessed before in human history. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved at the global level with this indicator being achieved five years before deadline.
Now the global goal is to eradicate poverty. With the impressive poverty reduction of recent decades the mantra is now to reach the extreme poor that were not yet capable to evade from the dark reality of deprivation. But how can we do this? We will need to be more precise than ever, be bolder and try something new. What if we push the existing debate into a new perspective and instead of looking at the poverty condition we focus now on the transformative change from poverty to prosperity? We now know everything about poor and we are now able to describe poverty better than ever, but most methodologies tend to be absent about the path out of poverty. The necessity to identify the poor along with the technical difficulties to monitor it made us all treat poverty mostly as a status or a condition, but less as the enduring small changes that take them out of poverty. Addressing poverty as a combination of specific functionings and dysfunctional deprivations with multiple dimensions is a considerable change of approach, it means that we are changing the focus on poverty and instead see it as a special case or dysfunction that blocks the path out of poverty.
In order to understand the transformative change towards prosperity we need to analyse how poor people think or choose, providing a poverty diagnosis with specific data on how poor functions, what they use and what is blocking the take-off towards prosperity. In other words we will be at the starting point of the transformative path towards prosperity where poverty can be addressed as the root level or the foundations of transformative change.
How can this help us understand better poverty? The first obvious contribution is the change of approach and mindset. Most poverty methodologies are as trapped in poverty as poor themselves because their focus is to obsessively describe poverty instead of tackling what goes going beyond poverty or ultimately what it takes to become prosperous. Additionally by drawing this path we are identifying the sequencing which provides the fundamental line or rational from one metamorphosis to another. This is crucial for policy targeting because it provides a guide that allow us to understand in what stage a poor is and what we should promote to trigger the next metamorphosis. But it also provides something more subtle but with great proportions which is to suggest what drives a transformational change. This is a very complex question that has been avoided for decades, but no matter how daring we need to answer it if our goal is to eradicate poverty globally.
The objective is to considerably add texture to poverty analysis by including motivational frameworks that will help understand how poor behave and make choices but also infer if what is blocking prosperity is personal attitude or behaviour or instead constrains such as the system or culture. It also complements the study of poverty as a function providing insights on what lies behind most actions of poor and showing how different dimensions are functionally integrated. This also has conceptual consequences as we treat poverty as a Functional Integration of internal and external components. In terms of poverty diagnosis these have serious policy implications as it allows to decode poor`s motivations and guide them into more successful choices out of poverty.
This evasion out of poverty is probably the most successful self-fulfilling journey that humans pursuit since ancestral times. For those that are fascinated to this tricky path towards prosperity (as it is my case) the proof that this is a serious business is that for poor this is ultimately a path of hope that we should not dare to disappoint.