Mobile Technology’s Role in Poverty Elimination

Dec 27, 2017

Article by Poverty Stoplight

Among economists, development practitioners, academics and politicians alike, the last two decades have been marked by stark differences in regard to how poverty should be measured and addressed. Countries around the world have seen the fluctuation of theories supporting modernization and industrialization as well as the embrace of Liberal economics. By increasing aggregate demand, countries were expected to accumulate wealth and national savings, which would transform the lives of its citizens. While exact strategies taken to address poverty have varied, there has been a nearly consistent agreement that addressing poverty and inequality are a core function of governments as well as the private and public sector. Perhaps what is more compelling than the question of ethics is that promoting equality can lead to more efficient economies, can more efficiently allocate assets, and bolster social stability. As the “4th Industrial Revolution” unfolds, it is increasingly clear that the most utile trend -and the one surest to stick - is the use technology for social innovation.

Historically, poverty measurement tools have been marked by limitations such as, an unnecessary (and inadequate) emphasis on monetary, unidimensional poverty; comparing income or consumption expenditures to the national poverty line; some even fail to measure the actual poverty of a household but instead just the probability that a household will fall below the poverty line; and that these metrics are often designed for use by organizations and not for the families themselves. Even more, as Poverty Stoplight’s CEO Dr. Martin Burt published in his 2016 doctorate thesis, many metrics “do not take into account human behavior within the social, cultural, economic and political environment of a locality.”

Even with a myriad of existing metrics, quality and comprehensive data is lacking in regard to family-level poverty; particularly data that is self-reported. In fact, a 2014 study showed that “for nearly one hundred countries, at most two poverty estimates are available over the past decade. Worse still, for around half of them there was either one or no poverty estimate available.” Noting these shortcomings, the Poverty Stoplight was designed deliberately to address these shortcomings. The survey, harnessed by mobile technology, activates survey-takers to determine their own level of poverty across 50 indicators of poverty and empowers them to make a plan to improve their well-being and livelihoods in the areas that they wish.

Equally important to the methodology behind the Poverty Stoplight metric is the technology that facilitates the pictographic self-assessment. The World Bank stated earlier this year that “Mobile phone surveys have become a reliable and useful complement to household surveys, and in many cases are enabling countries to reach and respond to their citizens during crises, conflict, and economic shocks when face-to-face data collection would be extremely difficult and when immediate information is critical.”

The Poverty Stoplight technology, which has reached 25,000 families in the past four years, allows organizations, multilateral organizations and businesses to reach large audiences and ensure that all data input is accurate and reliable. In efforts to provide the most modern and efficient technology, Poverty Stoplight has been working to provide an upgraded Poverty Stoplight app. The upgrades included have been designed for field workers and organization managers to more intuitively and efficiently collect, analyze and share data. New highlights of the program will include real-time reports, ability to assign tasks to other program staff and interactive life maps. With these updates, Poverty Stoplight partners can ensure quality and secure data of past and future surveys, and increase efficiency as well as frequency of surveys administered. Furthermore, as partners monitor and evaluate the results of their surveys, the technology will equip them to analyze beneficiaries’ outlooks, changes in personal behavior, and reported changes in community interactions. Finally, the new technology’s platform will provide a unique space for partners’ to sharpen their solutions to some of the world’s most pressing social and economic challenges.

The new app, which has been designed as an open-source project, will launch internally on December 20th, 2017 but will continue to be a collaborative, ever-evolving effort that will invite new partners to join to keep developing new features, as we are currently doing with WPI. Poverty Stoplight’s international partners will be offered the upgraded app in 2018.

Watch this video of the Poverty Stoplight app in action in South Africa!

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