Measuring Income — Does it Test Poverty?
I am waiting in the Dallas airport for the next leg of my cross-country journey to Palo Alto for our annual International Operations Conference. All of the Senior Program Managers (SPMs), myself, my team, Aerie (our Director of International Operations), and Jake (our CEO) will all be on the Stanford campus for a couple of days to discuss the current state of our approach to poverty reduction. The SPMs are the folks on our staff who manage the programs that we run in Kenya to constitute our holistic approach to poverty reduction: Agriculture, Community Economic Development, Education, Healthcare, and Leadership.
I am catching up a bit on some blog-reading and I just read this post about how poverty can be and should be defined across varying countries and regions. As with much in our field, it is a complex question. If a country defines poverty more leniently than an established international standard (like the $1.25-a-day spending power line of demarcation defined by the World Bank), why should the established international standard overtake the country-level standard? Ways of life obviously vary widely throughout the world and throughout regions within countries. Does an international standard really make sense? I am definitely not proposing an answer to this question here. I think the question itself highlights the complexity of the work we are trying to do at Nuru, that is, development work in general.
As I head to Palo Alto, one of the questions we are trying to answer right now is whether we can supply a metric value that we expect many foundations that issue grants to organizations like ours to ask of us: yearly income amounts for our constituents. Similar to purchasing power, income is obviously meant to indicate something about the standard of living and choices available to our constituents. The problem is that we do not assess this value right now as a means of learning about the effectiveness of our interventions. Nor, in fact, do we consider it a great direct measure of what we are trying to do. We are trying to create an enabling environment for our community-members, and we feel that the MPAT is the best means of testing what that is.
For our programs, we want to know how much our constituents are saving and a few other things about their lives that could potentially be used as proxies for income with a little stretch of assumptions, so that may be what we end up deciding to do. We might decide to assume that some major portion of our constituents’ income is from the agricultural yield that they produce as a result of our interventions. As we are already measuring that, we can perhaps make an assumption about income as a result of that.
More on this little dilemma later, but as usual, we would love thoughts on this!