‘Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon which requires a multidimensional political response’

11 May, 2017
Photo: Prosperidad Social / Emilio Aparicio

Colombia was one of the first countries to officially establish a multidimensional poverty measurement in 2011. Tatyana Orozco, until recently the director of Colombia’s Department for Social Prosperity, spoke with Dimensions about how the Colombian government is using the Colombian Multidimensional Poverty Index (C-MPI).

Colombia is probably the country that has made the most advances in using its multidimensional poverty index to inform public policy (in targeting, municipal mapping and as graduation criteria for conditional cash transfer programmes). Could you tell us a little about why the government has found this tool so useful?

Mainly because poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon which requires a multidimensional political response. Policies which are geared towards reducing poverty cannot operate in isolation because these dimensions have strong interconnections. For example, a child who is frequently absent from school could be missing their education in order to be a breadwinner. This implies that both the child and the household are deprived in terms of education and work.

In Colombia, working with dimensions has enabled us to establish common goals and improve dialogue between ministers and the bodies responsible for creating and enacting poverty reduction policies. These can be based on education, healthcare, wellbeing, housing and childhood conditions, among others.

Working with the Colombian Multidimensional Poverty Index (C-MPI) has shown us various things: What are the dimensions that are more frequently involved with changes in poverty? Which groups require the most attention and where are they located? In our country, for example, we have found that the dimensions which contribute most to a reduction in poverty are healthcare and education. As a result, we have achieved universal basic education and more than 80% of Colombians now have health insurance.

Also, at critical points the C-MPI has shown us that the country needed to strengthen its social policies to improve early childhood conditions. This led to the creation of the De Cero a Siempre (‘From Zero to Forever’) strategy in 2011 which unifies programmes of vaccination, health insurance, growth and development consultations, nutritional evaluations, and quality primary education under one banner for those children within the highest poverty levels. The C-MPI has likewise helped us realise that we needed to reinforce our housing policy for the extreme poor. In response to this, the government implemented a nationwide scheme that created 100,000 fully subsidised houses for people in extreme poverty and for victims of violence.

Lately, you have not only been using the measure to identify poverty but also to identify the deprivations of those newly middle class, who have moved out of poverty, and to design policies to help secure their economic position. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

Yes. The C-MPI has indeed been fundamental to the design of policies which seek to strengthen the middle class and prevent the newcomers from falling back into poverty. Through the C-MPI, we have been able to establish that the people in the middle class do not have significant deficiencies in housing. However they do have problems with deprivations in education and healthcare, aspects they share with the population still living in poverty.

When we look at the national average of multidimensional poverty, 20 out of every 100 people in Colombia are poor. However, when we analyse those regions which have been affected by the armed conflict, the proportion increases to 80 out of 100.

Consequently, we understand that in order to support the middle class we need to work on guaranteeing school attendance, reducing illiteracy and improving living conditions. This will determine people’s definitive exit from poverty and their consolidation into the middle class. For this reason, our conditional cash transfer programmes are fundamental and are triggered strictly when children attend school and by growth and nutrition controls.

Is there a role for the C-MPI in post-conflict tasks in Colombia?

Absolutely yes. As I have mentioned, the C-MPI allows us to analyse poverty data at the territorial level and by population group. For example, when we look at the national average of multidimensional poverty, 20 out of every 100 people in Colombia are poor. However, when we analyse those regions which have been affected by the armed conflict, the proportion increases to 80 out of 100.

Also, as we have multidimensional poverty reports at the municipal level, we know that in municipalities like El Retorno in Guaviare (which has been severely affected by the armed conflict), 95% of households have a member with no health insurance and 88% are deprived in educational achievement. These figures are in plain contrast with national averages. For this reason, the C-MPI will undoubtedly be a useful tool for better targeting the fiscal resources available for post-conflict tasks and supporting the most vulnerable families.

What recommendations would you give to other nations interested in measuring multidimensional poverty? Which factors or variables would they need to consider when designing and applying their multidimensional poverty index?

The main piece of advice I would give to countries constructing their own multidimensional poverty index is that the dimensions and indicators should be pegged to concrete policy actions. For example, our C-MPI uses an indicator of educational achievement. This indicator is directly linked to policies affecting access to education, on which we work jointly with the Ministry of Education; they work on increasing coverage while we, through Social Prosperity, help those families in poverty through conditional cash transfer programmes that encourage parents to guarantee children’s attendance. This connection is fundamental; without it, the indicator would not be a useful tool for poverty reduction policy decision-making.

The second piece of advice that I would give to them is to have an adequate institutional framework to ensure that the indicator is credible and its methodology is respectable. In Colombia, this institutional participation is achieved with the Mesa Transversal de Pobreza y Desigualdad (Poverty and Inequality Roundtable). This is a ministerial-level institution led by the President of Colombia. Progress towards goals in each of the indicators are evaluated at this roundtable and high-level decisions are made. This roundtable is complemented by a committee of experts in multidimensional poverty measurement. This committee is led by the National Department of Statistics and attended by the National Planning Department, the Department for Social Prosperity, the World Bank, the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean, and academics. This committee is charged with validating results and the methodology.



Photos: Prosperidad Social – Emilio Aparicio.

Colombia Interview Medidas nacionales MPI National Measures