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CHAPTER 7
CONCLUSIONS
Tell the officials in the city that the money meant for the poor never reaches us. If they want to give assistance, they must give it directly to us and not through those men. —A poor widow, Pakistan 1993

The central story of this review is about the tenacity of social norms, unequal distribution of power, and the indomitable spirit of poor people. Despite the hard work of the poor themselves, the commitment of thousands of dedicated people within developing countries and international development agencies, and billions of dollars spent by national governments and international development assistance, there are more poor people today than at the beginning of the decade. The ineffectiveness and irrelevance of well-intentioned government programs lead poor people to conclude that “the state is absent from our lives” (Madagascar 1996). The core message from poor people is a plea for direct assistance to them, without exploitative and corrupt “middlemen” and free of well-intended but often wasteful development programs. They call for systemic change. How this can be done is the central challenge that confronts us at the brink of the twentieth century.

This final chapter first discusses briefly the power of institutions and social norms and summarizes eight key findings from the review. It then identifies three elements of a change strategy that could empower poor women and men to shape and negotiate new relations with their governments, civil society, and those with whom they trade so that they have the freedom to participate in society on their own terms.

Institutions and Power
We poor people are invisible to others, just as blind people cannot see, they cannot see us —Pakistan 1993
Sen coined the term economic and social “regress” to describe increased destitution and decreased well-being among poor groups in an age of unprecedented global prosperity (Sen 1993). Trends in this regress are given form and context throughout the narratives in the PPAs. Social norms and institutions are the key obstacles faced by poor women and men as they attempt to eke out a livelihood against the odds. Poor people’s experiences demonstrate again and again that informal rules or social norms are deeply embedded in society, and that “rules in use” override formal rules. It is precisely because of the embeddedness of social norms that change in one part of a bureaucratic social system cannot bring about systemic changes. In fact, a change in one part of a system merely creates resistance in the system until “order” is restored. This phenomenon is evident at all levels from the household to national level. Poor people’s experiences reflect fundamental inequities in power among different social groups, and a lack of “bridges” or horizontal linkages between those more powerful and

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those less powerful. It is no surprise that in this institutional environment the experiences of poor people are characterized by lack of power and voice. Promotion of voice and empowerment of poor people in these circumstances becomes the central task.

Findings
This section highlights eight findings that illustrate why it is so difficult to reach poor people through development programs. It is important to stress that the findings emerged from an inductive process of content analysis of 78 Participatory Poverty Assessments conducted in 47 countries. Whether the topic was poverty, institutions, or gender relations, the process did not start with a presumed set of answers — the patterns emerged through systematic analysis.

Poverty and Powerlessness
Poverty is humiliation, the sense of being dependent on them, and of being forced to accept rudeness, insults, and indifference when we seek help. —Latvia 1998
Poor people, including the newly impoverished poor in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, describe poverty as the lack of food and assets, the powerlessness that stems from dependency on others, and the helplessness to protect...
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