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Strategy for cross-cutting theme:
Eradication of poverty, especially extreme poverty

Excerpt from UNESCO's Medium-Term Strategy 2002 - 2007 (31 C/4)


173] Poverty is a denial of basic human rights and is today of concern to all societies. The injustices, exclusions, deprivations and inequalities that poverty, and especially extreme poverty, engenders and, above all their causes, must effectively be dealt with, if social justice and cohesion, economic and social progress, democracy and ultimately peace are to be further strengthened. Extreme poverty today affects 1.2 billion persons, of which three quarters live and work in rural areas.

174] Governments and international organizations alike have placed poverty eradication at the centre of the global efforts to advance economic and social development. In a series of international conferences and most recently at the United Nations Millennium Summit, they have committed themselves to the international development goal of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015. The mid-point of the United Nations Decade for Poverty Eradication (1996-2005) has just been passed. Many initiatives have been taken both within and out-side the United Nations system, with a view to creating synergies to overcome poverty. In general, their principal objectives are to create a pro-poor policy environment; to increase resource flows to the poor; to generate social capital and institutions enhancing access for the poor to knowledge, information and opportunities and to empower the poor and their communities.

175] Long-term poverty eradication strategies must be harmonized with other human development strategies and place them in the overall context of human security, focusing on the needs of the individual and their communities. A number of recent reports from international institutions, development cooperation agencies as well as poverty research networks linked to field action have underlined the importance of ensuring these links for poverty reduction strategies to become effective and sustainable. This is particularly necessary since there are indications that in some regions progress in reducing rural poverty has stalled over the last few years (see IFAD Rural Poverty Report 2001 The Challenge of Ending Rural Poverty).

176] UNESCO is well placed, as the United Nations system's intellectual and ethical organization, to advocate the moral as well as the political imperative of poverty eradication. Poverty eradication is a significant condition for world peace and security – and a question of human dignity. Promoting the right to development and education will therefore be one of UNESCO’s tasks, complemented by advocacy in favor of right to development, and through supporting understanding and solidarity among humankind – both between countries and between populations divided by growing disparities.

177] The educational, cultural and science-related dimensions of poverty and anti-poverty policies are often neglected. Although the poverty paradigm has evolved from merely financial and monetary measures and definitions (“less than US $1 a day”) towards more human-centred concepts, such as deficiencies in “human capabilities”, lack of social capital, vulnerability, lack of dignity, such broadened definition and understanding is rarely reflected in policies, strategies and policy documents.

178] For example, the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), launched by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 1996, has focused on the need for countries to elaborate poverty reduction strategies in order to qualify for debt relief. Yet, too often they do not fully take into account the central role of education, the cultural dimension of development, gender equity, water and other natural resources, environmental considerations and governance arrangements – all of which can be addressed through contributions by UNESCO. The ultimate goal must be the formulation of comprehensive country-owned strategies developed in a participatory and inclusive manner, together with other multi- and bilateral partners.

179] Much remains to be done to develop effective concepts and approaches for such integration to be effective and to translate these strategies into practical measures, which are aimed at giving the poor both options and a voice. Despite formal recognition of the importance of “participation” and “ownership” by developing countries, the development and poverty eradication agenda still risks being largely set by donors. The success of policies and national plans aimed at poverty reduction is not only dependent upon strong political commitment but also on genuine country ownership as well as authentic participation of all actors in society. Building on its strong position as a partner to civil society UNESCO can work towards ensuring civil society representation in the policy design, formulation and implementation processes.

UNESCO’s strategy

180] UNESCO has been called upon by its Member States, through various General Conference resolutions and Executive Board decisions, to make its specific contribution to poverty reduction through the design of an appropriate long-term strategy. The Executive Board concurred with the Director-General’s subsequent proposal that poverty eradication be selected as a cross-cutting theme for the activities of the Organization as a whole. The following strategy defines the main parameters of a distinct UNESCO contribution to poverty eradication, in particular extreme poverty.

181] This strategy is based on an analysis of UNESCO’s comparative potential for contributing to poverty eradication in all its fields of competence and taking into account the overall challenge. Specific entry points will be identified bearing in mind various plans and frameworks for action, such as the Dakar Framework of Action, the Stockholm Conference on Cultural Policies for Development, Budapest the Plan of Action for a Culture of Peace. Like-wise the collaboration with various partners inside and outside the United Nations system will be a key feature for all activities, involving especially the World Bank, UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA, FAO, IFAD and ILO.

Strategic objectives for UNESCO’s action

182] UNESCO will focus on three major, interrelated strategic objectives:

Strategic objective 1

To contribute to a broadening of the focus of international and national poverty reduction strategies through the mainstreaming of education, culture, the sciences and communication.

183] The formulation of national poverty reduction strategies requires short-, medium- and long-term contributions from UNESCO:

184] Short-term: the integration of education for all strategies (i.e. covering formal and non-formal education as well as vocational and science education), as requested in Article 9 of the Dakar Framework of Action, of human resource dimensions and of other dimensions pertaining to the Organization’s fields of competence into national and international poverty reduction strategies and initiatives. This will necessitate sensitization of both decision-makers and civil society.

185] Medium-term: proposing the adoption of EFA plans aimed at reinforcing formal and non-formal education approaches and alternative delivery systems adapted to the specific needs of the poor and the marginalized; the adoption of plans to ensure broader access to safe water; and the systematic introduction of local knowledge and cultural heritage components into all strategies.

186] Long term: assessment of progress made, identification of obstacles and ways to overcome them; mobilization of resources for comprehensive poverty reduction strategies, integrating education, culture and the sciences.

187] Action at the regional level will build on the Organization’s decentralization process and its field presence. Priority will be given to the exchange of best experiences in establishing alternative education delivery systems targeting in particular rural populations and women. Efforts will also be made to assess progress made in strategy linkage and implementation, including contributions to design meaningful indicators as well as fostering capacity-building in the collection of statistics (in close cooperation with other United Nations competent bodies, national institutions, and in the framework of the PARIS 21 initiative).

Expected Outcomes:

188] At the field level, UNESCO’s action will draw on input from all programme sectors and from its institutes. The policy guidance component shall integrate elements of education and human resources development planning at the sectoral level.

Strategic objective 2

To support the establishment of effective linkages between national poverty reduction strategies and sustainable development frameworks, focusing on UNESCO’s areas of competence. Furthermore, to help mobilize social capital by building capacities and institutions, especially in the public domain, with a view to enabling the poor to enjoy their rights.

189] Many countries severely affected by poverty are challenged to establish effective links between poverty reduction strategies and national strategies aimed at sustainable development. Such linkages shall ensure that the loss of natural resources (in particular water resources, land, forests, and biodiversity) and pollution be checked. This shall create the basis for social capital formation and the formation of institutions for the poor to make use of their natural environment and create livelihoods. Overall, it will help to bolster human security. This shall be pursued through the following action:

190] Short-term: to provide policy guidance relating to the integration of poverty reduction and sustainable development strategies, focusing on UNESCO’s fields of competence, and to building social capital and institutions targeting the most vulnerable populations, in particular in rural areas and periurban settings.

191] Medium-term: to contribute to a convergence of poverty eradication policies and plans of action for sustainable development through subregional and national interdisciplinary pilot projects, training and institution-building; enhancing knowledge- sharing and networking at the national and sub-regional levels and to improve linkages to global observance and early-warning systems concerning natural resources and natural disasters; special attention will be given to fostering inter-action and linkages between local knowledge and globally available knowledge.

192] Long-term: to contribute to institutional capacity-building in order to ensure the free flow and sharing of scientific information at the international, regional and subregional levels concerning aspects of human security. Building on its Eradication of poverty, especially extreme poverty scientific programmes with their global scope, UNESCO will seek to initiate action at regional and subregional levels.

Expected Outcomes:

Strategic objective 3

To contribute to an enabling national policy framework and environment for empowerment, participatory approaches and livelihood generation.

193] Reclaiming the community as a dynamic actor for social transformations has become in the last few years a major priority for pro-poor development strategies, and in particular, for poverty alleviation and reduction frameworks. The cultural, local governance, and advocacy dimensions – in particular as they relate to women’s and young girls’ participation – must be fully taken into account if such endeavour is to lead to effective empowerment of the poor. Effective participatory decentralization processes for natural resource use as well as for providing access to financial and credit facilities will be essential in that context. Emphasis will also be placed on the need for establishing pro-poor coalitions involving the public sector, NGOs, and the private sector, and effective participative decentralization processes for natural resources and financial services in order to ensure devolution.

194] UNESCO has already acquired experience in working at community levels, be it through non-formal education activities aimed at reaching the unreached, the involvement of communities in the management of cultural and natural heritage conservation, the implementation of micro-credit schemes, education pertaining to population and reproductive health (in cooperation with UNFPA); and the creation of multimedia community centres, combining traditional and new media to enhance access to information and knowledge and to foster non-formal education. Building capacities at the community level will also be of significance for preventive education campaigns aimed at tackling HIV/AIDS. To that end, UNESCO will design and implement a number of intersectoral and interdisciplinary projects – especially in the framework of the two cross-cutting themes – in the least developed countries, particularly in Africa and South and South East-Asia.

195] For field projects to be successful it will be necessary to identify key components and relay mechanisms within communities, promoting the empowerment of the population in communities with specific attention to the needs of women, youth and the elderly. UNESCO action in this regard will require inputs from all programme sectors and from its institutes. 

Expected Outcomes:

196] In sum, UNESCO will undertake the following activities:

a)     policy formulation and implementation, including assisting in the design of country-owned, integrated pro-poor national policies and frameworks, involving all stakeholders, and building the capacities of governments to put in place participatory and inclusive processes at national and local levels;
b)     advocacy and information, emphazing that freedom from poverty is a human right, a global ethical imperative, and a top priority for governments and the international community;
c)      policy-oriented research contributing to the analysis of extreme poverty – and monitoring progress toward its eradication;
d)     capacity-building, particularly in countries immersed in or emerging from conflict or natural disasters and at local levels;
e)     innovative field projects, especially through projects under its cross-cutting themes, to demonstrate feasibility and potential results as a basis for translating them into policies and mainstreaming them nationally or in other countries.