Poor people are the most important resource in the fight against poverty. They have imagination, guts, knowledge, experience, and deep motivation to move out of poverty. As our Voices of the Poor study showed, poor people are no different from those of moderate or substantial means in their desire to live in a safe and secure world and to have access to income so they can educate, clothe, and house their children with dignity. They long to belong and participate in their communities on an equal footing with others. Most of all, they do not want charity. They want opportunity—economic opportunity that gives them fair returns for their labor.
When poor people are able to connect to basic services provided by government, they have consistently demonstrated their intelligence and competence in using public funds effectively. They have managed construction of rural roads and water systems and have monitored government employees, including health providers and schoolteachers, to improve their performance. When poor men and women gain access to banks, they have shown that even in a national financial crisis—as in Indonesia, for example—they can be trusted to repay their loans. When poor women come together in credit groups to build their confidence and their understanding of how financial systems work, they can outperform all other customers in profitability. And they have proved willing to reinvest in their communities to strengthen the collective welfare.
Yet most decision makers still resist trusting poor people to make rational decisions and to take care of public or private investments. We hope that this book, with its focus on measuring empowerment, will help spread approaches to poverty reduction that empower poor people. Unless poor people are at the center of poverty reduction, policy making and program design will not benefit them.
Poor people the world over have shown that they work hard to reduce poverty. It is now time for the private sector to establish innovative partnerships with the millions of poor entrepreneurs, including vendors, shopkeepers,