Measuring Empowerment: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives

By Deepa Narayan | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Conceptual Framework and
Methodological Challenges

Deepa Narayan

Only the well-off can believe in tomorrow.
—Poor people, Azerbaijan1

Empowerment is not a new concept. Every society has local terms for autonomy, self-direction, self-confidence, self-worth. What is new is the attempt to measure empowerment in a systematic way.

The Voices of the Poor study conducted in 60 countries showed that voicelessness and powerlessness are pervasive among the poor, affecting every aspect of their lives.2 Trapped in poverty and barred from opportunity, poor people live with little expectation that tomorrow will bring anything good, despite their arduous work. In recognition of these realities, the World Bank has identified a two-pronged strategy to reduce poverty on a large scale. The strategy focuses on improving the overall investment climate in developing countries and on empowering poor people by investing in their assets.3

An empowering approach to poverty reduction is grounded in the conviction that poor people themselves are invaluable partners for development, since they are the most motivated to move out of poverty. Nobody has more at stake in reducing poverty than poor people themselves. A growing body of evidence points to linkages between empowerment and development effectiveness at both the society-wide level and the grassroots level (Narayan 2002). Empowerment approaches can strengthen good governance, which in turn enhances growth prospects. When citizens are engaged, exercise voice, and demand accountability, government performance improves and corruption is harder to sustain. Citizen participation can also build consensus in support of difficult reforms needed to create a positive investment climate and induce growth. In addition, the empowerment agenda supports development

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