Sharing of experiences crucial to eliminate poverty

China Daily, October 16, 2018
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The global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, will never be achieved if each one of the United Nations' 193 member states has to do it on their own. In fact, each of them, including the most advanced, can draw on a vast pool of international experience in developing their SDG strategy. One of the most important roles that the UN plays in the 2030 effort is as a bridge between nations, facilitating the sharing of experience and knowledge.

As we join China in marking the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening-up, one extremely impressive feature of China's rapid development is sometimes missed-China's continuous and strategic use of international lessons throughout this period. Opening-up didn't only allow foreign businesses to come to the country; international organizations, government officials from other countries, Nobel Prize winning scholars and other innovative thinkers, have been traveling to China regularly to exchange ideas about successful economic and social development.

China has never blindly adopted approaches and programs. But it has always been open to learning from them, carefully studying them and, when relevant, adapting them to China's own conditions and needs. China's experience can serve as a model for other developing countries by demonstrating the appropriate way to use the knowledge resources that the world can offer to countries seeking to chart their course to a better future.

As a contribution to this effort, the UN China Country Team, working closely with the Ministry of Commerce, the International Poverty Reduction Centre of China and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, has just released a new book Our Common Goal; International Experience in Poverty Reduction. This book distills a broad set of innovative experiences in poverty reduction from around the world, including the work of UN agencies and other development institutions, government programs and in some cases the work of NGOs and think tanks.

Despite tremendous progress, China still faces many poverty reduction challenges. Some arise from the daunting obstacles to achieving the government's overriding short-term goal of eliminating all extreme poverty by 2020. Others are longer-term poverty challenges, which will have to be addressed to improve the quality of life for Chinese citizens. These challenges will likely be at the center of China's poverty agenda after 2020.

In both of these areas there is a great deal of useful international experience to draw on. As China drives forward forcefully in its campaign to eliminate extreme rural poverty by 2020, the conditions in the remaining poor areas are particularly difficult, and the obstacles to success particularly large. Simply pouring more and more resources into this effort is not always the best approach to such challenges. International experience in using participatory approaches to engage the enthusiasm of the poorest population groups, preserving cultural and natural heritage, and in designing projects that will maximize the benefit to the target groups, can offer helpful inputs to China's 'last mile' efforts.

Looking ahead, China also faces more complex poverty alleviation challenges as an Upper Middle Income Country undergoing rapid social and economic transformation. The global effort to achieve the SDGs, like the Millennium Development Goals before them, has led to a mushrooming of innovative poverty alleviation initiatives in recent years. For example, a number of countries have piloted "Cash Plus" social assistance programs that have achieved impressive results in helping poor households emerge sustainably from poverty, by supplementing income support with other assistance, such as assets, loans, training and others, all for a limited period of time after which the households 'graduate' and must support themselves.

Combating childhood malnutrition is one key to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty, and well-coordinated national school feeding programs have proven in many countries to be extremely helpful in ensuring that the poorest children receive adequate nutrition. Payments for ecological services programs can generate income while preserving the environment. As China prepares a major reform of its vocational education system, the Singapore experience in technical and vocational education for students who will not attend university offers very interesting lessons.

These and other international case studies are highlighted in the book. Of course, some Chinese projects are presented as well, including the use of conditional cash transfers to improve maternal and child health, integrated rural development programs combining improved natural resource management with income generation, and technological innovations to make financial services accessible to poor rural households.

In China and around the globe, effective governance of social programs is a precondition for success. Global innovations in monitoring and evaluation, preventing errors, fraud and corruption, horizontal and vertical coordination and improved targeting are all highly relevant to China's current poverty alleviation agenda.

In addition, the special report released this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a powerful warning call to all countries about the urgent need to intensify our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impact of global warming on the world's poor and vulnerable populations. Learning from and building on each other's experience will be a vital precondition for success in combating climate change, which has become the defining poverty alleviation and sustainable development challenge of our era.

China's rapid growth and reduction in poverty in the last 40 years has captured a great deal of attention from other countries who hope to learn from that experience. On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we at the UN will applaud China's achievements in poverty reduction, and we continue to facilitate the sharing of China's experience with other countries who can learn from it. At the same time, the rest of the world still has valuable lessons from which China can benefit as it moves ahead with its new poverty agenda.

Author: Nicholas Rosellini--UN resident coordinator& UNDP resident representative in China.