Stephanie Manciagli: ‘Each poverty indicator has a solution’

Stephanie Manciagli is an International Replicas Specialist focused on eradicating poverty with Fundacion Paragaya’s “Poverty Stoplight” program. With a background in content development, knowledge management and program implementation, she is supporting a global scale-up strategy that seeks to bring the Poverty Stoplight methodology to 30 countries and millions of users in the next 5 years.

What is Poverty Stoplight and how does the program work?

The Poverty Stoplight (PS) is a program that was born out of Fundación Paraguaya’s (FP) microfinance program in the heart of South America. After years of successful implementation, local loan officers/field workers realized that many of their clients lacked basic household amenities, continued to burn their trash, or shared a bedroom with all of their family members. All of these circumstances are indications of poverty, something that was previously measured by household income alone. A new program was developed: a pictographic survey that allows families to evaluate their levels of poverty across six dimensions and fifty poverty indicators.

The survey has come a long way since the paper-based surveys used in 2010. It’s been deliberately designed to be adapted to measure poverty in any country or socio-economic context. Today, we’re in 23 countries, where cellphones, tablets and computers are used to not only collect responses but to geo-reference the exact location of beneficiaries. Modern technology has allowed us to expand our efforts exponentially and ensures that quality data is passed from families to field workers to reports to the hands of governments, businesses and organizations that can review the data and then adjust their services to target areas in need. In fact, the introduction of technology has allowed us to go from reaching a couple hundred families to working with over 25,000 families in the past four years.

What is Poverty Stoplight’s mission?

Poverty Stoplight’s mission is to activate the potential of individuals and families to eliminate multidimensional poverty through self-evaluation tools that allow the discovery of practical and innovative solutions.

Why is it important that the individuals you work with be their own ‘agents of change’?

We truly believe that each and every person stores a wealth of knowledge and untapped potential. The PS methodology activates that potential by connecting people to services, coaching and information. Essentially, we are simply empowering people to determine a path to the life they want. Based on Ken Wilber’s “integral theory” as well as VitalSmarts’ “six sources of influence” theory, we work to motivate people to answer “Yes” to the questions “Is it worth it?” and “Can I do it?”, which ultimately catalyzes a behavioral shift that can lead to permanent lifestyle changes.

What problems do you face in adjusting to the needs of different communities? How important is community-specific knowledge?

As the PS methodology is nearly free of endogenous cultural, ideological and religious elements, it can be adapted and replicated all over the world and across sectors (i.e. clothing banks, industrial business associations, and rehabilitation programs). Our global partners hold focus groups, convene local experts and connect with members in their communities to determine which of the 50 indicators need to be tailored. Take access to potable water, for example. In New Orleans, if a family’s water has been shut off, that indicates extreme poverty. In Tanzania, we’d measure extreme poverty by how long it takes to collect water from an unprotected water source.

Evaluating impact across countries and indicators that don’t match exactly has been a challenge. Our M&E team is working to divide indicators into three categories: (1) those that are internationally comparable; (2) those that are essential to the philosophy of the Stoplight, but whose interpretation can vary across countries; and (3) those that are specific to a partner’s interest.

What challenge have you struggled most with, and how have you overcome it?

Determining our partnership strategy has been an ongoing process. We have two models: a Hub Model and a Special Project model. Hubs are international partners that represent the PS in their countries and provide external capacity building to in-country partners that they seek out and train to administer the PS. Special Projects are international partners that implement the tool directly within their programs, without training other organizations. While we are feeding off all of the attention the program has received in recent years, we are also cognizant of maintaining the quality and integrity of the program.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We’re incredibly proud of the progress that we’ve made in Paraguay. In 2016, over two thousand clients overcame poverty, of which over 1,000 did so in the “income” indicator; 506 managed to achieve all fifty indicators in green. To date, eighty-six companies from different sectors have applied the Poverty Stoplight, reaching a total of 15,000 employees. This year, we’ve been inspired by the work that our international partners are doing. South Africa, one of our Hubs, is working with over forty partners and seeing amazing results. Between March 2016 and 2017, they conducted over 1,300 surveys. Women who participated typically entered the program with twenty-seven to thirty green indicators, fifteen to eighteen yellow indicators, and five red indicators. On average they graduate with forty-four greens, five yellows and one red.

How are you measuring the impact of your work?

We track families’ progress through baseline and results surveys. We review beneficiaries’ outlooks, changes in personal behavior, reported changes in community interactions, and so on. We’re also conducting comparison studies between changes in villages using the PS and nearby ones that aren’t. We collaborate with several universities’, such as University of Oxford’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative, to determine the direct impact of our work. For businesses that implement the PS, we’ll be tracking changes over time in proxies for productivity such as absenteeism, turnover and independent measures of employee satisfaction.

Do you believe that poverty can be completely eradicated?

We know it can! Poverty is the world’s greatest tragedy, not just because of its intrinsic harm, but because it is absolutely solvable. Each poverty indicator has a solution, and by galvanizing families to tackle the indicators one by one, we know that they can — and will — overcome poverty.

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