Multidimensional measures in the Sustainable Development Goals: Poverty and Gross National Happiness

Poverty is multidimensional. Poor people can experience many different forms of deprivation at the same time – such as poor health, a lack of education, insecurity, or low living standards – which are not always concurrent with a lack of money.

That is why OPHI and the Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network (MPPN) are calling for an integrated measure of multidimensional poverty to be included the post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs), to complement income poverty measures and show interconnected deprivations.

The multidimensional nature of poverty has become increasingly recognised, for example by the 7 million people who took part in the UN’s My World survey, the Open Working Group on the SDGs, and the secretary-general’s December 2014 report.

However, to ensure that we can monitor progress towards reducing poverty in all its forms, it is essential that we implement an accurate way to measure it. OPHI and the MPPN propose an improved Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2015+ (MPI 2015+) as a vital tool for tracking the success of the SDGs.

The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2015+

The Global MPI 2015+ captures the different types of disadvantage that each poor person experiences at the same time – this could include, for example, poor sanitation, malnutrition, gender discrimination, poor quality of work, or violence. As well as providing a headline measure of multidimensional poverty within a population, the Global MPI 2015+ can be broken down to reveal:

  • How people are poor (which deprivations strike people at the same time)
  • Where the poorest people live – by region or social group
  • The intensity of the deprivations experienced by those living in poverty.

The Global MPI 2015+ is based on OPHI’s Alkire Foster method for multidimensional measurement.

Download OPHI’s 4-page briefing paper on Multidimensional Poverty in the SDGs for information on how an improved Global MPI 2015+ can be constructed.

Universal yet responsive to national complexities

The MPI 2015+ can be both universal and responsive to each country’s national complexities.

A universal or global MPI 2015+ would be internationally comparable and incorporate agreed dimensions of poverty – economic, social or environmental – based on participatory and expert inputs. It would define at least two degrees of multidimensional poverty, such as ‘acute’ or ‘moderate’, to have relevance across countries with different kinds of poverty.

Governments or civil society organisations could also create their own MPIs that incorporate the dimensions of poverty relevant to their own national context and goals.

By pinpointing exactly how and where people are poor, a national MPI 2015+ would enable governments to better target their resources and combat poverty more effectively. As the MPI 2015+ shows how different deprivations overlap and interconnect, policy initiatives could also be integrated to tackle multiple aspects of poverty together. And because the MPI2015+ reveals which groups or regions are experiencing poverty most acutely, it would focus attention on the most vulnerable, ensuring that no one is left behind.

National MPIs

The governments of Mexico, Colombia, the Philippines and Chile have already adopted official national multidimensional poverty measures – incorporating dimensions of poverty that are relevant to their countries – enabling them to design effective poverty-reduction programmes. Many other countries are now lining up to fight poverty nationally, using multidimensional poverty measures as a tool to align management and policy.

The Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network (MPPN), coordinated by OPHI, is a South-South initiative created in response to the overwhelming demand from policymakers for information and support on implementing multidimensional poverty measures nationally as well as globally.

Find out more about the MPPN’s work and participant countries.

Data revolution

In order to create a comprehensive and accurate MPI 2015+, OPHI enthusiastically supports the call for a data revolution. To eradicate poverty, we must observe it more often and better.

OPHI and the MPPN have created Post-2015 Light Powerful Survey Modules designed to capture data needed to measure human poverty more accurately. It touches on 30 targets in 12 of the SDGs.

The modules would provide better information on indicators such as water, sanitation, assets, electricity, housing, child mortality, and school attendance. They would also provide the necessary data for more innovative indicators like violence, empowerment or informal work.

Gross National Happiness Index

OPHI also wants to draw attention to the visionary work of the Royal Government of Bhutan, led by Dasho Karma Ura, to create a Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index that supports the national aim of GNH – an aim which is holistic and integrated, drawing together many facets of well-being.

The vision of ‘Gross National Happiness’ was articulated by the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972, and his idea that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product” has captured the vision of many.

The GNH Index is a multidimensional measure of progress which includes economic and non-economic aspects of wellbeing, and provides policy incentives for the government, NGOs and businesses of Bhutan to increase GNH. It was first launched in 2008, is constructed using an innovative adaptation of OPHI’s Alkire Foster method, and is linked to a set of policy and programming tools.

The Royal Government’s website for the Index, www.grossnationalhappiness.com, provides further information, including a short guide and an extensive analysis of GNH.  These same documents can also be found on the OPHI website (short and extensive).

Related resources

Download OPHI’s 4 page briefing document: Multidimensional Poverty Index 2015+.

At a high-level side event at the 69th UN General Assembly in September 2014 hosted by the MPPN with OPHI, senior leaders from eight governments and institutions called on the UN to adopt the MPI 2015+. Find out more and watch a video of the event.

Read more about OPHI’s work on multidimensional poverty.

Find out more about the SDGs.