Going abroad and beyond: Wu Peng shares lessons in alleviating poverty

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Editor’s Note: China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation Director of International Development Wu Peng has experience going abroad and delivering development results. As the world is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and conditions threaten to slide back progress made in poverty eradication, Wu told China Development Brief that the Sustainable Development Goals are the primary focus of his work overseas in 2021. Wu also shared his views on China’s progress in abolishing extreme poverty and what it means for other countries, how his organisation chooses target countries, and how many development goals should be pursued in tandem.

“Persistence brings changes.” That is the slogan of China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA), a non-profit organisation that has been working since 1989. Wu Peng serves as CFPA’s director of international development. With offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Yangon, Kathmandu and Addis Ababa, much of his work is anchored in serving stakeholders abroad. Their work covers 24 countries around the world, Wu shared at the 2020 CDB Forum.

CFPA started ‘going out’ in 2005. The organisation’s initial focus was disaster relief. Responding to the Indian Ocean tsunami was CFPA’s first program abroad.  Since then, CFPA programs have shifted to concentrating on working alongside United Nations initiatives for social progress. In 2021, CFPA is continuing projects in key areas to make sure such initiatives as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) are met on time by 2030.

Sustainable strategies

To understand CFPA’s goals in 2021, we have to start with six United Nations SDGs. “China’s international development mission is to promote the building of a community with a shared future for mankind,” Wu told CDB. “Because our goals and visions are to help developing countries realise the SDGs as soon as possible, we are excited and confident to carry out international cooperation.”

The first target is wiping out extreme poverty, everywhere. According to the SDG page on the UN website, “the number of people living in extreme poverty declined from 36 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2015.” Then the COVID-19 pandemic came along. Journalists and economists have written extensively about how inequality has widened due to the virus and the response, or lack of in some parts of the world. “New research published by the UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research warns that the economic fallout from the global pandemic could increase global poverty by as much as half a billion people, or 8 percent of the total human population.”

But the sustainable development goals don’t stop there. Achieving ‘zero hunger’ is the second SDG. To this end, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation carries out the International Smiling Children Feeding Program. Right under eradicating hunger in the SDGs is health, another critical target in the pandemic age. Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Nepal are the three countries CFPA’s outbound health projects will be implemented in. The fourth goal is centred around education which CFPA bolsters with programs like reconstructing school buildings in Nepal, distributing scholarships to Myanmar college students, providing solar-powered lighting to Myanmar and Ethiopian students, and developing ‘bicycles with care’ so students in Myanmar can get to school.

But as Wu shared with CDB, these commitments to the world’s development needs are all linked. COVID-19 has perhaps made that painstakingly clear. That’s why CFPA integrated their missions with the fight against the epidemic. “For the International Smiling Children Feeding Program, we used to provide meals in school, but the prerequisite for that task is schools are running normally,” said Wu. “After the pandemic last year, schools were closed, and students were at home. But these students are still our target group, especially since their families now face a more difficult situation. Their parents normally rely on daily wages to support themselves and it’s more difficult to find a job during the pandemic. We thus changed our strategy and distributed food parcels to homes instead since the demand was greater at this time.”

“There is also an ‘international Panda Pack (schoolbag) program,'” Wu mentioned. “Previously, the schoolbag contained only documents and stationery, such as coloured pencils and pens. After the pandemic, we felt protecting students’ health was very important so we added toothpaste, toothbrushes, band-aids and other sanitary items.” The program also included exercise-books and flyers promoting sanitation literacy.

The sixth SDG crosses water and sanitation. “One in three people do not have access to safe drinking water,” according to the World Health Organization. For this target too, CFPA is no stranger to needs of underdeveloped areas. “We implemented a water cellar project in Ethiopia,” said Wu. “In the third phase, 120 water cellars were built. In the Horn of Africa, there was a drought in 2011. I went to Kenya then. At that time, I discovered that there were two ways to solve the drinking water problem in Kenya. The first is to transport water by truck. But the cost is too high to transport water from foreign countries.” But Wu added water that could be transported by such means was still not enough and that the Kenyan Red Cross said it would not be able to sustain the cost. “The second method is to drill wells in remote places. For deep wells, pumps must be used. There must be solar energy and generators. Again, the cost is too high for local residents.”

“Although these approaches are effective, maintenance costs are too high, and it is not sustainable and universally applicable so I thought of the Chinese solution: the water cellar! Collect rainwater during the rainy season and reuse it during the dry season,” said Wu. “The advantage is first, if there is no water cellar, the family will spend a long time every day to get water from a remote place. It is very tiring, takes away farm work, and makes it so there is not much water for the animals to drink so my cellar is not necessarily for people to drink. But it can be used for irrigation and feeding the animals. With the water cellar, labour can be spared, and time can be used for other things such as planting more crops, vegetables, corn, peppers, fruits, and trees which all grow very well. The courtyard economy improves and the family income can increase.”

Empowering women and youth to find decent work is the eighth SDG. Wu Peng said CFPA’s vocational training programs, “especially in Nepal and Ethiopia, especially focus on assisting young people and women in the precarious job market of 2021.”

What is to be done?

To understand where CFPA expertise and assistance is most needed, there is a rigorous process. Wu shared there are six questions to answer before going to a country. “One: is that place poor? Does it need us? If it is a developed country, we don’t need to go. Two: because we are a social organisation, all resources come from donors,” said Wu, who added CFPA “depends on the donor’s approval and support.”

“Three: does the local government approve and support it? Four: we need to find local partners with the same idea. Five: can we find local talent to carry out and implement the projects. Six: can we be sustainable and stay in the county for a relatively long period of time.”

And that’s only the initial consideration.

“Specifically, for each project, we have to go through six steps before this project can be approved for implementation,” said Wu. “The first is if you have a proposal which can come from the organisation or outside, such as education and health programs, and that there is a strong external demand and the donor is willing to donate money. Secondly, after that, there will be an internal pre-approval process to see if there is a real need, if there is donor support, and if anyone can carry out the projects, and if it is in line with the organisation’s strategic direction and policies.”

“The third step is, research. We go to the field to verify what was said before going to the local investigation. Fourth is design where we ask ‘Who is the target, who will do this project?’” Then, fifthly, there will be a submission to management for approval. The approval of the project is the sixth and final step. “We are very demand-oriented; we will not do anything without demand.”

Serving by example

After poverty reduction programs dating back decades, China in 2020 no longer had any counties on its poverty list. China’s poverty line is $2.30 a day, slightly above the World Bank’s. While the country still has programs to address poverty and underdevelopment, the abolition of extreme poverty is achievement that informs CFPA’s work.

“From my perspective, China’s poverty reduction experience has four lessons for developing countries,” said Wu, stressing such lessons only represent his personal views. “The first is that China has formulated a medium- and long-term plan for poverty reduction. For example, we have a poverty alleviation work plans such as the Seven-Year Program for Lifting 80 Million People out of Poverty (1994-2000), the Outline for Development-oriented Poverty Alleviation for China’s Rural Areas (both from 2001 to 2010 and from 2011 to 2020) …developing countries also need such long-term planning.”

“The second lesson is that developing countries should establish a centralised poverty reduction work system. China has the State Council and working group for Poverty Alleviation in the central government. Then there are poverty alleviation teams in provinces, cities, counties, and townships. In some developing countries, there is only a plan, but no one implements it. Hence, the goals are often only on paper. There must be an organisational structure,” Wu said.

Wu emphasised China’s experience also meant saving money on researching and identifying target groups. “The third and most prominent lesson in China is targeted poverty alleviation. We target the conditions of the poor with precision. We have a digital record system,” said Wu. “The Chinese government has identified all those living in poverty. After creating a card, the data will be entered into a computer system…This is what I think developing countries can learn from China’s experience: building a record system to help the poor with precision. ”

But for Wu, it is also important other countries fighting poverty find their own path on their own accord. Citing CFPA’s water cellar project, Wu said a lot of the practices his organisation introduces in Africa come from reckoning with challenges on the ground. The project, he specified was “commonly used in the arid regions of northwest China, such as Gansu, to collect rainwater when it rains and to drink water from cellars when it is dry. This practice is very practical and very affordable so when we introduced this method to Africa, it was very popular with residents there…Of course, this is only what I have observed in my work, and there are many other dimensions. These can all be used for reference. After all, China’s effort has been effective, so it is worth researching.”

In Brief

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