Monday Mar 18

SPECIAL REPORT The Organizers’ Forum International Dialogue in Paraguay ~ The Poverty Stoplight Fundación Paraguay

Five days of meetings with a range of NGOs and not-for-profits TECHO, Oxfam, Decidamos, Semillas para la Democracia, Fundación Moises Bertoni, Confederación Paraguaya de trabajadores, Habitat, and Banco alimentario — gave us a pretty good overview of the context and challenges existing in Paraguay: a large concentration of land as part of the aftermath of the Stroessner dictatorship (where 8.6% of the population control 94% of arable land); the 6th highest deforestation rate in the world due to large scale agriculture and ranching; widespread corruption in the judicial, legislative and executive systems of government; sweeping poverty and inequality across the country; and a mostly informal labor economy.

Our second day in Asunción brought us to Fundación Paraguay, where an exuberant Martin Burt, the executive director, talked to us about the organization’s vision for a country without poverty, where entrepreneurship, innovation, micro-finance, and self-sustainable agricultural high schools play a key role. Central to all these interventions is the “Poverty Stoplight,” a multidimensional poverty assessment tool described as follows;

Through a visual survey which uses a series of photographs, families self-assess their level of poverty in 50 indicators grouped into 6 dimensions of poverty which are: Income and Employment; Health and Environment; Housing and Infrastructure; Education and Culture; Organization and Participation and Interiority & Motivational. Each indicator is defined as Red (extreme poverty), Yellow (poverty) or Green (not poverty).

Their theory of change puts individuals at the center as the key protagonists responsible for climbing out of poverty and improving their living conditions. Or as Burt puts it, “People own their own poverty.”

The flow chart above, from the Poverty Stoplight Manual shows how anticipated changes are expected to move from individual effort through to the community.

Benefits of the approach

The stoplight breaks down an often daunting and incomprehensible concept of poverty into different categories of problems which can be overcome and more easily managed. Thus, families are better able to grasp the reasons for their poverty and create an action plan, along with Fundación Paraguay staff and volunteers.

Burt admits there are some limitations to the Poverty Spotlight. The system, for example doesn’t factor in inequality. And I’m left pondering the agency of different actors. If it’s the people themselves who “own their own poverty,” what role does the state play? Should they not also “own” or appropriate themselves of their citizens’ poverty, especially when economic and social policy play such a central role? Lastly, how does the Poverty Stoplight leverage people to connect, dialogue and negotiate with these decision-makers?

If you’re interested in learning more about the Poverty Stoplight and how it’s being used, not just in Paraguay but also in the U.S., Europe, Africa and Asia, check out the organization’s website at An interview was also done with Burt where he describes the organization and its methodology at

Multidimensional poverty and the Poverty Stoplight approach

The chart below from the Poverty Stoplight manual shows the concepts the organization brings to the analysis of poverty and the series of changes it expects to occur as a result of individual and family involvement in the project.

Ode Lundardi is currently working with Oxfam in Lima, Peru. Previously, she was an ACORN organizer based in Ottawa who also worked in helping train ACORN organizers in England and Scotland.

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