Tag Archives: end poverty

Credible Rights Based Alternative VS Economic Alternative

I wrote this text as an answer to some questions Nazmul Ahsan (Senior Program Officer at ActionAid Bangladesh) asked to the colleagues. Maybe it could be useful to clarify some issue at stake in our program work.

Does Economic Alternative can create credible rights based alternative? it is complementary or supplementary?

First of all, I think is necessary to agree about the terms. In the ActionAid Human Right Based Approach manual, People’s Action In Practice (available here: http://bit.ly/1QQxCaQ) only feminist economic alternatives is defined, as “innovative solutions that seek to address the gender biases in the present economic system (at both micro and macro levels) and that recognise the significance of unpaid care work”, while alternatives are defined as “ideas which stretch the scope of our existing interventions or frameworks – promising something different for the future, something positive, something that changes systems”.

Whithin this framework, we must consider as economic alternative only a structural change, as, for instance, a more fair fiscal system? Maybe not: further in the handbook the scope of economic alternative is narrowed a little bit; we read “A lot of our work in promoting economic alternatives for women will focus on young women, reducing the multiple responsibilities of care work they juggle and helping them find new forms of sustainable income“.

Holding that true, we can say that economic and right based alternative are intertwined and complementary.

Intertwined because, for instance, a fairer tax system is both a right based and an economic alternative; the same is for a minimum income scheme.

Complementary, because, for example, strengthening small business held by people in poverty, is an economic alternative (to overcome poverty), that, along with other economic alternatives (as strengthening occupability), is necessary, but not sufficient to overcome poverty. For example, not all people could run a small business or find a decent work, because of illness, age, or discrimination.

In the same way, right based alternatives are necessaries, but not sufficient too. A minimum income it’s right to create a safety net for people in poverty, but it isn’t an answer for a young or adult women or man who would like to have a job. To put another example: a universal health system is a fundamental right based alternative, very useful to prevent people to fall in poverty, but it’s not sufficient to overcome poverty in itself.

Where the economic alternative hit to change the structural cause?

Somehow I’ve answered this question above, showing how right based and economic alternatives are intertwined.

It’s clear that the micro economic alternatives doesn’t change the system, but insert some people into the system; they are alternative because they change – or may change – the power relations.

I can add that, from an historical and empirical point of view, the two side have a circular feedback: people who are improving their economic position, will probably fight for their rights (not only economic), while universal civil, political and social rights give all opportunities to have economic alternatives.

What are the key aspects we need to ensure in our work on creating economic alternative?

I think this question deals with many many issues, but I try to answer with three points:

1) Economic alternatives (in the broad and narrow meaning) have to be effective. If a family starts a small business, it has to be sustainable in the long term, and give the family the very opportunity to escape poverty.

2) Economic alternatives has to be also environmental and social sound. This goal, of course, many times clashes with the first point, but an unjust economic activity is, by definition, not an alternative.

3) Said that, the “problem” of the economic alternatives (and, I think of most of the economic realm) is that many changes – not all, but many – are beneficial to someone and detrimental to others, at least in a comparative way. This point has to be kept in mind, notwithstanding it’s quite impossible to deal with it and, at the same time, do something in this field.

A winning team (to) find a job

I giovani del progetto Lavoro di squadra (Adrian, Marco e Vlad) con Tommaso (Balon Mundial) all'ingresso dell'azienda dove si svolgono i tirocini. Febbraio 2015. Foto di Luca Fanelli/ ActionAid
The project participants (Adrian, Marco e Vlad) with Tommaso (Balon Mundial) in front of the plant where the internships take place. Torino, Italy. February 2015. Photo by Luca Fanelli/ ActionAid

Yes, finally, we made it: on February 2nd, four participants of the project Lavoro di squadra (Teamwork), Adrian, Davide, Marco and Vlad, started working in a large company in Turin. With a six-month internship, with grit and great hopes. As with the whole history of the project, this victory, small and great at the same time, also comes from teamwork: the valuable assist came from Balon Mundial, partner of the project, who had a close relationship with the company; the case manager of the project held the direction of the game; she followed each phase, in a perfect double with the responsible person within the company, always attentive and available. I’m pleased. I’ve heard the guys several times these days to find out how it was going. For some of them, the biggest obstacle is commuting, especially for the first round, so you have to get up for five. But inside the factory, they put grit in it and try to learn.

Yet, it is wrong to focus only on this job placement. The results of the project are more significant and not always easily tangible. For example, having entered the dance team in the spring, two girls have matured during training the idea of resuming studying. One of them is sweating on the benches of an evening technical institute: the road is long and hard, but it is essential to continue and get the diploma; another project partner, ASAI, is helping her with the after-school service. Another guy attempted to enter university in the autumn (three-year nursing course); he didn’t make it, but he’ll try again. In addition to those I mentioned earlier, six young people have acquired new tools to find a job; in one case, the research has borne fruit: Dieter worked as a social health worker in a facility between December and January, and now, with this “fresh” experience of work, he expects to be able to find new opportunities; Soufiane will go to work in a friend’s bakery; Valentina, who fortunately saw her contract as a waitress become more stable thanks to a chance found by another partner, Synergie, come to begin an internship as receptionist and administrative back office at the training institution Manager Srl of Turin, thus approaching a little more her dreams in professional terms.

That said, it seems a little too self-celebratory. There have been difficulties: in involving young people, especially girls; in keeping them in a team; in offering suitable job opportunities to participants. We found that there were too many months of training, that we could start immediately with “training at work”, that a closer alliance with the world of vocational training is fundamental and much more.

All lessons that we will put to good use in the new editions of the project have started in recent months: in Milan with Fondazione Milan, in Alba (CN) with Cooperativa ORSO and the support of Fondazione CRC.

Winning – said Tommaso (Balon Mundial) last September – for them will be to understand in a few years that this project has taught them something… if they arrive in December to find a job or undertake a training path will be very important, but, since we are in a complex world, you can find a job and then lose it, even more, important is to continue and try again with a method and constancy; this is the challenge that they have to overcome and that we hope to be able to take on with these workouts”.

We won a game, the championship continues.

This post appeared in Italian on the ActionAid Italy website.

Under the threshold. We settle it now

I wait for Mrs Maria (we will use this fictitious name out of respect for her privacy) in a room of the Levi Library, a beautiful and welcoming space in the heart of the Barriera district of Milan, on the extreme outskirts of Turin. Maria is the first participant in the ActionAid project “Ora facciamo i conti” (the Italian sentence means both “we settle it now” and “let’s do the math”). 

To put it all, I am a little agitated: right from the start, Maria amazes me for its energy. I was afraid that the meeting issue would make dialogue difficult, but it’s flowing, as between two people sitting in the same train compartment. We are talking about children and rent, studies and passions, the difficulties of making the ends matter, work, travel, and choices.  Maria is one of the 950 people who in Turin saw the application accepted to receive the new purchase card. Since she applied in August 2013, she had to wait nine months to receive it, but her family has had an additional monthly income of just over 300 euros since May this year.

Maria is also one of 475 randomly selected people to participate in an “activation project”. These projects are specific actions that the municipalities must activate in support of the measure, but no funds have been allocated. Therefore, the Municipality of Turin relies on other existing programs, managed by the same municipal structure, but financed externally, as in the case of “lavoro accessorio” (ancillary work, a project in which the person receives a small remuneration to carry out work with associations). Or it seeks to increase the operation of social services; or, finally, it relies on activities or projects carried out by private organisations, as in our case.  If the person who receives the new purchase card does not participate in the “activation project”, they lose it.

Maria is therefore talking to me because she has to, but she doesn’t show it. On the contrary, she says that group work, which I briefly presented to her, will be an opportunity to learn new things.  

The group work consists of six meetings, during which participants will discuss the use of money and address some issues of financial literacy. Each participant will then be able to avail themselves of financial advice and psychological accompaniment free of charge.

Maria has not had a formal and stable job for two and a half years: she has left the labour market due to a set of small health problems and care for her children and has not re-entered it. Like her,  another 55,000 women are unemployed in Turin. In total, with men, you get to 118 thousand people (ISTAT data for the Province of Turin). It is a significant number – the highest rate of all the North Centre’s metropolitan provinces – and one of those that has grown the most since 2007, which means that many of the “newly unemployed” are not used to it.

Precisely the exponential increase in people in poverty since 2007 motivated ActionAid to strongly support the proposal to insert the REIS (Reddito di Inclusione Sociale, i.e. minimum income) in the next budget law, also launching an online petition.

While continuing to work with social card beneficiaries with monitoring and participation activities within personalised activation projects, ActionAid recognises that this measure is too categorial and lacks an organic vision of the fight against poverty. That is why we support a proposal aimed at all families living in absolute poverty in Italy, combining a mix of rights and duties with a strong component of social inclusion.

This post was published on the ActionAid Italia page.

Economic education: some guidelines

Madre e figlio fanno i conti dopo una giornata di lavoro come lavavetri. Torino 2014. Foto di Luca Fanelli
Madre e figlio fanno i conti dopo una giornata di lavoro come lavavetri. Torino 2014. Foto di Luca Fanelli

Lavorando per ActionAid in Piemonte e confrontandomi con le realtà del terzo settore, soprattutto torinesi, la difficoltà nella gestione del bilancio personale e famigliare emerge come fattore che mina la resilienza delle persone e famiglie in difficoltà. Ho quindi sempre caldeggiato un lavoro di ActionAid su questa tematica, soprattutto se è tenuta strettamente insieme a un piano di advocacy sulle politiche sociali in essere. Rimangono fuori da questo orizzonte due elementi strutturali, ovvero la domanda di lavoro e l’offerta di casa a prezzi abbordabili. Rimangono anche parzialmente defilate alcune delle cause strutturali della crescente diseguaglianza che caratterizza la società europea a partire dalla seconda metà degli anni Settanta del Novecento.

Focalizziamo dunque l’attenzione sulla relazione tra difficoltà nella gestione del bilancio personale e famigliare, come fattore che mina la resilienza delle persone e famiglie in difficoltà e le politiche sociali in essere. Già in un seminario che ActionAid, nella persona di Christian Quintili, organizzò nel 2012 – dal quale, per inciso, sono scaturite alcune iniziative di educazione economica presenti sul territorio torinese – lo sforzo era quello di tenere insieme il piano della responsabilità dei decisori sull’uso delle risorse pubbliche e quella delle persone e delle famiglie, sull’uso delle risorse private. Con l’adozione della misura della nuova carta acquisti, decretata ancora dal governo Monti sul finire del 2012 e che solo in questi mesi vede finalmente la luce, è in parte possibile affrontare congiuntamente questi piani. Da un lato, quindi, stiamo monitorando l’implementazione della misura, volta, a offrire prioritariamente a persone inserite in contesti famigliari con figli minori, che hanno perso il lavoro recentemente e che hanno un ISEE di meno di € 3.000, un sussidio condizionato, che per un nucleo di 4 membri ammonta a € 331/ mese. Dall’altra, realizzeremo insieme ad alcuni beneficiari di questa misura dei percorsi di empowerment riguardanti la cittadinanza economica, l’alfabetizzazione finanziaria, il rapporto con il denaro. Si tratta del progetto “Ora facciamo i conti”, una prima fase del quale sarà realizzato grazie a un contributo della Fondazione CRT e che intendiamo ampliare e rafforzare grazie a una rosa di donors.

Ma è possibile aumentare la resilienza e aumentare il benessere delle persone e famiglie in difficoltà mediante un intervento di questo tipo? E’ scontato dire che non è facile e certamente non basta organizzare le proprie spese per “moltiplicare” le poche sostanze disponibili. Ma abbiamo qualche elemento in più? Innanzitutto è bene ricordare, per sgomberare subito il campo da considerazioni che, basandosi sull’aneddotica, vanno ad oscurare il vero – del tipo “com’è che quella persona che non ha come pagare la luce ha un iphone?” – che le famiglie povere spendono in media un terzo delle famiglie non povere (cfr. Accolla, Rovati, 2009, p. 8). Ciò detto, in termini molto sintetici, possiamo cercare di raggruppare le argomentazioni teoriche e gli studi empirici, tra quelli che fanno intendere che sostanzialmente negano che sia possibile agire sulla leva della gestione delle risorse disponibili e quelli che invece affermano che sia possibile.

Uno dei più forti argomenti che ricadono nel primo campo è quello filosofico e antropologico, secondo il quale non ci sono motivi sufficienti per pensare che le scelte economiche delle persone povere siano più inefficienti, anche nel medio-lungo periodo, rispetto alle scelte delle persone non povere; detto semplicemente da una voce autorevole, “i poveri non sono meno razionali di chiunque altro – è semmai vero il contrario” (Banerjee, Duflo, 2011, Foreword, 203); la persistenza della povertà sarebbe quindi determinata dalle condizioni di partenza, da un lato, e dalla “trappola della povertà”, dall’altra, che, tradotta in termini semplici, significa che per iniziare a risalire la china è necessario superare una boa, ma che superare questa boa è incredibilmente difficile. Nei paesi “ricchi” alcuni elementi di questa “trappola della povertà” sono la relativa maggiore difficoltà nel trovare un buon lavoro, nel proseguire gli studi, nel risparmiare per i tempi peggiori, nell’essere in buona salute, nel non avere problemi con la giustizia. La questione centrale del risparmio riguarda la sottrazione di risorse per consumi immediati, a favore di consumi procrastinati o investimenti. Secondo il concetto dell’utilità marginale, una condotta siffatta è sensata, in quanto nel momento in cui si consumano due unità di un bene nel presente, l’utilità marginale della seconda è inferiore all’utilità della stessa in un futuro in cui la possibilità di consumare sia zero; in altre parole, l’allocazione equimarginale delle risorse è la condotta più sensata. E’ però probabile che tale concettualizzazione del problema sia errata in quanto, al di sotto di una determinata soglia, il consumo di unità aggiuntive di un bene non ha un’utilità decrescente, ma crescente (può essere più piacevole una telefonata di 10 minuti con un parente lontano, piuttosto che una di 5 minuti oggi, per farne un’altra di 5 minuti tra un mese); ciò vale a maggior ragione per quei consumi con soglie ben definite, prima di raggiungere le quali ogni frazione di spesa è inutile (sul lungo periodo pagare 1/3 dell’affitto non mi garantisce di non essere sfrattato alla stessa stregua di non pagarlo). A ciò si aggiunge il fatto che le persone in condizione di povertà possono essere molto “scettici sulle opportunità e possibilità di cambiare radicamente le proprie vite” (Id, 815)

Sul versante opposto, secondo il quale è possibile fare leva sulla gestione delle risorse disponibili, un primo spunto ci viene dalla teoria, maturata nelle scienze psicologiche e cognitive, dell'”ego-depletion”, ovvero dell’esaurimento dell’ego; secondo questa linea teorica (toccata ad es. da Kahneman, 2011, ma trattata nel dettaglio, per quanto riguarda questo ambito, da Spears, 2010), il fatto di dover operare scelte di allocazione di risorse molto limitate, genera una diminuzione della capacità di controllo di sé stessi e dunque scelte non molto sensate; questo vale soprattutto per gli ambiti di consumo quotidiano, come la spesa al supermercato o le scommesse. Un’altra indicazione, molto differente, ci viene nuovamente dall’ambito sociologico e antropologico. Qui si afferma che sia possibile, anche per persone in difficoltà, operare una “riconcettualizzazione” dei propri ambiti di consumo e investimento, tale per cui, invece di agire sulla capacità di agire – come nel caso della teoria dell’”ego depletion”, si agisce sull’ambito valoriale, ovvero delle preferenze e degli obiettivi (Vargiu, 2009, pp. 76 e ssg.).

Ritengo che da questo excursus teorico si possano trarre alcune indicazioni di ordine pratico:

  • la ricerca empirica sulla gestione delle risorse da parte di persone in difficoltà è molto limitata e dunque vi sono probabilmente ampi margini di ulteriore analisi e comprensione, che consenta da un lato di dare un più efficace supporto a queste persone o famiglie e, dall’altro, a disegnare meglio le politiche;
  • è necessario sgomberare il campo da tutte le interpretazioni che attribuiscono alle persone in difficoltà, in termini generali, comportamenti irrazionali; ciò non è solo arrogante e moralmente deprecabile, ma fa battere, in termini di azione, strade “senza uscita”;
  • specularmente, gli approcci che non tengono in debito conto il contesto psicologico di ogni scelta, anche quella relativa alla gestione delle risorse economiche, e che dunque ritengono che basti informare per avere risultati, sono destinati a non avere successo;
  • tutte le diverse opzioni teoriche, gioco forza, non tengono conto delle differenze soggettive; è dunque possibile che un altro spazio “di manovra” sia dato da un lavoro che, basandosi sull’auto-aiuto e la formazione peer-to-peer, consenta a persone e famiglie, anche povere, ed anche caratterizzare da un complesso culturale e valoriale simile, ma che hanno una gestione delle risorse più orientata alla resilienza e al benessere, di altre, di aiutare queste ultime;
  • molto c’è da lavorare nei termini della costruzione di subculture, o opzioni valoriali che consentano maggiore benessere, anche a fronte di una limitata dotazione di risorse iniziali; a sostegno di questa linea d’azione va sicuramente lo sviluppo di “nuovi modelli di consumo”, che è andata crescendo negli ultimi decenni, nonché il recupero, la valorizzazione e il rafforzamento di forme di mutualismo; va invece contro questa linea l’incapacità proprio di queste opzioni culturali a farsi veramente nazional-popolari; è inoltre a mio avvio imprescindibile che, affinché non sia completamente frustrata, questa opzione deve prevedere delle concrete opportunità di miglioramento progressivo, per quanto contenuto, della dotazione di risorse (da parte di chi ne ha veramente troppo poche).

Bibliografia citata

Gisella Accolla, Giancarlo Rovati, I consumi dei poveri in quattro regioni italiane, in Laura Bovone and Carla Lunghi (a cura di), Consumi ai margini, Donzelli, Roma 2009

Abhijit V. Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Poor Economics. A radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty, PublicAffairs 2011

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, fast and slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 2011

Dean Spears, Economic decision-making in poverty depletes behavioral control, «CEPS Working Paper», n. 213, 2010

Andrea Vargiu, Negoziare la marginalità attraverso il consumo di beni e servizi, in Laura Bovone and Carla Lunghi (a cura di), Consumi ai margini, Donzelli, Roma 2009

Why economic education?

luca fanelli, spray001, 2012

In the last six months, I have approached the theme of economic education, new for me but very close to my constant interest in economic anthropology. I’m doing that within the framework of ActionAid’s territorial development programme in Piemonte, which I’m leading.

I contributed to the design of the project New poverty and participation, which intertwines the fight against poverty through economic education, the request for accountability to local institutions, and therefore a process of advocacy from below. I also contributed to the “Economic and Financial Literacy / Public Expenditure and Family Budgets. Experimentation of the ELBAG methodology” training seminar, held in Bologna May the 5th to 7th, 2012. I then participated in the draft of the seminar proceedings. Finally, I helped design several projects related to the economic education of vulnerable sections of the population.

Reflecting on these issues, I often go back to the years I worked closely with the Amazon o Vale do Ribeira peasants. I think there is symmetry between what is happening among these peasants and the people in poverty in Italy. The peasants I have known, especially those between 25 and 45, are engaged in a cognitive effort. They try to figure out which goods advertised on TV are worth changing their work and life habits to have the financial resources to buy them. Here the issue is understanding which goods or services you can do without and which ones you can’t. From a cognitive point of view, the game is specular, although acquiring is always more joyful than losing.


I do not believe dividing the necessary goods from the superfluous ones is possible. Each of us creates a multidimensional map in this respect: at the centre, we put what we deem indispensable, at the extreme periphery, what does not interest us. There is a pretty significant agreement concerning the place of many items, while many others are in very different positions, depending on the person. This multidimensional map is not static: objects move, slowly or suddenly, depending on the case; these movements are both personal and social. 

Matching this mental map with purchasing power is a complex and sometimes painful exercise. Toward the bottom of the economic distribution, it is difficult to change the available income easily. However, I assume that the map could have a remarkable influence on households’ choices regarding work and occupation. 

A further distinguishing factor in the map is separating what we want to enjoy by owning it and what we prefer to share with others. In this case, too, placing a good /service in one or the other category makes the difference; similarly, there are limits dictated from the outside: not everything is privatizable, not everything can be made public (or communitarian), some goods/ services if enjoyed in the community have some value, if enjoyed privately, they have another one. Moving something from the public sphere to the community one and the private one implies moving the line between rights and duties 1.

Updated in January the 8th, 2022.

  1. This issue is now very problematic: one of the factors of the “civil crisis” that is going through is that we renounce claiming rights, reserving the right not to fulfil our duties.

The right to change

Cover of the ActionAid's book

On the occasion of the United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice, ActionAid International Italy launched a new book: Il diritto di cambiare. Le sfide della giustizia sociale in Italia e nel mondo [The right to change. The challenges of the social justice in Italy and in the world] (ed. Infinito).

“Social justice – as we read on the back cover – is the opportunity for everyone to be included in her/his own society, to participate to the decision making that affect him/her, and to be granted a sufficient level of security, of education and of access to information”.

But why “the right to change”? In order to mainstream social justice, a deep change is needed; and the willingness of a person and of a community «to engage him/herself is the first requirement for those who pursue a change» (p. 10).

The book points out some cases of promotion of the social justice, in the Southern as in the Northern part of the world, organised in three main areas: food right, women rights and citizen participation.

The book resulted from a joint work within the organisation. I contributed with the research for the case related to food right in Italy.

ActionAid International Italy web site.

Link to book page on the publisher website (in Italian).