“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.”
— Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet
How does BRAC, the world’s largest non-governmental organization (NGO), develop pathways out of poverty for the poorest people in a village? They begin with a map. As you see in the photo on the cover of this report, they bring the village together and start drawing maps in the dirt, identifying each household, market, business, and place of worship. They then ask the help of the community to identify the poorest households, marking each one on the map. Their work begins with those households.
This painstaking, household-by-household approach of identifying the excluded and locating them within their community and context represents the next step that we need to take to achieve a new set of ambitious global development goals.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations aimed at cutting world poverty in half by the end of this year. By some measure, that goal has been achieved, although primarily through large reductions in populous Asian countries offsetting much more modest reductions in other parts of the world. UN member states recently approved a new set of 17 objectives, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first SDG calls for the end of extreme poverty by 2030.
The World Bank Group shares in this goal. Bank President Jim Kim has focused the work of his institution around two goals: 1) end extreme poverty by 2030 and 2) boost shared prosperity among the 40 percent of the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries. The Bank has also established a goal of achieving universal financial access by 2020 as one means of supporting the 2030 goals.
At the Microcredit Summit Campaign, one of our key roles has been to work with the microfinance community to set global goals. We first sought to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest families with microcredit and other financial services. When the microfinance community reached these targets 10 years later, we set two new goals: 1) reaching 175 million of the poorest families with credit for self-employment and other financial and business services, and 2) helping 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty. This report presents the performance of the global microfinance community against these goals.
The report also describes something that the global development community has proven less adept at: drawing maps that show how — and where — a variety of disparate organizations can work together to achieve the goals. The uneven performance of many countries in realizing the MDGs demonstrates this clearly. According to the 2015 MDG report, we know that the performance was especially uneven between urban and rural areas. Without maps to show who needed to be reached to achieve each goal, and what facilities and resources would be required to meet them, countries missed reaching large segments of their population with their MDG plans.
The numbers we report here on microfinance outreach reveal a similar story. While the total number of microfinance borrowers served worldwide continues to recover and grow, following a setback in India in 2010 (due to the Andhra Pradesh crisis), the number (as measured) of poorest clients reached continues to shrink. Without mapping where these potential clients live and work, and without developing effective strategies to provide them with products and services appropriate to their needs and aspirations, we will not reach our goal of seeing 100 million families move out of extreme poverty.
Those who want to reach audacious goals need to draw a map of how to get there. We learned this from the governments of Ecuador and Ethiopia. In Ecuador, the vice president’s office has made a goal of ensuring that the country includes all persons with a disability (PWDs) in the national plans and economic life of the community. One step in achieving this goal involved the development of disaster preparedness strategies that include emergency evacuation plans for all PWDs. This required working with enumerators to identify the household of each PWD, then creating a plan for evacuating that person in the case of a disaster.
The government of Ethiopia set a goal of making its land and its people less vulnerable to drought. To achieve this goal, the government mapped out the number of people living in vulnerable areas and worked with their communities to understand the factors that created vulnerability and develop solutions to increase resilience. They developed a massive Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) that reaches over 10 million people and has helped reduce the poverty level in Ethiopia from 56 percent to 31 percent (2001–2011).
Maps also help us identify who might be left out. They also help us make connections between factors that might seem unrelated to each other. The map drawn by John Snow in 1855 provides one of the most famous examples of this. The city of London faced a cholera epidemic in 1854. At that time, the most popular theory claimed that people caught cholera through miasma, or breathing infected air. Snow had a different concept and drew a map to prove it. In his map of the Soho neighborhood, Snow used a bar to depict the location of each person who had died of cholera. Then, he identified each of the water pumps in the neighborhood with lines encircling all the homes that used each pump. His map clearly demonstrated that almost all the people who died had been using the same water pump. The neighborhood council responded to his map with swift and decisive action: they took the handle off the pump and brought an end to the epidemic.
Another sneak peek coming tomorrow! Countdown to the launch on December 9th!
 For the full list of SDGs and their descriptions, see http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/.
 World Bank Group, “Ethiopia Poverty Assessment 2014.”
- New York Times, “Mapping Poverty in America: Data from the Census Bureau show where the poor live.”
- Alex Fischer, “Critical Role for Geospatial Data in Advancing Sustainable Development Goals”
- Michael Green, TED Talks, “How We Can Make the World a Better Place by 2030″