World Bank Conference on the “Hidden Dimensions of Poverty” International research in Washington DC

On Thursday 15th February ATD Ireland National Co- Ordinator Dann Kenningham  joined a delegation involved in the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty International research presenting at a conference at the World Bank in Washington DC “Addressing the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty in Knowledge and Policies”.  Dann Co -ordinated the Hidden Dimensions of poverty research in the UK.  Below are his reflections on the event.

Having the invitation to the World Bank & IMF felt at first like stepping on unholy ground .. stepping into the belly of the beast.

But having the opportunity to present the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty International Research; a piece of work I was personally involved in for over 4 years from inception to conclusion was such an opportunity not to be missed.

My main responsibility as a UK delegate was to accompany Thomas (ATD Fourth World UK activist) and Rachel Broady(University Academic and Journalist) both Co-researchers in our UK research, as well as Professor Robert Walker Oxford University & International Research lead.


In the morning, a collective presentation was made by a panel of co- researchers from international and national research teams including;

Maryann Broxton, ATD Fourth World activist, coordinator US Research Team Robert Walker, Professor at Oxford University and Beijing Normal University, coordinator International Research Team Pelagie Mukampamira, ATD Fourth World’s regional delegate for Africa, Tanzania Research Team, Roxana Quispe, ATD Fourth World activist, Bolivia Research Team Thomas Mayes, ATD Fourth World, UK Research Team Kitojo Wetengere, Professor at Arusha University, Tanzania Research Team.

Looking back at this first impression after such an insightful conference, it was clear to see that the World Bank & IMF both had the aspirations to eradicate poverty ‘ A world without poverty etc’ .  However, both institutions were clearly missing an essential element in this goal… to include, involve, take on board the ideas, experience and thinking of people with lived experience of poverty in their anti-poverty strategies. 

To the point where one member of the IMF explained that this inclusion is not at all apparent in their anti-poverty programmes.

It was in this area where ATD Fourth World International could build our case.  This inclusion of people with lived experience of poverty was at the heart of our interventions, presentations and conversations during the conference.

I was extremely proud of the way we presented our work; through the diverse, international voices of those with lived experience of poverty, academics and practitioners. We had a confidence in our words, our research and our practice and I genuinely felt the IMF and World Bank were open to listening.

There was a sense of coming from different cultural worlds, a conflicting epistemological stance- like a square peg in a round hole- between ATD Fourth World and these two mammoth institutions. But throughout the day there was some real signs of opening up to our differences and even some willingness to collaborate. 

Especially in our smaller workshops, members of both institutions vocalised the value of including the experience of people living in poverty in ways that would enhance their anti-poverty programmes.

I was very proud of the way our UK delegates ran our morning workshop, in a way that represented our experience of participatory methodologies used in the research and having the time to present clear concrete learnings. 

The first morning workshop we were involved in was on “Fighting injustice in the building of knowledge from the experience of the UK ATD Fourth World research team”. 

Co-chairs: Robert Walker, Oxford University and Beijing Normal University, coordinator International Research Team Vincenzo Di Maro, Senior Economist, Poverty & Equity Global Practice, World Bank Contributors: Thomas Mayes, ATD Fourth World Activist, UK Research Team Dann Kenningham, ATD Fourth World, coordinator UK Research Team Rachel Broady, Liverpool John Moores University, academic researcher Ali Abbas, Assistant Director European Department IMF and UK mission chief. 

The workshop involved high ranking members of the World Bank, IMF and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Poverty and Human Rights, among other guests.  We began by asking them to take part in a body mapping individual exercise, with the question of “how does poverty feel?” (Through our own lived or professional experience)

Taking time to work on this and then share around the room the responses created the condition for some real conversations and considerations.

One highlight in this workshop was when the IMF UK director mentioned a UK anti-poverty programme as a positive action, and Thomas (ATD UK community activist) directly responded saying that through his own direct experience this programme excluded many people living in poverty due to a detail that was overlooked in its delivery, and a lack of seeing the full picture.

This key exchange highlighted the importance of including this lived experience in developing strategies. 


An afternoon session was on “Involving people in poverty in the design, implementation and evaluation of the policies that affect them: Presentation of the Inclusive Deliberative Elaboration and Evaluation of Policies tool (IDEEP)”.  Presentation by : Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Xavier Godinot, Research Director, ATD Fourth World Comments by: Asha Athumani Mohamed, ATD Fourth World activist from Tanzania Emma Poma, ATD Fourth World activist from Bolivia Rita Ramalho, Lead Economist, Governance Global Practice, World Bank

Finally we had an afternoon workshop around “How to promote meaningful participation of people in poverty in the development of anti-poverty strategies from the experience of the UK and the US ATD Research teams”–  Co-chairs: Bruno Tardieu, ATD Fourth World, former director of the Joseph Wresinski Centre for Poverty Research and History Gabriela Cugat, Economist, Research Department, IMF

Contributors: Thomas Mayes, ATD Fourth World Activist, UK Research Team Dann Kenningham, ATD Fourth World, coordinator UK Research Team Rachel Broady, Liverpool John Moores University, academic researcher Donna Haig Friedman, University of Massachusetts Boston, senior Research Fellow and Former Director at Center for Social Policy Nigel Chalk, Deputy Director Western Hemisphere Department, IMF and US mission chief

The way our International Delegates presented, with confidence and clarity, the learnings from our International Research and responded to the live questions was also key to the success of the conference.

Thomas presented three of the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty in the main plenary to a large present in person and over zoom audience with a deep genuine sense of lived knowledge and expertise, including some personally lived experience. It was a very meaningful moment, clearly impressing the guests, that took a lot of courage and effort.

In conclusion; this ambitious conference, with the aim of building a deeper partnership between the World Bank, IMF and ATD Fourth World International, I believe was very successful and testament to many years of collective work and the bravery of those whose voice is all too often ignored.

We wait now to build some very concrete pilot projects with these institutions where we can learn more together how to include the expertise of those living in poverty.

We say ‘hidden dimensions’ of poverty. But these dimensions have always been here. It’s just that the right people were never asked or listened to before.”– Maryann

“People with direct, lived experience of poverty are the experts. We understand the financial realities; the psychological impact; the navigation of the welfare system; the burden of stigma; the impact of negative discourse used by media, policymakers, politicians. We can recognise the threat of government talk of changing the welfare system and can interpret the disingenuous talk of welfare dependency. We see the individualising, sentimentalising, and masking of the broader experience and how this can, ultimately, only tweak rather than work to eradicate poverty. If treated as equals, as legitimate contributors, people with direct, lived experience can contribute in a non-official authentic way to discussion. That contribution is not additional but essential. Any examination of poverty is weaker without that input.”- Rachel

“At the beginning of the project, when decisions were being taken about how to approach the project as a whole and how to run things, I never knew if my thoughts were as important as an academic who had done research before. I didn’t know I had the right to speak out. It took time before I felt comfortable disagreeing with academics and putting forward my own thoughts. It was the building of trust amongst us all that allowed me to disagree and add my input. Do not underestimate the impact of hearing academics themselves disagree while making a point that you yourself are too afraid to say out loud! This is why it is important to be involved from the beginning. If you are simply dropped into a project along the way, you miss out on building trust and are not in a position to be strong enough to disagree with the voices in the room. It was a strange sensation being classed as a researcher. It meant a lot to me to be in the privileged position of hearing other people’s experiences, analysing those responses and working with data.”– Thomas

Watch the recorded livestreams of the main plenary sessions here

Congratulations to Dann, Thomas, Rachel and all for their contributions to this important and influential event.