Rajiv Shah: We Are Within Reach of a World Without Extreme Poverty

Fred Dews
Fred Dews Managing Editor, New Digital Products - Office of Communications

November 21, 2013

Over 1.2 billion people worldwide live in extreme poverty. The goal of ending extreme global poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day, is now the focus of many global bodies and leaders, including the World Bank and the U.S. government as expressed by President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union address. In an event today hosted by the Development Assistance and Governance Initiative at Brookings, Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for a discussion about how the United States can contribute to the objective of ending extreme poverty.

Shah said that “Today we stand within reach of a world that was simply unimaginable, a world without extreme poverty.” Noting that poverty rates have been falling in every region worldwide, including in Africa, Shah said “we now have a road map out of extreme poverty that is driven by broad-based economic growth and clear, transparent democratic governance.” (His prepared remarks are now available at

Shah emphasized that although the U.S. is the world’s largest bi-lateral donor, “we know we cannot pay our way out of extreme poverty.” We need, he said, “a new model of development that creates public-private partnerships” to “drive investments in ending the most devastating consequences of child hunger and child death.”

He spoke to the problem of conflict, calling it “essentially development in reverse.” In the nexus of security and development, “Peace is a precondition to long-term development.” As “the world’s leader in humanitarian aid and assistance,” the United States “is uniquely positioned to help lead this final fight to end extreme poverty.”

Brookings Senior Fellow Homi Kharas, deputy director of the Global Economy and Development Program at Brookings, delivered introductory remarks. Shah in his question & answer period with Kharas, emphasized three areas of USAID focus in the near future:

1. Public-private resources and innovations: “There’s this new model of development that is emerging, it still has to be proven at scale and seeing that through in agriculture and power, and understanding its application to other sectors of work will be a continued area of focus and challenge.”

2. Fragility and areas entrenched in conflict: “This focus on fragility and really understanding it, knowing how to measure fragility, understanding when you can be helpful and when you need to be cautious about making large investments in fragile environments, understanding how to fight corruption in fragile environments even as you want to make rapid gains in health and welfare.”

3. Resilience: “It is probably not possible … to end extreme poverty so long as the same very low-income communities get hit with the same major catastrophes over and over and over again, and so long as we keep providing a large amount of emergency assistance without building the core resilience … we need to do an even more focused job at delivering on the resilience agenda.”

A panel discussion ensued, which included Brookings Fellow Laurence Chandy, author of a recent report on ending extreme poverty by 2030.

Get an archived webcast and full audio of the remarks and panel discussion here.

Get more Brookings research and activity on ending extreme global poverty.

Colleen Lineweaver contributed to this post.