Identifying solutions and building networks – the challenge for the Addis Ababa child poverty conference

Three boys in a doorway
17 October 2017


One year ago, writing about the launch of the Global Coalition to End Child Poverty’s new website, I noted the question for child poverty was not so much the matter of identifying growing up in poverty as a problem, but the types of policies and programmes needed to overcome it. As we mark the United Nations led International Day for the Eradication of Poverty with a call for pathways toward peaceful and inclusive societies, this blog looks ahead to the work of Young Lives and the Coalition. Next week, the Coalition, with many other organisations including the Ethiopian Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, is bringing together those researchers, practitioners and policy stakeholders determined to respond to this question at the ‘Putting Children First: Identifying Solutions and Taking Action to Tackle Poverty and Inequality in Africa’ conference in Addis Ababa (follow #PuttingChildrenFirst for more).

The scope of the conference is child poverty in Africa. Themes include identifying who poor children are and where they live; child sensitive social protection; basic services and marginalisation and supporting transitions to adulthood. The themes will tap into latest identification of the problems and practical thinking around policy shifts. A year ago, I wrote about inequality and the global Sustainable Development Goals. For me, one of the most critical questions is how national policy debates are dealing with that agenda. Do international agendas around ‘leaving no one behind’, connect with national questions of prioritisation, resources and implementation? And how...

Some context is clear. Economic growth in many African countries has occurred alongside advances in child survival, access to basic services and near universal enrolment in primary school. But major challenges remain to child rights and children’s well-being. Impressive national expansions in social policies around protection prompt questions of how these areas are paying off for children.

The conference will provide a space to debate these questions. Conference aims include identifying solutions that work in African countries; discussing policy and programming challenges; and fostering links and networks between researchers and policy makers. Young Lives Director Professor Jo Boyden will give a keynote speech on transitions to adulthood. Other colleagues will present evidence (including work from Ethiopia) focusing on new findings relating to schooling, multidimensional poverty and sharing surprising successes (and identifying what helped them to be such) of children who did well despite their early odds.  

A closing question is what can Young Lives contribute to this? Currently, there is much focus on ‘what works’ in policy. While this is great in determining the evidence base for specific interventions, such a focus can also be quite narrow. What Young Lives brings to discussions and goals is something broader: a consideration of what matters in children’s lives. That question of what matters most is an important light to inform what policy ought to focus on to do better for children.

One big challenge colleagues are working on is making the best use (and the most sense) of information provided by children and their families over the first five research waves of the Young Lives study (from 2002 to the most recent data collection period in 2016/17). Key areas of focus for us as we assimilate and consider findings from these five research rounds include focussed attention on children’s healthy growth; their education; and what happens in adolescence. A key challenge for us in writing up those findings is to make sure that they connect with needs for evidence so I'll be listening hard to the experience and research about policy from across many African countries with that in mind.