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knowledge africa

Using knowledge to empower poor people

Shanta Devarajan's picture

I felt privileged to speak to the freshman class of Princeton University, my alma mater, at the annual “Reflections on Service”  event organized by the Pace Center.  In my speech, I drew on my work on the 2004 World Development Report, Making Service Work for Poor People and since then in South Asia and Africa, as well as my village immersion experience living and working with a woman in Gujarat, India who earns $1.25 a day. 

Both sets of experiences taught me how government programs—in health, education, water, sanitation, agriculture, infrastructure—that are intended to benefit the poor often fail to do so because they are captured by the non-poor who are politically more powerful.  I suggested to the students that, in addition to getting a good education and undertaking volunteer activities, they consider using their education to inform poor people, so that they can bring pressure to bear on politicians for pro-poor reforms.  The two examples I used to illustrate—citizen report cards in Bangalore and public expenditure tracking surveys in Uganda—were from the 1990s; with the penetration of cell phones in Africa and South Asia, getting knowledge to poor people in 2011 should be easier.