Oxford launches poverty-fighting vehicle
Hello from the newsroom of the financial times. In london. I'm Katie Martin Oxford University's just launched its first social enterprise spinout aimed at helping companies identify hidden poverty among their workers and take action to alleviate the problem. The initiative uses a new definition of poverty that takes into account factors other than income. John hammock is co-founder talks to Andrew Jack about the initiative. Tell us John. What exactly is OFI the Oxford, poverty and human development initiative OFI is a center at the Oxford department of international development at the university of Oxford. It is a research and policy center. And it created something called the multidimensional poverty index, which is a way of measuring poverty in all its dimensions poverty every in the world is measured by income. But that's not a good proxy for poverty. And so what OFI did is developed a methodology which is now used by many countries to measure poverty in its social dimension such as -education, health and housing. So would be a more sophisticated in useful definition, more generally of poverty. If income really isn't enough. Well, if you talked to any poor person, they're going to tell you that they're poor by income perhaps. But that doesn't define their whole situation. They're usually poor by housing education, nutrition health, and what the multidimensional poverty index says is it takes the national definition of that poverty 'cause we had Oxford cannot define the poverty of Bangladesh to find the poverty of Colombia or Africa country. And so they themselves come up with their definition of the poverty and the social aspects that they're think are crucial in their country. And that's becomes this local definition of poverty. Create some problems in terms of trying to compare then between regions or countries. Yes. And that's why we've also created a global multinational poverty index, and we do that with the United Nations and that then compares one hundred and three countries and their poverty, and that gives you a standard by which the compare all countries and that is different than the national measures. So what we? We've done is. We created to just like an income income has a national measure by country, but there's also international World Bank measure that compares countries to the international measure you've developed what would be the three thrill fool bake common. Denominators or drivers of the index. The common denominators of index are education health, and then what would have to be called social protection issues like 'electricity water and those kinds of issues it's mostly related to those. Because those are the ones that have comparible data over one hundred three countries, give us a sense, then when you start to use this mall nuanced approach to public-, how does it change the sort of common perception of the world's poorest nations, for instance? Well, I mean, it's very clear that when these studies are done most for people in terms of individuals are in South Asia, and in China, and so it gives you a sense of where the poor people are. But the thing that really has been excited about the OFI workers that we're now finding that a lot of the multi. Poor people are people who are left behind and middle income countries. So it's not just countries that we normally think of that are poor. But rather countries that are also middle income countries have large number of very poor people within them if you look at their social poverty, and what we've done now is to try to take this methodology and applied it to the private sector, and that's the innovative area that we're moving into how does that work? How does that work in the private sector? Well about two years ago. I got a call from a Bank in Central America called the back chromatic. And they said, do you think they're any poor people in my Bank? They all get paid. Well, so we did an initial study. And they found that twelve percent of their employees were not mentally poor. They're reporting housing there were because their family members couldn't get work there were poor because of health, etc. So because of that experiment, we then decided to set up a business. I a multidimensional poverty index that we're focused on business exclusively. And that's why we set up so feel Oxford which is a spin out company. It's the first socially responsible, spin out company, the university of first social enterprise. The university is spun out lots of full profit entities around for example, drug developments and the like, but this would be the first social enterprise that's existed been spun out in a legal entity. That's correct. And as you said, the university has a lot of spin outs that they've done in the private sector. This is now to set up a social enterprise using business principles to run it. But the objective of this is to measure, the poverty of the employees and the families of private sector companies in order for them to know, what the poverty is of their employees in order to do something about it. And as we have already seen in Costa Rica was we've modeled us in Costa Rica for the last two years with our partner or placebo there, and they have shown very clearly that businesses that measure, the poverty, their employees and do something about it. Make better employee's more efficient more effective, and they're very excited about this project in terms of companies using OC. How would you what would they pay something to you for access to your data the way? The has worked so far is that the companies work with a local organization in Costa Rica's got only onto possible and the companies pay or result a fee for working on this with them. And they then do their own interviews of their own employees and their staffs because we don't have that data. They have the data. They then get the information. And then they do the policy in the work around how to solve that issue. So the program is new we've only been doing this for a year, and what we're doing now is launching this as an effort of Oxford University to try to bring it out of Costa Rica into other countries in two other companies since you you'd be providing us to question as the questions the data points to ask. And then the companies individually would then go out and do that the room workforce's. Yes, we provide the platform the technical assistance to the businesses the businesses, then will know how to use it we provide assistance during the first process make sure that it is done correctly. And then also we are going to provide. We haven't done this yet. But we will provide a seal which Sophia Oxford. We'll give companies that are doing this. And do a good job. They'll sort of get a seal to verify that they've done this. And I think that is something that companies are very excited about because it will show that they're actually doing something to not just improve the lives of their employees. But doing something if I- poverty. Example that in Latin America, the result has been that the company having looked to the data has started to develop some particular interventions to tackle the hidden poverty that they found amongst employee's. That's correct. Our local partner there or he's not CD ROY is a business association. They're now working with us with forty two businesses. But to give you an example of that Bank. I mentioned which is back bucket. Chrome attic, it's the largest Bank in Central America. They found twelve percent of their employees were poor. They then started programs to deal with those issues of poverty. So for example, the board of directors of the Bank decided to set up a fund first of all with their own money to deal with one of the issues housing and other issue with love the people had problems just doing all the work to get to the health benefits. So they started setting up small programs to deal with the poverty of each individual as the program has gotten larger and we now have forty two businesses. We find that their similarities, and we also find it's possible to then join with the government and do public. Partnerships to tackle some of the issues together. And then the business model. More broadly says the companies would pay a fee to Sophea Oxford. And then you would do what with the revenues you make well our goal is to become totally self sufficient organized. Now is a limited guarantee company in England as a nonprofit in the United States, and our business model is one that shows income coming in a revenue stream coming in from the businesses over time. And as we grow the model and working more businesses. The money will come both of unto expansion of that project itself so that we can move into other countries. And then eventually also fund the research at OFI, which will then give the department of international development and also OFI the funds to do more creative research on poverty. Do you have any other back his or investors even the project? Well, right now, that's our limitation like any good project that starting up. I think we have at this point three individual investors in the project. We're looking for others because we're right at the point where the concept, we know works 'cause it's worked in Costa Rica? We're ready to move it and expanded. And we're in the process of doing exactly that trying to find investors who invest in this idea and help us move it forward. Investigate. Well, we have individuals they're all individual people both from England and the United States our next country will be we're working Columbia. We're about to sign an agreement with the Colombian private sector to expand this model there, and they're the private sector in Colombia will also help pay for this, our technical assistance. Costa Rica's finished Columbia second off to their the other areas. Geographically or indeed sectors of industry that you'll we're going to be targeting. Well, we're not targeting sectors of industry at this point. We're hoping to get more sort of experience under our belt before we then move out. Slowly, our goal is to move globally. We are focusing geographically on countries. Right at this point. However, we also know that we have a number of global companies that are interested in working on this globally, not just by country. And we are in the process of trying to set up a platform to be able to deal with that demand. Are there any competitors? In this space, you think alternative forms of data that might help employers or indeed the public sector trying to get this more nuanced approach to policy. Well, I think that at the national level in the government space, the MPI of the oh fee measure has been adopted by a number of countries in Latin America Africa, Asia's been adopted by the World Bank. It's been adopted by the United Nations, it's sort of become the standard, and it's becoming the standard worldwide. That's not of course to the private sector goes. We're just starting up. But our goal is this will become the standard at the private sector also within let's say five six years that it will become something that companies are wanting to do and at this point. There is no other organization that I know of it's actually working with this methodology trying to bring this kind of very specific measurable data to bear on this issue. Very interesting innovative projects who good luck with a thank you very much. Thank you. That was Andrea junk token to Joan hammock co founder of the oaks with poverty and human development initiative. Thanks for listening. Remember, if you already a subscriber and would like to discover more F T content. You can find our latest subscription at F T dot com slash offer.