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The Poverty Stoplight: A Technological Aid Revolution


In Paraguay, where the poverty rate is 35 percent, the challenges of providing strategic and meaningful aid seem overwhelming. However, the Poverty Stoplight, a newly developed technology to help families self-assess poverty in their lives, is transforming communities.

In the words of Martin Burt, founder of Fundación Paraguaya and creator of the Poverty Stoplight, the technology “enables poor people to self-diagnose their own level of poverty in 30 minutes using a smartphone or tablet.” The app works through a survey that utilizes images as well as a color-coded system to identify extreme poverty with red, poverty with yellow, or no poverty with green. Families complete the survey by examining their poverty level in a number of different areas: Income and Employment, Health and Environment, Housing and Infrastructure, Education and Culture, Organization and Participation and Interiority and Motivation.

These six categories encompass 50 different indicators of poverty in Paraguay and therefore provide a multidimensional understanding of the circumstances faced by families in disadvantaged areas. Once they receive their results, families work with local community support to come up with a plan for improvement in red or yellow areas.

The international community also recognized the Poverty Stoplight for its efficacy in supporting gender equality. Many of the aid plans for families in impoverished communities include microfinance efforts to provide opportunities for women as well as training to reduce sexual harassment. Thanks to the technology of the Stoplight, many Paraguayan women are lifting their families out of poverty as owners of their own micro-franchises.

The color-coding mechanism of the Poverty Stoplight works beyond helping families describe their living situation by creating maps of countries, regions, even neighborhoods, that reflect the level of poverty in any given category. These maps help struggling families to identify others who face the same challenges or those who may have already overcome them, providing an opportunity for support and mentorship.

The Poverty Stoplight maps also allow governments and aid organizations to more fully understand the problems in these areas so that strategic plans can better support those who need it. By encouraging people to think of themselves “less as beneficiaries [of aid] and more as empowered agents of change,” the Poverty Stoplight is a respectful, insightful, and exciting tool for change.

In 2014, with only $1.5 million in donations and funds, the Poverty Stoplight helped improve the welfare of 18,000 Paraguayan families, an estimated 92,000 people. The low-cost nature of the technology, as well as it’s comprehensive strategies for assessing poverty in any given community, make it incredibly versatile.

As this revolutionary tool continues to eliminate poverty in Paraguay, it is migrating to other regions around the world. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 18 different countries have already integrated this new technology into their support initiatives, demonstrating the name Poverty Stoplight is quickly making for itself as a means of revolutionizing our modern strategies for identifying and alleviating poverty.

Kathleen Kelso

Photo: Flickr