One year after President Obama pledged the United States’ commitment to work with partners to end extreme poverty by 2030, the Center for American Progress convened a conversation as part of USAID’s think tank series on just what it will take to get there.

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

I was especially pleased to join the conversation having just returned from a very vivid and sobering visit to the Central African Republic — practically the poster child for why development matters and especially why inclusive, legitimate governance and security matter as part of development. Nearly 63 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty in this land-locked country in the middle of Africa, now riddled with spiraling violence.  And despite the enormous need for basics like food and shelter, the most pressing concern of everyone I met with was the need for security. Today’s insecurity—often called a religious conflict—has its real roots in the deeply connected issues of chronic poverty and the lack of an inclusive, legitimate government, without the strong, effective institutions essential to resolving grievances.

CAR provides a compelling case for the undeniable connection between extreme poverty and fragility, which is true for many countries stuck in cycles of conflict and dead-end poverty. If we take China and India out of the equation–which are rapidly reducing the poverty of their populous nations–roughly 70 percent of the world’s poor live in fragile states. And a host of studies show that in the coming decades extreme poverty will be even more concentrated in low-income fragile states such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Yemen, Chad, and CAR.

The mutually reinforcing relationship between fragility and armed conflict creates circumstances that perpetuate extreme poverty. Current data shows that states qualifying as “highly fragile” have made little to no progress against poverty reduction over the past 15 years and continue to lag measurably on progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The clear takeaway is that actually ending extreme poverty by 2030 will require tackling fragility head on, which means addressing the intertwined goals of security, governance, and development.

Defining Fragility

USAID defines fragility as the extent to which state-society relations fail to produce outcomes considered effective and legitimate, with effectiveness and legitimacy being equal parts of the equation. When a society cannot count on its elected leaders to follow through on promises to deliver crucial services, basic needs go unmet. Where populations have been marginalized because of the absence of inclusive institutions, extreme poverty is more likely because the marginalized lack access to education, improved livelihoods, and opportunities for economic advancement. Without rule of law and a system that avails political participation, grievances go unaired and unaddressed, tensions simmer, and hostilities that inevitably emerge often result in conflict—the most pernicious disease in the system sure to roll back precious development gains.

Doing Business Differently

Since 2011, USAID has played a leading role in partnering with the international community and a group of 18 self-identified “fragile states” that proposed a new paradigm for engaging in these environments. Driven by fragile states themselves, the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States sets clear state building and peacebuilding goals as well as benchmarks for partnerships between the international community, civil society, and local governments to help these countries climb out of stubborn conflict and fragility.

At its core, this approach calls on local government officials, international donors, and civil society to work together to advance five fundamental pillars of strong societies: legitimate politics, security, justice, economic foundations, and revenues and services. We know that in most of the countries the road will be long and bumpy, but together we are making headway. Take Somalia, where the international community recently joined Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in endorsing a New Deal compact focused on moving all stakeholders toward the shared goals of governance, jobs, justice, and services. None of it will be easy, but the New Deal still represents the brightest potential for peace and prosperity in Somalia in two decades.

Going the Extra Mile

To eradicate extreme poverty in the next 20 years and fulfill the commitment made by President Obama, together, our collective development efforts must result in accountable, legitimate, inclusive democracies that can ultimately sustain our collective investments in health, education, and agriculture, protect fundamental human rights, and give their citizens a voice in their own future.