Systems, power and agency in market-based approaches to poverty

Chris Jochnick
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Use systems thinking, power/agency and dexterity to ensure significant change.

Market-based approaches have become an increasingly vital area for anti-poverty development work, spurring a wide range of new actors, partnerships, and initiatives. Many development proponents remain focused on macroeconomic growth through foreign direct investment and large-scale public-private partnerships. Others view these trends ominously and push for a return to protected markets and stronger regulation of corporations.

Between these two poles, a third stream of market-based approaches practitioners accepts globalisation, but intervenes more directly in markets to ensure pro-poor impacts.

This paper reviews some of the shortcomings of these various approaches and describes the search for more holistic, systemic approaches. Specifically, the paper argues that market-based approaches continue to fall short of their potential because of a failure to:

  1. employ systems thinking
  2. address power and agency
  3. implement interventions with adequate political, social, and economic dexterity

A market systems approach integrating these three essential elements (systems thinking, power/agency, and dexterity) offers the best prospect for ensuring significant and lasting change through market engagement.