“This year’s report will give us a baseline to document the extent of extreme poverty in our world prior to the pandemic,” Henry Schwalbenberg, Ph.D., director of IPED, wrote in the introduction to the document. “Our mission in future reports will be to document the immediate and lasting effects of the pandemic on the world’s most vulnerable people.”
The students’ work was spotlighted in a virtual program produced by America Media and the Sovereign Order of Malta’s Mission to the United States and released on YouTube on Nov. 12. The program featured several prominent speakers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof; Donna Markham, O.P., Ph.D., the first female president to lead Catholic Charities USA in the organization’s 105-year history; and Maria-Francesa Spatolisano, assistant secretary general for policy coordination and inter-agency affairs at the United Nations. The event was co-sponsored by the Holy See, two United Nations missions, and other Catholic organizations.
The annual report was inspired by Pope Francis’ address to the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. Over the past five years, IPED students have researched and published a new annual index that explores statistics and trends related to seven factors that the Pope identified as poverty indicators: water, housing, employment, food, gender equality, religious freedom, and education. Unlike many poverty indexes, IPED’s index has a strong emphasis on basic human needs and outcomes that can benefit the poor and the marginalized, said Schwalbenberg. The report also includes indicators of spiritual freedom like gender equity.
“Newly developed indexes are adding a multidimensional definition of poverty,” Schwalbenberg explained in a 2016 Fordham News story. “We’re hoping that [our index]will empower civil societies … We want groups around the world to use this simple measure to hold their governments and other administrations accountable for the state of their society.”
Their fifth annual index builds on global data that is released every year. In the 2020 index, IPED students graphed global trends from 2013 to 2017, mapped the 2017 data to better visualize geographical disparities worldwide, and identified the 10 countries that most lacked each basic human need. (Last year, the students mapped data from 2016.) They found some improvement in water, employment, and education, but deterioration in food, housing, and religious freedom indicators across the world. The gender indicator has stayed stagnant. In addition, the students found that material deprivation is highly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, while spiritual deprivation is more predominant in Asia.
The 64-page report was not only highlighted at the virtual event but also distributed to event registrants across the world, including members from the United Nations and the Vatican. It was also featured on America Magazine’s website.
It’s not the first time the index has received prominent attention. Last year, Schwalbenberg and IPED students presented their index to His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state for the Vatican. In 2017, they introduced their findings to Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary of relations with states in the Holy See’s Secretariat of State.