Practicing Pro-Poor Foresight for a Just Future

Pro-poor foresight is forward-looking analysis that focuses on poor and marginalized people by expanding their social and economic opportunities and by enhancing the social, economic and ecological resilience of human society.

Pro-poor foresight--what a simple yet powerful improvement this could be in how all organizations analyze the future and the consequences of their actions.  A new report from the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) and the Rockefeller Foundation advances this concept of foresight as a tool for connecting with the grassroots and providing a “voice to the voiceless”.   

IAF and Rockefeller convened a diverse group of experts and foresight practitioners from developing and developed countries to consider how the poor fit into our view of the future and the choices we make about policy, governance and development.  This think tank gathering in Bellagio, Italy came to a very worrisome assessment for all of us and profoundly so for the poor.

We are in the midst of a unique, critical period characterized by multiple and severe flaws in existing paradigms and deep uncertainty about the consequences of present choices on future outcomes. There is a shattering of old forms underway, and this is true on both the national and global levels……Poor communities will be disproportionately affected by the myriad and intractable problems of the 21st century, including climate change disasters, weak governance systems, financial crises, security threats, and society disruptions.

Most of us really miss the full picture when we think about these global challenges. Take energy as one example shared in this report. When we think about the future of energy in more affluent countries we obsess about price, supply, pollution, alternative sources, security and energy independence. We don’t stop to think about the roughly 2.6 billion people who use fuelwood , charcoal, agricultural waste and animal dung to meet most of their energy needs for cooking and heating. We should care as more than 4000 deaths could be prevented every day if we eliminated this reliance on dangerous and polluting fuels in the home.

Some of the strategies for advancing pro-poor foresight include:

  • Adding poverty as an explicit dimension of existing and future foresight activities
  • Developing more explicit measures of inequity focused on income, education, land ownership and use, and health
  • Using technology mapping and investment to promote technologies that have a multiplier effect in achieving the Millennium Development goals
  • Engaging poor communities in developing scenarios, visions and other futures products which directly affect them.
  • Creating a community of forward-looking doers and thinkers who are ready to pursue and explore pro-poor foresight in their practice. 

If you like the power of this simple and powerful improvement in foresight, read the report Foresight for Smart Globalization …or simply start expanding your own perspective to include the consequences for the poor in your forecasts, scenarios and vision for the future.