Aid and development agencies like to believe that they manage their development programmes in ways that empower the poor. This is rare in practice, even in the case of newly-fashionable programmes that are explicitly targeted at the poor and justified in terms of ’empowerment’.
It is not easy to use public anti-poverty programmes to empower the poor, i.e. to encourage them to mobilise politically around pro-poor agendas and movements. How can ‘friends of the poor’ in government or other agencies design and manage their anti-poverty programmes to encourage this mobilisation?
We explore the options, point out the advantages and disadvantages of the more direct methods, and make a case for the indirect or parametric approach: creating an enabling institutional environment, that encourages poor people, social activists and grassroots political entrepreneurs to invest in pro-poor mobilisation.
We then present a language for understanding the various dimensions of this enabling institutional environment, and use it to examine two contrasting, successful cases: rural water supply in Nepal, and the Employment Guarantee Scheme in Maharashtra, India.