Asset accumulation and urban poverty reduction; Climate change asset adaptation

This has been my primary research for the past three decades. Along with contributing to poverty reduction and inequality debates, it has included research on longitudinal accumulation processes relating to intergenerational assets, transnational migration assets, and climate change asset adaptation.

i. Intergenerational asset accumulation and poverty reduction in Guayaquil, Ecuador 1978-2004

  • This longitudinal research uses anthropological participant observation, a 1978-92-04 household panel data set, as well as surveys of second generation, both those remaining in Guayaquil and those in Barcelona to examine intergenerational poverty dynamics as well as transnational migrant assets.
  • This resulted in an asset accumulation framework; it identifies the added value of asset-based approaches to develop better long-term poverty reduction solutions.

With more than 10 publications (see c.v) the most important are:

  • Moser, (2009) Ordinary Families: Extraordinary Lives: Assets and Poverty Reduction in Guayaquil 1978-2004 (Washington DC: Brookings Press). (see box)
  • Moser (1998) ‘The Asset Vulnerability Framework: Reassessing Urban Poverty Reduction Strategies’, World Development, Vol. 26, No. 1 pp. 1-19

ii. Climate Change and Asset Adaptation

The asset framework has been adapted to the study of asset adaptation to climate change, with this research programme comprising the following stages.

  • A desk-study development of a framework on asset vulnerability and climate change adaptation
  • World Bank-supported research project on asset adaptation to climate change in cities of the South, also leading the team writing the associated World Bank Economic and Sector Work (ESW) on pro-poor adaptation to climate change in cities of the South.
  • This included capacity building of local Kenyan researchers implementing participatory urban appraisals (PUA) in four communities in Mombasa.
    • C, Moser, A. Norton, A. Stein and S. Georgieva (2010) ‘Pro-Poor Adaptation to Climate Change in Urban Centers’ Report No. 54947-GLB, Washington D.C., World Bank

iii. Asset planning and climate change in cities of the global south

Most recently, the asset framework has been operationalized in asset planning, developed with Alfredo Stein. This new planning approach reinforces local capacities to design participatory policies and projects. It was developed inductively from research on the adaptation of assets to climate change – associated severe weather.

  • This was first tested in a Ford Foundation-funded project in the two secondary cities, Cartagena, Colombia and Pondicherry, India. This included capacity building in participatory methodology of local researchers.
  • I am currently advisor on a planning climate change asset adaptation project in poor barrios in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Supported by the Nordic Development Fund (through the IDB), directed by Alfredo Stein this goes beyond research and planning into project implemntation.
    • Stein and C. Moser (2014) ‘Asset planning for climate change adaptation: lessons from Cartagena, Colombia’ Environment and Urbanization 26 No 1, April
    • Moser and A. Stein (2011) ‘A methodological guideline for implementing Urban Participatory Climate Change Adaptation Appraisals’, Environment and Urbanization 22 No 2 p 463-486

Research output

For three decades this was my primary research. It culminated in September 2009 with the publication of my book Ordinary Families: Extraordinary Lives: Assets and Poverty Reduction in Guayaquil 1978-2004 (Washington DC: Brookings Press, 2009, 360pp).

The book’s objective is to better understand how households in a Third World urban slum relentlessly and systematically struggle to get out of poverty by accumulating a portfolio of assets, while simultaneously mobilizing and contesting the local authorities to provide physical and social infrastructure.
Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize Winner and Harvard Professor, in endorsing it commented ‘Poverty is terrible but can be fought, sometimes with success. Caroline Moser presents the remarkable story of disadvantaged people whose success in fighting poverty has been extraordinary and yet the reasoning behind their approach is entirely fathomable. Moser tells us how the battle was waged by people stricken by adversity but not overcome by hopelessness. This is an inspiring book’.

Its data base combines the econometric analysis of a 26 year longitudinal household level panel data set from Guayaquil, Ecuador with the anthropological narratives of five women and their families living in Indio Guayas, a mangrove swamp squatter settlement on the city’s periphery

Its new asset accumulation framework theoretically challenges conventional definitions of poverty, by shifting from income / consumption poverty measurements to a focus on asset accumulation. This demonstrates how individuals become their own agents in escaping poverty by accumulating human, social, financial and productive capital and interacting and negotiating with the state, civil society, and NGOs to consolidate their gains.

Its contents includes chapters on squatter housing, gender and the politics of infrastructure; earning a living or getting by; families and household social capital; the impact of intra-household dynamics on asset vulnerability; daughters and sons; migration to Barcelona; youth crime, gangs and violent death; as well as research and policy lessons.

Its focus intentionally crosses the divide between academic and policy worlds in order to have a formative impact on practitioner approaches to alleviating urban poverty. It explicitly focuses on long-term strategies, highlighting the limitations of short-term, static snapshot of poverty and quick-fix solutions.
Tony Bebbington, Professor of Geography from Clark University remarked Caroline’s is a monograph at a time when we write way too few monographs. When we think of classic texts in development (outside of development economics at least) we almost always think of monographs – development studies falls short, I think, because we don’t put many products into that slot. Caroline’s book will become a classic I think.

The outcome is a more sophisticated understanding of the complexities of inequality, poverty and asset portfolios that helps counterbalance pervasive, persistent, and embedded stereotypes and myths about global poverty and urbanization.

Popular Reviews: Include The Guardian, The Guardian Weekly, the Manchester Evening News; radio interviews on BBC4 Women’s Hour and BBC Manchester; OXFAM  Blog

Translation: Into Spanish as Gente del Barrio, Vidas Extraordinarias, Santiago Chile. SUR, 2011

Associated publications; These include three joint authored or edited books, six journal articles, ten book chapters, six World Bank reports, and two University of Manchester working papers (LINK to CV).

Grant support: The Ford Foundation New York.

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