Opportunities First: A New Lens to Shape Priorities for Action in Middle-Income Countries

This report advocates a fundamental change in approach to entrenched poverty in middle-income developing countries by emphasising the ‘O’ rather than the ‘E’ of an equal opportunity ideal. Aspirations to social mobility and justice are more effectively addressed by multiplying poor people’s access to income generating activities that can provide routes out of poverty and into the middle class. The best way of implementing an opportunities-first approach is to move cities and jobs centre stage in the global and national discourse of how to combat large-scale poverty in the 21st century. Within this framework the focus should be on young people and women in policies and programmes that build on job-rich economic growth strategies and increasingly formal jobs. Promoting well-managed and effective urbanisation will create cities of hope that offer opportunity escalators towards increased social mobility and steadily growing prosperity. An opportunity-first approach cannot afford to ignore the challenges thrown up by politics and history, which arise in demands for redress and redistribution across many middle-income developing countries. The key to this is for effective states coupled with competitive markets to expand new opportunities for the poor, rather than redistribute a finite number of existing ones.