Springer Nature's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Programme aims to connect the researchers who are tackling the world’s toughest challenges with the practitioners in policy and business who desperately need those insights to achieve their goals in improving the world, by making our publishing activities more visible to our key communities through a variety of channels. Earlier this year we launched our SDG16 hub, focused on peace, justice and strong institutions.
In honor of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17) we reached out to some of our authors, editors, and researchers, asking them to reflect on how we can end poverty and how they are helping in the ongoing mission to achieve SDG 1, and how we, as a scholarly publisher, are helping to contribute to these goals by publishing and distributing their research. In this interview we hear from Dr Fred Ssewamala and Dr Mary McKay.
Our innovative, interdisciplinary research, develops and tests economic empowerment and social protection interventions aimed at improving livelihoods and long-term developmental impacts for children and adolescent youth impacted by poverty and health disparities in low-resource communities. Our team has increasingly adopted “combination interventions,” realizing that no single intervention can address our mission of reducing poverty and improving health outcomes on its own. With a package of economic empowerment initiatives at the center of our work, we layer on additional proven interventions to address mental health (Multiple Family Groups) and education (STEM) recognizing that education, mental health resources and savings are keys to lifting families out of poverty. Currently, we are implementing several studies globally: Suubi4Her, Suubi+Adherence-R2, and the Kyaterekera Project. The Suubi4Her study examines both the impact and costs associated with an innovative combination intervention that aims to prevent HIV risk behaviors in communities heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS. By promoting financial stability through matched savings accounts and financial literacy trainings and addressing mental health through family strengthening, Suubi4Her strives to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for this vulnerable demographic. Additionally, the Suubi+Adherence-R2 study examines the long-term impact of the Suubi+Adherence intervention (youth savings accounts paired with peer support and vocational training) on HIV viral suppression by tracking the original cohort of Suubi+Adherence participants. Lastly, the Kyaterekera project leverages a combination of economic empowerment, vocational skills training, and HIV Risk Reduction (HIVRR) sessions, to reduce new incidences of sexually transmitted infections and HIV among women engaged in sex work in Uganda. All these projects are aimed at reducing poverty and improving health and mental health outcomes.
Yes, our asset-based youth programs in Sub-Saharan Africa (Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria), Asia (Thailand and Mongolia), and South America (Argentina) directly influence the health, education, and overall, long-term development of the nation’s youth. In the short-term, there is a direct economic benefit of our projects in under-resourced regions like southern Uganda. For example, one of our early studies (Bridges to the Future) provided an initial deposit of US$15 per child for every account opened, with an end result of more than $20,000 entering the region’s financial institutions. In a region where average monthly earnings are less than10 dollars, this small initial contribution led to further economic growth, as children’s caregivers became more familiar with financial institutions, they opened accounts as well. That money can now be used for loans, credit, and liquidity—it can drive development.
Our research approach to address poverty is multifaceted. We utilize combination interventions that interweave protective mechanisms like matched youth saving accounts (YSAs), vocational skills training and microenterprise workshops, financial literacy trainings, HIV risk reduction sessions, group counseling meetings, and strengthened school curriculums, which place a strong emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education (STEM). Combination interventions address the issue of poverty in a holistic manner. They take into account the various socioeconomic factors that play a role in creating poverty, while also looking at, and building, the strengths of each family in order to improve their livelihood.
It is our goal to widely disseminate our findings via different avenues so that we can collectively work to reduce poverty and improve health outcomes in low-resourced communities. We plan to continue to work with students and our global partners to publish from the collected data. Capacity building is also at the forefront of our goals, both for our current and incoming cohort of trainees globally, as well as for our team members in Uganda. We can all learn from one another, and we would like to focus on bi-directional learning and supporting each other.
We have had some initial success in working with policymakers to introduce our evidence-based ideas in local legislation. For example, we have met with policymakers at both the local and national levels, including Members of Parliament, to advocate for policies that would create asset-building tools housed at formal financial institutions for every child in Uganda. In doing so, we take our peer-reviewed manuscripts and translate them into clear, concise policy briefs and recommendations based on our study results. These meetings were made possible because of the relationships and trust our team has cultivated through years of working in local communities, through regular meetings with both stakeholders and local leadership.
We believe that it is incredibly important for researchers to make a societal impact from their work. Our collaborative research thus far has influenced service organizations, policymakers, and community stakeholders by advancing the understanding of the link between individuals, families, and communities to their external environments. We have accomplished this through extensive and strong collaborations with families, churches, schools, health clinics, non-profit organizations, government and private agencies. For example in our SMART Africa study in Uganda, the research team organized a set of meetings with head teachers (the equivalent of school director in Uganda), teachers, religious leaders, parent-teacher association (PTA) members, parent peers and community health workers since the onset of the study. By including stakeholders across the field in each of these sectors, our innovative work has shown significant improvement in family savings, and improved health and mental health outcomes within the community. These findings have been widely disseminated in reputable journals.
I would like to see more commitment from the both the international and local funders in terms of resources, support and policy initiatives to address poverty globally and locally. In addition, having policymakers use some of our evidence-based research to include child savings accounts in new legislation would be critical to raise many families out of poverty.
About Fred Ssewamala and Mary M. McKay
Mary M. McKay is the Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School. She continues the School’s legacy of creating vital knowledge, initiating social change, and preparing leaders to address social and health challenges both locally and globally. With over 200 publications, Dean McKay brings a wealth of critical scholarship and leadership in the areas of poverty, mental health and the health-prevention needs of poverty-impacted youth and families.