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Innovations in poverty reduction: The role of local government

Time (GMT +01) 16:30 18:00


Ken Livingstone - Former Mayor of London

Adam Behrendt - Governance advisor, DFID Andes


Simon Maxwell - Director, ODI

Simon Maxwell
Director, ODI

It is a very useful exercise to link developed and developing country issues. An area that links Latin American policies with UK policies is the development and management of sustainable cities. At ODI we aim to bridge research and policy and this is a perfect opportunity to link research and experience done in Latin America with the practice of policymaking.

Adam Behrendt
Governance Advisor, Department for International Development, Andes

  1. Latin America is the fastest urbanising area in the world with approximately 75% of the population now living in cities.
  2. The urbanisation of poverty reveals vast inequalities entrenched in the region. Rural poverty and inequality also remain pressing issues.
  3. The jury is still out as to whether Latin America’s resource boom is a curse or opportunity.
  4. Due to decentralisation policies starting in the 1990s, local governments have increased their budgets from revenues generated by the boom in hydrocarbons and mining.
  5. DFID has a relatively small programme in Latin America and around 50-60% of their governance work has been on local governance issues. It has focused on partnerships with local actors and adding value to the work done by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.
  6. There is also a focus on South-South sharing as many Latin American countries such as Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia have a track record in local governance and innovation.
  7. State institutions are very strong in Brazil and Argentina –but this is not the case all over the region.
  8. There are a number of lessons from DFID’s experience in Latin America which are relevant to its other work in the emerging economies.
  9. There are increasing links between North and South cities to tackle common and shared problems.

Ken Livingstone, Former Mayor of London

  1. Involvement in Latin America stems from fighting against the US backed dictatorships.
  2. Securing contact with China and India, for example, is vital in order to promote London’s interests given the speed and reach of these emerging giants. New offices for London were planned in Brazil.
  3. The focus of the relationship with Mr. Chavez, in Venezuela, is to support the development of coordinated urban programmes for Caracas –focusing on housing and transport.
  4. However, Venezuela has around $40 billion of unallocated funds (as a consequence of the high price of oil) and the effect that this has on the economy makes it difficult for the country –and Caracas as the capital city- to generate jobs and sustainable economic systems.
  5. Many of the civil reforms over the last 200 years came about from the need to make cities work.
  6. Latin America is ahead of the UK on devolution do local governments. However, the UK can be a source of best practices on service delivery.
  7. Climate change is a critical issue that local governments and cities in particular must address. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that we are already locked into catastrophic climate change.
  8. This will be a driving force for renewal and renovations in our cities.
  9. However, changing older cities will be especially difficult. Latin American cities are relatively newer and have a greater opportunity to get the technology right the first time. 
  10. In the UK, the relationship between the central government local governments is tense. The UK Government should be a force for change yet it sometimes holds change back.
  11. For example, migration policy for the UK affects London’s development. One in three Londoners were born abroad and as a consequence London is also the most productive centre after New York.
  12. Yet many migrant workers are exploited by businesses and increased government support is required for those vulnerable workers.
  13. Use of space is also dictated centrally. Densification on brown sites in London is required but is it difficult to take this forward due to national perceptions of overpopulation. However, London is the least dense city in Europe.


  • Cities are a key focus for development as more people around the world live in cities than anywhere else.
  • Culture and arts are a key aspect to making cities work.
  • Climate change and cities will be a leading subject of attention in the future.


Local governance is critical for poverty reduction. Local governments have a natural advantage in knowing and understanding the needs and resources of their own territories and so they can provide better local public goods to meet the demands of their populations. However, while the debate on governance has focused on the institutions of the national state less attention has been given to sub-national governments. And while decentralization reforms cross the developing world have advanced, their implementation continue to face critical challenges: legal frameworks are often inconsistent, sub-national authorities lack the capacity to implement them, the budgets are limited or have grown beyond their competencies and opportunities for sustainable economic development have not accompanied new political accountability at the local level.

This ODI public event will address the importance of sub-national authorities and governments for poverty reduction. It will then highlight some lessons learned in Latin America and the UK and address their relevance across the development world.

Former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, will discuss poverty reduction in London, drawing upon his previous experience as a Local Councillor, Leader of the Greater London Council, Member of Parliament and Mayor.


1. Improve understanding of the importance and role of sub-national and urban governments for reducing poverty and improving inclusion
2. Disseminate and compare lessons learned, best practices, and tools generated from working with sub-national governments to reduce poverty in Latin America and the UK
3. Present the innovations generated by the regional partnership approach known as PAR: its model, impacts and future potential in the Latin American region and beyond
4. Facilitate the exchange and comparison of experiences and approaches among practitioners from a cross-regional perspective