Equity for Children’s “Approaches to Equity” Study at a Glance: Key Findings

In 2013-2014 Equity for Children (EFC) undertook the “Approaches to Equity” project, a study of major stakeholders in the Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals conversation.  The project uncovers perspectives about the concept of equity among leading global practitioners, foundations, NGOs and philanthropists.  

By analyzing key institutional reports and conducting interviews with senior professionals in policy programming and research, the EFC assembled points of consensus and common understanding around the question: How is equity perceived by the international development community and what does equity mean going forward?

There is broad consensus on many aspects of equity, but above all, our research confirms that there is high acceptance of equity as a guiding principle for national and international development.


Recommendations for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Agenda:

Based on these findings, EFC believes that developing a cohesive terminology is integral to establishing an inter-sectoral response to extreme poverty. The SDG framework should focus explicitly on measurable targets that reach the most disadvantaged children, in order to monitor progress and narrow the gap between the least and most advantaged children.

This will require an equity lens in program, policy design and monitoring.  EFC recommends that an equity lens be incorporated into the framework collected and monitored by governments so that the data that can be disaggregated by sex, age, race, ethnicity, income, location and disability.  This will help provide a fuller picture of how to realize human rights by collecting evidence of best practices.


Our study aims to help create dialogue around a common vision of a more equitable world and how to achieve it. The research serves as a compendium from which students researchers and field experts can expand their thinking.  The analysis reveals central tenets of equity as seen by influential stakeholders and examines root causes of inequities, the challenges that lie ahead and recommendations for evidence-based strategies.


1.  The most frequent responses to the question “What causes inequity?” were:

  • exclusion and multiple forms of vulnerability (90.91%)
  • social policy and governance issues (86.36%)
  • macroeconomic issues (81.82 %)

2.  Systemic discrimination based on group characteristics such as ethnicity, location, religion, gender and race are visible, for the most part, in exclusion from needed services.

3.  All respondents answered that inequity is experienced by the most vulnerable populations and that inequity is manifested as barriers to accessing services (100%). This finding suggests that equity will depend    on the social policies of governments.

4.  Who to reach as a priority was met with equal responses of 70% for:

  • the most vulnerable segments of society
  • early childhood

This reflects a commonly held view that children are disproportionately vulnerable. Many respondents noted that within the most excluded groups of people, reaching children in early childhood has the greatest potential to avoid deprivations with long-lasting impacts and to end the cycle of poverty.

5.  One of the most frequent responses about how to monitor equity was include marginalized populations in policymaking by 71.43% so that their voices are included in government systems.  This reveals the inclusive character of the equity framework and the prioritization of those suffering from the most deprivations.

6.  Interviewees characterize equity in terms of fairness and avoidance of unnecessary deprivations (81.25%). Both characteristics highlight circumstances beyond an individual’s control such as place of birth, race and gender. This finding implies that the most vulnerable must be placed in at a higher priority in order to level the playing field.

7.  Respondents describe the most important goal of pursuing an equity agenda as to realize human rights (90.91%).  Other positive impacts of equity on a society include:

  • Equity improves economic growth (54.55%)
  • Equity is a cost-effective approach (36.36%)
  • Equity is a framework promoting sustainable results (27.27%)
  • Equity promotes social cohesion (18.18%)

8.  The challenges cited by our sources include a lack of political will and thus a lack of budgetary allocations to equity programming within countries (83.33%).   Many respondents noted the need to elevate equity to the level of national politics.  Some made the explicit connection between budgetary allocations and politics.  This indicator  is also closely related to the observation  thatdonor priorities often address short term impacts and low hanging fruit instead of structural long term issues.

9.  Other challenges include:

  • prevailing social and cultural norms that perpetuate discrimination and social exclusion (33%)
  • lack of disaggregated data within countries to justify equity-focused programs (25%)
  • corruption and lack of governance and accountability (16.67%)
  • donor priorities looking at short term impacts resulting in dispersion of small vertical projects (16.67%)

One recommendation about a subset of data collection is to combine research methods and not to rely only on quantitative data in order to disaggregate and understand data further.

10.  Respondents recommend:

  • implementing efficient social policies that strengthen equitable budget allocation and social cash transfers as part of social protection (83%)
  • addressing macroeconomic structures through fair progressive taxation and combating capital flight to generate more budget for fair redistribution (52%)
  • taking measures against discriminatory norms and practices (61%)
  • investing in disaggregated data collection at a national level to gather evidence on specific vulnerable groups to track inequities (52%)
  • prioritizing community based and context based approaches rather than top-down processes in programming, policy making and monitoring (39%)
  • best practices relating to equity were cited by 50% as Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) and by 38% as social protection strategies.



Alicia Ely Yamin, Harvard University:  “The way in which global aid and trade rules are set, the way in which revenues are collected in much of the global South, the way revenues are avoided by many transnational corporations and the way in which this international framework is set, I find, has an enormous effect on equity within and between countries.”

Emma Samman, Overseas Development Institute:  “First, I would point out that there is often a lack of correlation between people’s experiences across different dimensions of wellbeing – this holds true when looking at how country level indicators relate to one another and additionally when looking at how different aspects of inequality may or may not overlap. This means it is important to look at how inequalities are experienced in different dimensions and how these relate to one another.”

Paul Dornan, Young Lives:  “We also need to understand inequities as existing within systems, not only in exclusion from them.”

Jessica Espey, Save the Children, UK:  “Inequalities in early stages of life have very significant effects on physical and cognitive development, which has a range of subsequent effects…”

Juliana Martinez Franzoni, University of Costa Rica:  “I think we need to do better at combining the qualitative and quantitative tools and techniques available.  We probably need to also give more voice to those involved –including children!  I don’t see much progress in that regard.  I think we could do better.”

Richard Morgan, former UNICEF senior advisor on the Post-2015 MDGs, noted that he sees the main challenge facing the equity agenda “mainly as an issue of political will, in the sense that the investments required to obtain the data need to be prioritized.”

Jessica Espey, Save the Children, raises the issue of political motivations: “If you look at the Millennium Development Goals, policymakers and politicians are eager to achieve things quickly in their short-term political cycles and if they are going to get the best results from targeting the easiest to reach and they get the highest numbers of people getting access to services, they will do that. Often this is at the expense of those who are most vulnerable and hardest to reach.”

Juliana Martinez Franzoni, University of Costa Rica: “Inequality has to do with power structures that are not easily quantifiable… it is often about not losing the sense of the whole.”

Keetie Roelen, Institute of Development Studies: “It is therefore very important that before implementation, policy makers engage in a dialogue with critical groups in an effort to think more broadly about the design of the policy and the monitoring and evaluation plan that accompanies it.  This creates a feedback mechanism, or learning loop, that enables one to feed any early findings of unintended effects into the program design and make adjustments.  There is a need for more action research prior to the implementation and delivery of programs.

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