Pathways to ZEP2030 Local Convergences: Building on What Works

Poverty is a complex social issue with no easy solution. It requires concerted, strategic and substantial actions and investments from all relevant actors, stakeholders and communities involved. Moreover, as each locality’s experience with poverty is unique, then to impose a cookie-cutter approach for poverty reduction in all localities is naive. 

To help accelerate progress in reducing extreme poverty in the Philippines, ZEP2030 has decided in 2019 to go “all-in local.” This means that the work of forging stronger collaboration among civil society, government, and private sector will be pivoted from sectoral action at the national level to fostering local convergence: bringing the ZEP2030’s collective impact approach to the different provinces, cities and municipalities, where poverty is high. 

Putting the locus of action on the local convergences means eschewing centralized convening and standardized approaches. This bold move required ZEP2030 to put the local convenors in the driver’s seat, promote diversity of methods, and relax requirements and processes. The latter required ZEP2030 to revisit its seemingly linear 10-step implementation process and reshape it into something that is more malleable and customizable according to the contexts, needs, and aspirations of the ZEP2030 Local Convergences and the communities they work with. 


The Pivot to Local


Even before the pivot to local convergence in 2019, ZEP2030 had already been working at the local level since the coalition started. At a smaller scale–in specific municipalities or even barangays–ZEP2030 jumpstarted local multi-stakeholder collaboration. The early convergence work in Antipolo City, Puerto Princesa City, Sumilao in Bukidnon, Maasim in Sarangani, and Arteche in Eastern Samar were initiated under a specific sectoral concern (e.g. indigenous peoples, health and nutrition, and education). These eventually evolved to tackle other poverty concerns in the locality. 

It was in 2019 that the strategy to build and expand local convergences took central focus. It started in August 2019 in Cebu where 12 CSOs, after having been introduced to ZEP2030, committed to work together, prioritize and implement poverty reduction measures in five focal areas. Soon after, ZEP2030 representatives also met with stakeholders in Bohol, Davao, and Marawi City for exploratory partnerships. Other emerging local convergences were pursued in 2020: in Quezon City, Bukidnon, Eastern Samar, and Sarangani. The establishment of these local convergences targeted for 2020, unfortunately, was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the imposition of the community quarantine across the country. 

The limitations in mobility and face-to-face gatherings obligated the coalition and its members to adjust not only by conducting meetings virtually but also by finding innovative ways to convene stakeholders and to reach the poor. The Quezon City Convergence is testing, for example, a virtual Family and Community Visioning process; while Bukidnon and Sarangani are planning to conduct the ZEP2030 Poverty Probability Index (PPI) survey using KoBo Toolbox. Six local convergences also participated in the COVID Pulse PH: a chatbot-based assessment of the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic on poor families. The local convergences took the forced quarantine as an opportunity to reflect deeply on systemic issues of poverty and on how their work should evolve to address these. The pivot to local, it is hoped, would encourage experimentation and exchange on various solutions to the complex, wicked problem of poverty. 

ZEP2030 worked in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to explore and experiment on the “all-in local” idea. Beginning with the reflection process in 2019 and sustained through the collaboration with the Accelerator Lab, the ZEP2030-UNDP collaboration has been testing and introducing new processes, tools and techniques to reach and design solutions for the poorest of the poor. These included the ZEP2030 “Talyer” space to support local convergence discussions; machine learning and chatbot-based surveys for poverty measurement; and Saliklakbay and other approaches to tapping grassroots solutions. 


The Local Convergence Process


From a rigid process, the ZEP2030 coalition designed and has been testing a more fluid process that is composed of four phases. These represent the progression of a local convergence: a) initiating the local convergence, typically at the province level; b) organizing the convergence, drawing up roles, and engaging local government partners; c) identifying and matching needs and interventions; and d) finally, delivering results on the ground and demonstrating impact. 

Though shown as such, these four phases are not meant to just be a simple linear progression. It recognizes the unique scenario in which each local convergence is situated, and the starting point from which ZEP2030’s local work can further grow. One may start off as a new coalition to be organized in a province where poverty is high and where ZEP2030 is not yet present. Ongoing work and success of a ZEP2030 member in a municipality may also be replicated in other areas.

Within each phase is a set of actions that can be undertaken. Again, the correct order of actions, or doing everything according to standard, is not what ZEP2030 wants to promote. Instead, these actions may be pursued, according to the direction and strategy defined by the local convergence, as long as the desired end-result for each phase is achieved. For example, while ZEP2030 is promoting the use of the Poverty Probability Index (PPI) as a measurement and profiling tool, existing profiling tools and datasets (e.g. local governments’ Community-Based Monitoring System) can instead be used so long as the five core ZEP2030 indicators of extreme poverty are provided.