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SDG Academy

Understanding Poverty and Inequality

SDG Academy via edX


In September 2015, 193 member states of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and committed themselves to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are interconnected, recognizing that poverty cannot be eradicated without improved health and education, sustainable economic growth cannot occur on a planet under threat of climate change, and so forth.

Goal 1, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere,” calls on stakeholders at every level to drastically reduce the number of people living in poverty, provide services and assistance to those in need, and ensure the resilience of the poor and vulnerable in times of crisis. SDG 1 builds on earlier calls to cut poverty in lower-income countries by, first, calling for the elimination of extreme poverty worldwide by 2030, and for every country to cut all dimensions of nationally-defined poverty by half by the same date. Goal 1 further draws linkages between poverty and climate disasters, and sets targets for social protection, resource mobilization and policy development. Likewise, Goal 10, “Reduce inequality within and among countries,” calls on stakeholders at all levels to empower the economic, political, and social inclusion of all people; and for governments to work together to provide pathways of opportunity across the world.

This course will present an overview of the definitions, scale, and scope of different forms of poverty and inequality across the world. It will examine links between poverty, inequality, and well-being; opportunities for socioeconomic mobility; the particular challenges facing women, minorities, Indigenous people, and vulnerable populations; and how poverty and inequality link to issues like climate change, migration, and conflict. Finally, the course will conclude with a look at policy approaches and tools for addressing poverty and inequality in a variety of contexts.

Understanding Poverty and Inequality was created by the SDG Academy in partnership with the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution.

This course is for:

  • Policy professionals who want to understand the scale and scope of poverty and inequality in order to design effective interventions
  • Development practitioners seeking knowledge on poverty alleviation
  • Advanced undergraduates and graduate students interested in economics, development, and other key concepts related to the poverty and inequality


Module 1: An Introduction to Poverty and Inequality

  • Chapter 1: What do we mean by “poverty” & “inequality”?
  • Chapter 2: Measurement, trends, and rates of change
  • Chapter 3: How does economic growth affect poverty and inequality?
  • Chapter 4: Case study: Poverty reduction in East Asia
  • Chapter 5: Case study: Broad-based growth in Ethiopia

Module 2: Multidimensional Measures of Poverty

  • Chapter 1: Multidimensional poverty vs. income poverty: why it matters
  • Chapter 2: Measuring multidimensional poverty
  • Chapter 3: The MPI information platform
  • Chapter 4: Policy approaches to multidimensional poverty

Module 3: Explaining Global Inequality

  • Chapter 1: Defining inequality
  • Chapter 2: Measuring income inequality
  • Chapter 3: Global versus within-country inequality
  • Chapter 4: Winners and losers in the global economy
  • Chapter 5: Convergence and poverty hotspots
  • Chapter 6: Tackling inequality

Module 4: Poverty and Subjective Well-being

  • Chapter 1: Introducing well-being
  • Chapter 2: Measures of well-being
  • Chapter 3: The U Curve
  • Chapter 4: The Adaptation Conundrum and Progress Paradoxes

Module 5: Identity and Exclusion

  • Chapter 1: Inequality, poverty, and social identity
  • Chapter 2: Race and financial inequality
  • Chapter 3: Gendered dimensions of poverty
  • Chapter 4: Inequality and indigenous experience
  • Chapter 5: Case study: Exclusion and inequality in South Africa
  • Chapter 6: Case study: Policing, racism, and colorism in America and beyond
  • Chapter 7: Case study: Worthy of investment: The devaluation of assets in Black American communities

Module 6: Poverty and Inequality, Today and Tomorrow

  • Chapter 1: New inequalities of the 21st-century
  • Chapter 2: Poverty, inequality, and the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Chapter 3: Why climate matters for poverty and inequality
  • Chapter 4: The evolution of the global middle class
  • Chapter 5: Mobility, migration, and opportunity
  • Chapter 6A: Fiscal policy, inequality and poverty in low and middle income countries
  • Chapter 6B: Fiscal policy reforms: is UBI a good idea?
  • Chapter 7: Cash transfers for poverty alleviation


Taught by

John McArthur, Chandrika Bahadur, Sabina Alkire, Homi Kharas, Carol Graham, Makada Henry-Nickie, Caren Grown, Alpa Shah, Haroon Bhorat, Rashawn Ray, Andre Perry, Heriberto Tapia, Amar Bhattacharya, Dany Bahar, Nora Lustig, Michael Cooke, Wing Thye Woo and Addisu Lashitew

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