A Report Card for Poverty

Public policy professor Ashu Handa (second from left) with UNICEF researchers based in Italy. (photo by Michelle Mills)

Public policy professor Ashu Handa (second from left) with UNICEF researchers based in Italy. (photo by Michelle Mills)

UNC public policy professor Ashu Handa learned an early lesson about poverty that inspires his research and field work around the world.

The son of an engineer from India, Handa was born and spent most of his childhood in Ghana. His family lived comfortably in Africa, but they were surrounded by staggering poverty. That was an eye-opener.

“I saw the impact of bad economic policies, and it shaped my worldview,” Handa said.

He decided to study economics to analyze the impact of policymaking on poverty. He received a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Toronto in 1993 and joined UNC’s faculty in 2003.

Now Handa is completing a research leave assignment in Florence, Italy, where he has been working for UNICEF, the world’s largest children’s rights organization. He led the team that researched and produced two major “report cards” on the growth of childhood poverty since the global economic crisis of 2008.

The reports measure the change in the numbers and rates of children living in poverty in 41 affluent countries, including the United States. The most recent findings, to be published in April, show how growing socioeconomic disparity affects the poorest children.

Handa has especially enjoyed the opportunity to work with UNICEF’s professional communicators to distribute report card findings through the news media.

“We use rigorous academic standards to collect and analyze data,” Handa said. “But we have had to be really creative in boiling down the message in a way that would resonate with the press and the public, and raise awareness among policymakers.”

“Sometimes the communication specialists see news angles that we would have missed,” Handa said. “I have really enjoyed this creative collaboration.”

Handa has spent more than two decades highlighting policy problems and solutions associated with global poverty. He previously served as regional policy adviser for UNICEF in Eastern Africa. He also worked at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Mexico City.

By Dee Reid