Resilience offers escape from trapped thinking on poverty alleviation

Dr Steven Lade1,2, Dr Jamila Haider1, Dr Gustav Engström3, Dr Maja Schlüter1

1Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

2Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

3Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Stockholm, Sweden


The poverty trap concept strongly influences current research and policy on poverty alleviation. Financial or technological inputs intended to “push” the rural poor out of a poverty trap have had many successes but have also failed unexpectedly with serious ecological and social consequences that can reinforce poverty. Resilience thinking can help to (i) understand how these failures emerge from the complex relationships between humans and the ecosystems on which they depend and (ii) navigate diverse poverty alleviation strategies, such as transformative change, that may instead be required. First, we review commonly observed or assumed social-ecological relationships in rural development contexts, focusing on economic, biophysical, and cultural aspects of poverty. Second, we develop a classification of poverty alleviation strategies using insights from resilience research on social-ecological change. Last, we use these advances to develop stylised, multidimensional poverty trap models. The models show that (i) interventions that ignore nature and culture can reinforce poverty (particularly in agrobiodiverse landscapes), (ii) transformative change can instead open new pathways for poverty alleviation, and (iii) asset inputs may be effective in other contexts (for example, where resource degradation and poverty are tightly interlinked).


Dr Steven Lade is a researcher from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University) currently based at the Fenner School of Environment and Society (the Australian National University). He works at the intersection of complex system modelling, sustainability, and resilience on projects spanning agricultural poverty traps, fishery collapse, and global biodiversity loss and climate change.

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