This paper provides profiles for Ghana and Tanzania that describe key features of the economic, social and political contexts in which the project on Widening Participation in Higher Education is being implemented, and to which it responds. In describing each national context, the paper focuses on characteristics that are captured, measured and monitored through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The eight MDGs provide a global framework for development and benchmarks for global and national reform directed to the needs of the world's poorest. They include targets that tackle key dimensions of poverty, including access to income, health, education, water and sanitation, gender equality and environmental sustainability. Locating the project within these national contexts is essential to the project's concern with understanding the role of universities - and of widening participation in education - for poverty reduction and in achieving the MDGs. The paper begins with a brief description of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. It then considers aspects of human well-being in the Sub-Saharan region measured by the United Nations' (UN) Human Development Index (HDI) before examining poverty and well-being in the specific contexts of first Ghana and then Tanzania.