By Jake Konig | Content Development Associate, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative
Beginning in early March of 2021, India witnessed a blindsiding explosion of COVID-19 cases, horrifying an already staggered global community. The surge sent shockwaves throughout the nation, amplifying public health and economic crises.
“With COVID-19 having wiped away years of our developmental progress in weeks, the ability to reinvent ourselves and rebuild is more critical than ever before,” said Atul Satija, Founder and CEO of The/Nudge Foundation at Charcha2021, an event designed to address existing development challenges within India.
India is an expansive, complex nation with contrasting landscapes and challenges from climate emergencies in the Himalayan peaks of Uttarakhand, to female infanticide in the vast deserts of Rajasthan, to infectious disease in the dense city streets of Mumbai and malnutrition in the rural villages of Bihar. Recovering from the nation’s wide variety of challenges, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19, requires intersectional approaches that effectively address linkages between issues such as education, rural development, sustainable energy, health, gender, and WASH. Holistic interventions that are tailored to address the circumstances, demographics, and communities as diverse as India itself, are going to be critical for recovery and rebuilding efforts.
BRAC’s Graduation approach—a comprehensive set of interventions designed to address the complex and long-term needs of people living in extreme poverty—is one such intervention.
During Charcha2021’s session, “Graduation Approach: Bringing the most vulnerable communities into the mainstream”, speakers from a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences discussed how BRAC’s Graduation approach is especially positioned to catalyze profound, sustainable, and scalable change within the diverse contexts of India.
Jasveen Bindra, Technical Advisor at BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI), which is scaling Graduation through partner governments, shared two cornerstones of BRAC UPGI’s Graduation strategy.
Rather than choosing between digging a “deep hole” or a “wide ditch,” designing Graduation programs that incorporate both adaptability and government integration ensures tailored, scalable, and cost-effective Graduation programming.
After nearly 50 years of combating issues of inequality, BRAC understands that poverty is multidimensional and there is no “one size fits all” solution. Whether a Graduation program is implemented in an environment of frequent flooding or drought, conflict or disease, urban areas or rural villages, or any other of the vast array of poverty contexts, BRAC UPGI addresses the unique needs of the situation at hand while maintaining the high level of participant success measured in past randomized controlled trials (RCTs). This is accomplished by adapting program interventions within the four foundational elements of Social Protection, Livelihoods Promotion, Financial Inclusion, and Social Empowerment.
These four elements were fundamental to program designs in Kenya and the Philippines, which BRAC UPGI supported, while the Graduation interventions themselves (shown below) differed to address the specific contexts within each country. For example, because Kenyan program participants mostly lived within a pastoral society, interventions under the Livelihoods Promotion pillar focused on cash and in-kind assets geared towards livestock rearing. On the other hand, livelihood interventions for Graduation participants in the Philippines— some of whom mostly lived in peri-urban settings—placed relatively greater emphasis on small businesses and services like food carts and small shops.
Although highly impactful and tailored Graduation initiatives are worth striving for, these are not sufficient. BRAC understands that if we want to empower millions more households to escape extreme poverty, integrating Graduation into existing government programs to make them more cost-effective, expansive, and sustainable is critical. Sustainability and scale demands change at the systems level with active government engagement, which was Bindra’s second key point during the presentation at Charcha 2021.
BRAC UPGI believes in the power of governments to drive systems change for its most vulnerable citizens. Partnering with governments to build Graduation within existing social protection systems drives down cost by leveraging existing resources, builds sustainability, and creates a profound potential for scale.
The graphic below provides an example of how Graduation interventions (represented within the yellow text boxes) were added to existing income-generating and social assistance programs implemented by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Kabuhayan livelihoods program and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program.
Finding solutions that address barriers to scale is what ultimately leads to more households being reached while bringing the world closer to achieving SDG 1, “to end poverty in all its forms, everywhere.” BRAC UPGI firmly believes that when adapted to meet local contexts and scaled through government integration, BRAC’s Graduation approach is uniquely positioned to achieve long-term results for people living in extreme poverty and could have a notable impact on SDG 1 if scaled worldwide.
As one of the most multidimensional nations on the planet—the Graduation approach is truly primed to push forward the mission of eradicating the injustice of extreme poverty in India so that all people can live their life in safety, dignity, and personal autonomy.