By Courtney Calardo | Senior Communications Manager, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative
Without a solution tailored for the world’s poorest people, we will not be able to eradicate poverty. Nearly 700 million people around the world live in a precarious state of extreme poverty so severe that traditional development interventions fail to reach them. According to recent estimates by the World Bank, more than 70 million people are expected to join them by the end of the year as a result of COVID-19 and the economic lockdowns to prevent further spread of the virus. For many of us dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty, these estimates have been demoralising.
“We must act swiftly and design programs that meet the increasing and evolving needs of those living in extreme poverty — programs that are comprehensive, expansive, and immediate but for long-term needs — to build resilience and support sustainable recovery,” said Shameran Abed, Senior Director of BRAC Microfinance and Ultra-Poor Graduation programs.
In May, we highlighted the importance of expanding existing programs and making them more transferable to the local level, which will lead to greater sustainability and resilience in the face of the next pandemic. The circumstances of extreme poverty — what inhibits people from escaping such dire physical and psychological circumstances — vary across different contexts, demographics, and physicalities, bringing with them a unique set of needs and challenges.
The needs and challenges of someone living in extreme poverty in a pastoralist community in the arid and semi arid lands (ASAL) of northern Kenya, for instance, vary greatly from the needs and challenges of someone living in extreme poverty in southern Bangladesh. While both populations are greatly affected by climate change, households in Kenya require livelihoods beyond livestock, such as petty trade, that are resistant to the impact of drought. Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, households require emergency shelters during flooding and livelihoods such as saline resistant crops and rice-fish farming to mitigate the impact of high soil salinity.
Effectively meeting the unique, multidimensional, long-term needs of the world’s poorest people requires adaptability of proven, holistic solutions. BRAC’s Graduation approach, a multifaceted set of interventions that helps people lift themselves from extreme poverty and avoid falling back into it later is one such solution. It is adapted based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by those living at this severe level of extreme poverty and as a result, it has helped more than nine million people develop sustainable, resilient livelihoods in Bangladesh alone.
As the pioneer of the Graduation approach, BRAC has directly implemented and provided technical assistance on Graduation in 14 countries over the last 17 years. We have adapted programs beyond rural contexts to urban, climate- conflict-, displacement-affected contexts, and for a variety of populations including women, youth, host communities, and persons with disabilities.
Additionally, BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI) has been providing advisory services and technical support to governments of varying capacities across Africa and Asia on integrating Graduation with existing social protection systems. We have worked with government partners in the Philippines, Kenya, Rwanda, Lesotho, Guinea, and Pakistan, among others, adapting our approach in each country to fit the local context and effectively integrate into existing programming. Through our work supporting national government partners to design inclusive policy and programs, and facilitating high quality implementation in collaboration with local government, BRAC UPGI has gleaned key lessons on enhancing the ability of local governments to ensure holistic support reaches those most in need particularly during the pandemic.
Long before implementation of the Graduation approach begins, we collaborate with partners on vulnerability assessments (using both national data and community-level assessments) that engage local actors including civil society and local governments, along with members of the community, to help identify the specific challenges faced by the poorest people in that context. The findings of the assessments inform the design of contextualized program interventions that meet the unique needs of the target population.
In the Philippines, focus group discussions and household surveys with community members and consultations with local leaders surfaced the susceptibility of extreme poor communities to high rates of debt. As a result, the Graduation program prioritized a robust financial inclusion component that includes a partnership with Negros Women of Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF) for financial literacy training and Cebuana for micro-savings accounts.
It is critical that assessments — both formal and informal — continue throughout the life cycle of a program to ensure that the response is tailored to the evolving needs of the community. In the wake of the global pandemic, Graduation staff in the Philippines and Egypt identified the need to dispel misinformation regarding the spread of COVID-19 by reinforcing hygiene and health life skills. Additionally, rapid surveys and monitoring information in these countries indicated a significant loss in income and subsequent reliance on emergency cash transfers for basic needs, which has implications for government response as the pandemic continues.
We at BRAC are working to help 21 million more people lift themselves from extreme poverty in the next six years by integrating Graduation into existing programs. The level of effort, programming, resources, and tenacity required to eradicate extreme poverty vastly exceeds the capabilities of a single organization, however. Thus, BRAC will scale its efforts to partner with governments, multilateral institutions, NGOs, and civil society, in countries where we can have maximum impact and drive greater uptake for Graduation. We must work together to ensure we are effectively addressing the unique, multidimensional needs of those living in extreme poverty in order to break the cycle of poverty and make it a thing of the past.