By Jasveen Bindra | Technical Advisor & Bobby Irven | Communications Manager, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative
Poverty is created by barriers. The barriers that reinforce poverty are multidimensional but often tied to an individual’s inability to access the resources and tools needed to overcome the circumstances that keep them trapped. We at BRAC believe every person has the right to meet their basic needs. We strive to combat inequality around the world by providing people on the margins of society access to basic services, which is more important now than ever before as COVID-19 forces more than 100 million people into extreme poverty and pre-existing threats like climate change and food insecurity worsen in places where resources are already strained.
As we have highlighted in past reflections, many governments around the world are already leveraging social protection schemes to help their citizens meet their most basic needs, from national health care plans to livelihoods programs. But far more needs to be done if we are to overcome the impact of the pandemic and eradicate extreme poverty. Through the Graduation approach, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI) is expanding access to basic services for people living in extreme poverty around the world. By creating strong and sustainable partnerships with governments and the marginalized communities they serve, we believe BRAC’s holistic Graduation approach can help bring justice to those left behind by traditional development interventions, and create a more equitable world.
One country where we are increasing access to basic services for people in extreme poverty is in Upper Egypt, where BRAC UPGI partnered with the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development (SFSD), Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Egyptian Human Development Association (EHDA), and Giving Without Limits Association (GWLA) to launch the Bab Amal program. While the COVID-19 pandemic created additional challenges and delays early in the program’s implementation stages, BRAC UPGI and its partners managed to adapt and further evolve its approach to creating linkages — or connecting participants to available public services. To ensure that participants, their families, and even entire communities are able to weather the storm and move onward and upward from this global crisis, program staff and coaches have put a renewed focus on ensuring that eligible program participants are connected to basic services like health clinics, schools, sanitation facilities, government social protection programs, identification cards etc.
The Bab Amal program started in late 2018 in the two poorest governorates of Egypt: Assiut and Sohag. In a country that has 32.5 percent of its population living below the national poverty line, people living in extreme poverty in Egypt already faced significant challenges due to rising food prices, currency devaluation, and a lack of sustainable employment opportunities. As with any of our Graduation programs and pilots, coaches and field staff are tasked with creating life-saving linkages to help participants carve a pathway out of extreme poverty — helping them meet their most basic needs.
In a time when health has been of paramount importance, and many of the program’s participants previously had little or no access to clinics or basic health information, health referrals are a life or death matter. Coaches provide detailed information on where and how to access clinics, receive medication, and how to plan follow-ups for chronic illness care. In the case of participants from the village of Arab El Attiat, coaches were able to coordinate with a local health foundation for a special medical convoy to reach a group of remotely-located participants. Participants and their households were able to receive check-ups and follow up surgeries from this connection, some of which had never before received the proper care for their ailments or long-term issues.
Coaches also play a critical role in building connections to financial services and savings for participants. The participants in our programs are often under the assumption that given their financial status, or lack thereof, they are ineligible to access formal, public financial services like bank accounts or loans, but it is a lack of financial literacy that is the actual roadblock. It is the simple act of opening a post office account that immediately begins these participants’ journey toward greater financial inclusion. This is because an account is required to physically receive the cash transfers offered by the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s (MOSS) Takaful and Karama social benefit scheme and serves as a starting point for access formal financial services down the road. Savings groups have also been established to encourage more consistent financial behavior around savings and loan taking, which builds resilience against future shocks and serves as a social network for women to convene, engage, and share experiences and best practices from the program.
As long as social protection continues to be seen or in some cases, fought for, as a human right, the needs of those living in extreme poverty can be met, and surpassed. The current pandemic has taught us that providing social safety nets for all people builds resilience and mitigates against great shocks, and at the very least upholds human dignity during difficult times. BRAC UPGI continues to work towards its commitment to create effective solutions to the global poverty issues that have only increased in the past year, and we look forward to building our government, multilateral, and civil society partnerships so we can create maximum and long-term impacts via our Graduation approach.