“Everything changed completely. New horizons were opened to me...I am courageous, I am valued. I own something.” — Marlin
By Jake Konig | Content Development Associate, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative
COVID-19 is a shock depriving millions of people of their fundamental human rights to education, work, reproductive autonomy, basic sanitation, and food security.
Though painful to imagine another COVID-19 level event, potential threats like future pandemics driven by compounding urbanization or devastating climate crises should prompt governments and communities to relentlessly iterate and scale evidence-based solutions that strengthen both individual and national capacity to withstand major shocks. These solutions must reach those who are most vulnerable to external shocks, which overwhelmingly are people living in extreme poverty.
We need to support solutions that build resilience.
Globally, BRAC has been working with partners and governments throughout the pandemic to adapt, design, and sustain robust poverty alleviation programs via our Graduation approach that bolster participating households’ resilience and empower them to withstand the pandemic and its economic impact.
BRAC’s Graduation approach strengthens the resilience of program participants through fostering sustainable and diversified livelihoods, linkages to financial and community support systems, and regular coaching and training throughout participation. One example that depicts the effectiveness of Graduation during a major shock like COVID-19 is the Bab Amal Graduation program—an Egyptian Graduation project where UPGI is providing technical assistance to implementing partners.
Participating in the Bab Amal Program empowered Marlin (pictured above) to not only survive the shock of COVID-19, but to emerge from the depths of the crisis more financially and emotionally resilient than when she entered it. Project implementers and coaches worked closely with Marlin to diversify her livelihoods during the peak of COVID-19 to ensure that if demand decreased in her goat rearing business, she would be able to shift to her textile livelihood to support her family.
Diversifying her income streams allowed Marlin to continue growing her business throughout the pandemic while expanding her livestock from goats alone to sheep and ducks as well. Before Marlin entered the Bab Amal program, she had to wait in line all day for flour that produced a single loaf of bread. Now, she enters the market as a thriving proprietor of goat meat and milk, duck eggs, wool, and textiles.
The Bab Amal Graduation program facilitated linkages between Marlin and local financial service providers, building her financial literacy which empowered her to protect savings and utilize strategic financial services during shocks.
“My daughter helps me to record sales in the notebook. We gather and put money in the safe box.”
Beyond building Marlin’s economic resilience, the program also incorporated regular mentorship and life skills training, as well as connection to Village Solidarity Committees (VSCs) that promote social inclusion and provide a safe space to discuss topics such as gender equality. These activities are modeled from the Graduation approach’s Social Empowerment Pillar, which is designed to address poverty of self-esteem in addition to poverty of resources. These facets of the Bab Amal Graduation program have increased Marlin’s confidence and empowered her to more fully integrate into her community.
“My life was full of hardships, I hated my life. I used to weep while I was alone and couldn’t attend any events because I didn’t have money…[now] my neighbors ask me how I have grown my business when I see them in the street. I give them tips…Everything changed completely. I am valued.”
From implementing remote Training of Trainers (ToTs) in Zambia and shifting to livelihoods during strict quarantine in the Philippines, to adapting Graduation through various entities and programs in Bangladesh to address evolving needs, BRAC UPGI has adapted Graduation programs globally to build resilience and support the most vulnerable people during the unprecedented challenges of the past 18 months. Although the Graduation approach is especially effective in addressing current, urgent needs, its impact is long term.
Recently published research from Atiya Rahman and Oriana Bandiera shows that Graduation participants who escape from extreme poverty appear to have more productive, higher paying jobs, and greater job security even 13 years after entering the program.
Born from the catastrophic shocks of the Bangladeshi war for independence and one of the world’s most devastating cyclones, BRAC’s commitment to scaling effective and bold solutions that put the furthest behind first in the face of crisis is in its DNA. It is with this history that BRAC pioneered the Graduation approach in 2002, and nearly two decades later, UPGI continues to adapt and scale the Graduation approach to create resilient, upward trajectories out of extreme poverty.