By Jasveen Bindra | Technical Advisor, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative
The Bab Amal Program, modeled on the Graduation approach, aims to reduce poverty in rural Upper Egypt by targeting 2,400 extreme poor households in the two poorest governorates in the country. The program is funded by the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development (SFSD), one of the first family donor foundations dedicated to social development in Egypt. With the technical assistance of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI), two local NGOs, Egyptian Human Development Association and Giving Without Limits Association, are implementing the pilots in Sohag and Assiut. The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) is conducting a randomized evaluation of the program, looking closely at aspects of gender and livelihoods, as well as testing a low cost version of the program most relevant for government integration and scale.
In the past few years, the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MOSS) in Egypt has rolled out expansive cash transfer programs, most notably Takaful, a conditional cash transfer based on fulfilling specific education, health, and nutrition requirements for children, and Karama, an unconditional cash transfer for people living with disabilities, the elderly, and orphans.¹ These programs provide significant support to millions of poor households, with Takaful alone providing support to 2.25 million poor households. However, a further increase in food prices or any disruption in the cash transfer can increase the vulnerability of poor households. The governorates of Assiut and Sohag with poverty rates of 66% and 65% respectively, which are over double the national poverty line, include households that are highly vulnerable to shocks and can benefit from integrated development programs like the Graduation approach².
Although not implemented by the Egyptian government, the Bab Amal program has been designed to serve as an ally and complement to national social protection. Globally, the Graduation approach has been integrated into existing government social protection, economic inclusion, and livelihoods programming through multiple ways. This includes government or multilateral funded Graduation programs in partnership with local organizations to help build capacity and enhance the government’s pro-poor programming, such as the pilot launched by the Department of Labor and Employment in the Philippines in partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Another model is based on Graduation programs funded and implemented through non government organizations as localized demonstration pilots to inform the national poverty strategy and social protection. The Bab Amal program, a demonstration pilot implemented by NGOs to inform government programs at scale falls under this category, and engages with the national and local government in three key ways.
- Through engagement with the national government, the frontline staff or coaches in the Bab Amal program are applying the life skills training curriculum (Wa’i) designed by MOSS and were recently trained on the curriculum by government consultants. Training and coaching on a life skills curriculum is an intervention within the social empowerment pillar, which typically includes topics on WASH, health, and gender, as well as a focus on community integration. This pillar is one of BRAC’s four Graduation pillars.³
- Secondly, the program staff leverage resources of local government departments at the governorate and municipal level. In Assiut and Sohag, government officials from the local agriculture and animal husbandry departments are present during the livelihood asset delivery process to provide technical inputs as well as legitimacy to the proceedings for the participants. Local MOSS officials are also available during the community engagement meetings where Graduation participants seek support to resolve any major issues that do not fall under the purview of the program, e.g., housing repair, access to water and sanitation, etc.
- Thirdly, J-PAL is testing the impact on household economic and social outcomes of a lower cost version of the program to inform government scale. This version, which includes a half cost livelihood asset and less frequent household coaching sessions, will be compared with the full cost version as well as a randomly selected comparison group. It is expected that the results will be particularly relevant to future policy adaptations and government stakeholders.
As the program continues to take shape over the course of the next year, BRAC’s UPGI and local implementers will be paying special attention to further learnings and challenge points related with building Graduation programming at scale in Egypt and beyond. As the world races towards the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030, one thing is for certain: it will take incredible partnership and innovative thinking to reach those most in need and through interventions like the Graduation approach, extreme poverty can be made a thing of the past.