Findings from the BDI Conference on Programs for the Ultra Poor

April 3, 2009
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BRAC University Development Institute (BDI) and CGAP arranged a meeting of staff from the three ultra poor pilot programs that have been the most advanced in “graduating” members. The meeting provided a platform for the pilots so that they could share their experiences, draw lessons from each other and determine next steps.

(click here for background on BRAC’s Ultra Poor program and the conference)

BRAC University Development Institute (BDI) and CGAP arranged a meeting of staff from the three ultra poor pilot programs that have been the most advanced in “graduating” members. The meeting provided a platform for the pilots so that they could share their experiences, draw lessons from each other and determine next steps.

In addition to BDI, SKS and Trickle Up from India and Fonkoze from Haiti participated in the conference to discuss their pilot programs. They provided valuable insights on how the graduation model was applied in different contexts, highlighting differences and revealing the commonalities that bind the model together.

Here is a summary of the findings:

Targeting

The “graduation program” targets the poorest – those who are chronically food insecure or are extremely vulnerable to external shocks, and are generally below the population that microfinance serves. All three pilots felt confident that they had successfully targeted the poorest. In fact, they had specifically targeted female-headed households or women within these households.

Consumption Support

Since the program targets women who struggle to provide basic needs for themselves and their families, initial monetary support helps the members meet their immediate needs and provides them with a “breathing space” before they plan their future. All three pilots provide cash stipends but the amounts, durations and even purpose vary depending on the needs of the communities.

Livelihoods and Asset Transfer

Asset transfer is a central component of the program. It is intended to kick-start viable income generating activities that will build the productive base for stable livelihoods. The pilots agreed that members should be free to choose their income generating activities as long as it meets the approval of the program. Program staff ensures that these activities are stable, that markets exist for the product, and that households have the capacity to manage them.

Savings

Saving money is an important, but unknown concept to the ultra poor. After all, if you’ve never had enough money to pay for your basic needs, what money is there left over to save? As a result, all three of the pilot programs developed savings schemes that encourage and teach their members to save.

Handholding

When women first become members of the Graduation Program, they have little self-confidence and even less business know-how. All pilots agree that handholding is an integral component of the program in building confidence of member households and in charting out a future “business” plan for themselves. However, as with other components of the program (e.g. consumption support) it is essential that handholding does not foster dependency.

Graduation

When the program started BDI had a conceptual understanding of “graduation” as escaping chronic poverty (often in terms of chronic food insecurity). All three pilots use indicators that reflect greater earnings, increased physical and productive assets and improvements in social conditions. They also see ongoing access to financial services, like microfinance, as critical to maintaining household economic levels above the graduation point.

Interested in reading the full report? Email me at michelle[at]bracusa[dot]org.

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