Trickle Up uses BRAC Development Institute’s “life histories” research to enhance its program for the ultra poor

October 27, 2011
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The following was originally posted on the CGAP Graduation blog by Janet Heisey, Director of the Asia Program at Trickle Up. The research paper “And Who Listens to the Poor? Shocks, Stresses and Safety Nets in India and Pakistan” by Karishma Huda, Sandeep Kaur and Nicolina Lamhauge, offers an interesting framework for qualitative evaluation of livelihood programs, such as those we implement at Trickle Up. It posed and answered some interesting questions: what keeps extremely poor people trapped in cycles of deprivation? Does the Graduation Program address these constraints? How can programs allocate resources to ensure that the maximum number of participants succeed?

The following was originally posted on the CGAP Graduation blog by Janet Heisey, Director of the Asia Program at Trickle Up.

The research paperAnd Who Listens to the Poor? Shocks, Stresses and Safety Nets in India and Pakistan” by Karishma Huda, Sandeep Kaur and Nicolina Lamhauge, offers an interesting framework for qualitative evaluation of livelihood programs, such as those we implement at Trickle Up. It posed and answered some interesting questions: what keeps extremely poor people trapped in cycles of deprivation? Does the Graduation Program address these constraints? How can programs allocate resources to ensure that the maximum number of participants succeed?

It features extensive case studies of 20 project participants who completed the India-based project in 2009. These rich life histories provides a much more nuanced picture of participants’ lives before and after the project, and makes clear that while all participants may have been equally poor economically at the start, they didn’t all begin with the same resources and vulnerabilities. While our strong poverty selection process helps us identify people who are more or less equally poor, it only provides a snapshot of the participants’ economic situation at that time: such as the assets they have on hand or the condition of the house at that moment.

For instance, for Indu (no real names are used) each day brought fresh uncertainty and difficulty. She lived in a village that was isolated and without services, even by the standards of her remote West Bengal region. Her husband was an alcoholic and worked sporadically. Indu’s field worker said that her house, health, and self-confidence at the start of the project were the worst he had ever seen. By the end of the project, however, she was one of the eight participants whose life path had changed significantly for the better.

Equally poor at the start was Sushila. But, unlike Indu, when she was young she and her siblings all attended school for several years. As an adult, Sushila has been active in local politics and respected in her community, and her uncle is a village leader. Sushila had more resources to draw on than Indu—right from the start. Sushila was one of the three women for whom Trickle Up’s program reinforced an already positive trajectory.

Huda, Kaur, and Lamhauge’s research reinforced questions that we at Trickle Up began to ask ourselves over the course of the pilot about how we allocate resources and assess participants’ progress. It may be that Indu required every bit of support the project provided—plenty of one-on-one support and handholding, and some careful field worker intervention to address her husband’s lack of support—to help her improve her opportunities. Sushila, however, may have needed more of a ‘nudge’ than a ‘push’, by receiving some, but not all, of the full complement of services. Could one or two program components (perhaps savings group membership, the asset and livelihood activity training) have been enough to enable her to succeed? Are there program components Sushila could have done without and still had a positive outcome? Knowing this, even mid-way through a project, would enable us to reallocate resources so each participant gets the kind of support they need to succeed. This is particularly important for the handholding component as it is purely a function of how much time a field worker has to visit each participant—time that could be focused more on those needing more support. Such an adjustment may have enabled more of the women who began with their lives on “a downward trajectory” to succeed by project’s end.

We’re trying to consider ways that qualitative research throughout the program cycle might give some indication of a participants’ trajectory so we can better tailor our program along the way. Next week we’ll look at more ways the research was valuable for us and may be for other organizations too.

Research on the CGAP-Ford Graduation Program has been done by the BRAC Development Institute with support from BRAC USA and The MasterCard Foundation.

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