Event Recap: Partnerships to End Poverty Workshop

RESULTS grassroots activists discuss the policy implications of the six pathways that were presented by the Microcredit Summit Campaign. It’s now their turn as RESULTS volunteers to decide what to do with that information. Learn how you can join RESULTS.

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On Sunday, July 19th, the Microcredit Summit Campaign hosted a standing-room-only workshop with attendees to the 2015 RESULTS International Conference. Those who came heard from leading voices on the future of financial inclusion, focusing on the crucial role of partnerships and advocacy in reaching the poorest.

Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, began the session by introducing the Campaign’s role in pushing for an understanding that achieving full financial inclusion means including those living in extreme poverty.

From the start, the Microcredit Summit Campaign has advocated scaling up microfinance and other financial inclusion interventions. They can provide those living in extreme poverty with the diverse array of financial and non-financial services that will support their journey out of poverty.

Reed spoke about the need for continued innovation in client-centered development of financial tools, creative ideas for reaching the hard-to-reach at affordable prices, and the promise that smart microfinance can help create positive and durable changes in the lives of those being served.

Six Pathways

Read more about the six pathways.

The Campaign is advocating for closer consideration of six financial inclusion strategies — our “six pathways” — that show promise in reaching people living in extreme poverty with needed products and services. These are the six pathways:

  1. Integrated health and microfinance
  2. Savings groups
  3. Graduation programs
  4. Financial technology
  5. Agricultural value chains
  6. Conditional cash transfers

In the discussion that followed, moderated by Sonja Kelly (fellow at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion), the panelists responded to questions about the importance of partnerships in achieving the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and the role, present and future, of microfinance and financial inclusion in supporting these efforts.

DSK Rao, regional director for Asia-Pacific at the Campaign, focused on the immense potential for integration of health education and services into the delivery model of microfinance. He explained that “microfinance institutions shouldn’t run hospitals, but should spread essential health information and services to their clients when needed.”

Rao explained that the presence of MFIs, with their deep penetration into hard-to-reach communities, offer important opportunities to also deliver valuable health services (both financial and non-financial) to families often excluded from more mainstream service channels.

Larry Reed discussion possible advocacy options RESULTS’ citizen activists could take to policy makers in the coming days and months.

Reed also expanded on the power of government partnerships — specifically through conditional cash transfer and graduation programs — to reach those living further down the poverty ladder than those included in other social protection program designs.

Another guest speaker in the workshop, Olumide Elegbe from FHI 360, has extensive experience designing long-term partnerships between the government, nonprofit, and private sectors. He explained that “successful development is cross-sectoral and integrated,” much like poverty itself.

The mission of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund, the parent organization of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, is to end the worst aspects of hunger and poverty. The annual International Conference aims to empower their grassroots activists from around the world to become strong and knowledgeable advocates for issues related to the RESULTS mission.

Therefore, after the panel discussion, workshop participants broke into small groups to take the discussion into brainstorming advocacy actions that can promote the kinds of financial inclusion interventions that will help end extreme poverty. These small group discussions focused on tangible points of action both for the longer term future as well as in anticipation of their meetings with representatives on Capitol Hill and at the World Bank on Tuesday, July 21st.

Voice your opinion in our comments section. How can you advocate for financial inclusion?

Learn more

Become a citizen advocate!

The Microcredit Summit Campaign’s role at RESULTS is to lift up microfinance solutions designed for the world’s extreme poor, creating economic opportunities to help lift themselves out of poverty.

The Campaign hosted a standing-room-only workshop with attendees to the 2015 RESULTS International Conference who came to hear from leading voices on the future of financial inclusion and the crucial role of partnerships and advocacy in reaching the poorest. Read RESULTS’ annual report today!


Related reading

World Bank report documents progress on poverty reduction and path ahead for Ethiopia

Beehives

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>>Authored by Jesse Marsden, Research and Operations Manager

The World Bank released a report in January about the progress made on poverty reduction in Ethiopia between 2000 and 2011, and it described what will be needed to end extreme poverty by 2030. Given our program with MasterCard Foundation in 2014 (see this post summarizing the “Innovations in Social Protection” program) this was of particular interest to us.

The Campaign is also increasingly focused on understanding how 6 key financial inclusion pathways are showing great promise in contributing to the end of extreme poverty.

The report suggests that Ethiopia’s concerted, collaborative, and well-supported poverty reduction effort has been a success story with remarkable results. In 2000, 56 percent of the population lived below the World Bank extreme poverty line of $1.25 a day PPP. By 2011, that rate had fallen a dramatic 25 points to 31 percent of the population. It is good to see too that the Bank report also covers non-income indicators, noting that as compared to 2000, by 2011 most Ethiopians had better health, education, and living standards as well as improved life expectancy. Access to basic services improved by double (meaning electricity and water in the home).

The report notes that this rate of progress is uncommon on the continent and is second only to the rate of poverty reduction seen in Uganda over the same period. It also seems that the right places received the attention needed. That is to say that regions with higher rates of poverty saw some of the most dramatic declines, particularly citing Tigray where the Campaign visited during our field visit in 2014.

In places where dramatic growth like this takes place, one of the oft noted concerns is that the gains from improvements are being felt by a limited segment of the population (usually those who were better off already). One of the most impressive statitstics concerning the poverty reduction seen in Ethiopia is that during this period the already low inequality level was maintained.

Success factors

So what has been at the heart of this progress? The report cites a wide range of factors, accurately reflecting the multi-faceted nature of poverty reduction efforts. It is worth noting however that the report does accredit the greatest share of poverty reduction having resulted mainly from a single sector, namely the rural, self-employed, agriculture sector. While factors such as consistently good rainfall and high food prices have played a positive role, the report notes the importance of some more intentional efforts.

The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) launched in 2005 (and a key part of our visit in 2014) has played an important role in poverty reduction by both directly reducing poverty rates by 2 percent as well as contributing indirectly through increasing agriculture input use and thereby increasing productivity. In addition, public investment has been “central” to the government development strategy and “redistribution has been an important contributor to poverty reduction.”

Ethiopia bases public spending decisions on a central and publicly accessible Growth and Transformation Plan. This strategy places primary importance on sectors crucial to poverty reduction including food security, education, health, roads, and access to water. With this plan in place since 2005 (concurrent with the launch of PSNP) public investments in social protection, agriculture and food security, and access to basic services have been key drivers of poverty reduction in Ethiopia.

Getting to zero extreme poverty

Where do we go from here? 31 percent of the population living below the extreme poverty line is still a huge extreme poverty rate. Based on our visits with policymakers and program implementers on the ground in Ethiopia last year, it is apparent that a continued focus on maintaining and expanding the gains seen from 2000 to 2011 in poverty reduction remain a central focus of key actors in Ethiopia now 3-4 years later.

The report says the future of poverty reduction will rest on as many different areas of work as it took to achieve the progress so far. The strategy presented seems to come down to a dual focus on increasing employment and economic opportunity in urban areas, and increasing agricultural production in rural regions. This is a very simplified presentation of a nuanced and complex set of approaches laid out in the report.

We are also encouraged by how well many of the recommendations echo what we saw on the ground in 2014 as well as what we seem to be seeing emerging as some of the key interventions for financial inclusion that will help end extreme poverty. One recommendation of particular note was for programs to move from a geographical approach for interventions (say, targeting a state or region) to one targeting a condition. The PSNP already works in this fashion as the program targets those meeting the definition of “food insecure” rather than organizing its deployment based on location.

Public works under the PSNP

Public works under the PSNP

One of the six pathways the Campaign is focused on is agricultural finance and value chain improvements. The Bank report points to the need for Ethiopia to continue strong support of agricultural production as a key driver of future poverty reductions. The PSNP program which included a public works component to increase access to irrigation and reduce arable land erosion. Additionally, the R4 program addresses weather related shocks and other agricultural risks, mentioned specifically in the report, through both avenues of response to events after they occur as well as preventative measures to mitigate the negative effects of future events.

We think it would be important for operators such as REST, one of the NGO implementers of the PSNP, to increase their activities around building the capacity of female farms managers to generate higher returns from their activities. In addition, the government should investigate how, though national-level programming, it can also support increased attention and support for female farm managers. Citing potential causes such as poor access to land or agricultural inputs, the report points out that female-managed farms produce 23 percent less than male managed farms. Ending extreme poverty will require addressing this gender discrepancy through policies that foster changes in institutional behavior and gender norms. This can be led perhaps by investigating how an add-on benefit to PSNP could be an agent for this change.

The report also supports the continuance and even growth of the use of social safety nets (such as cash transfers). It looks closely at the difference between indirect transfers via subsidies to producers of certain basic needs and direct transfers to the actual individuals. It ultimately recommends that spending on subsidies would have a great impact on poverty reduction if they were converted to direct transfers. The Campaign has pointed to greater use of technology to increase access to financial tools such as savings accounts, and groups like the Better Than Cash Alliance are also showing the power of using digital payments by governments.

Given Ethiopia’s still-limited mobile network infrastructure, making use of a digital payments platform to more accurately and cost-effectively deliver direct transfers may still be years away. However, we feel that building this infrastructure as a means to utilizing technology in its poverty reduction strategies will be important and should have received some attention in the report. Such a platform would support the report’s dual urban-rural approach since transfer programs exist both in urban and rural areas. Farmers can also receive information on market prices through mobile devices, thus enabling them to sell their products at the optimal profit. This can positively impact areas the report considers important, namely agricultural production, payment for inputs, and access to employment opportunities. We think this is an area missed by the report.

The report also places a great deal of emphasis on fostering employment in urban areas, noting that urban poverty in Addis Ababa tracks employment rates. While the report notes that employment won’t fully address urban poverty on its own, increasing such opportunities for the urban poor and self-employed is important. The report recommends decreasing the costs and barriers to migrating from rural to urban centers and supporting the entry and growth of firms who have the capacity to hire many employees.

Where the report suggests increased support will contribute to poverty reduction is in supporting self-employment in non-agricultural work. BRAC’s graduation model, one of the six pathways we recommend as a financial inclusion intervention key to ending extreme, can help. We spoke with graduates of REST’s graduation program in 2014, and it was clear to us that the program has had positive impacts. Now those anecdotes are backed up by evidence of the effectiveness of the graduation approach, not least of which are the recent set of studies published in Science a few weeks ago. They demonstrate the positive outcomes from the graduation approach, highlighting its importance as a financial inclusion pathway that is working well.

REST supports positive outcomes for its graduation participants by providing access to market research. Participants thus understand what kinds of income-generating activities have a better likelihood to succeed in their given location. Moreover, the graduation model concludes with a direct transfer that does not require a participant to choose self-employment over employment, allowing for perhaps the kind of flexibility the report might recommend — particularly in an urban setting.

The fifth financial inclusion intervention that the Campaign sees as key to ending extreme poverty is savings (and savings groups in particular as they are often able to reach persons banks can’t or won’t.) However, savings is markedly absent from the report. There is some discussion of addressing the ability for individuals to more easily liquidate assets such as land in order to facilitate urban migration, but little is mentioned concerning savings as a means to build an asset base and whether this can be a driver of poverty reduction in the future for Ethiopia.

We know from our visit that REST graduation participants are connected to formal savings accounts as well as financial capacity building resources to support them in making the most of those accounts. So we were surprised to see a discussion of asset building — savings in particular — so absent from the report. We think this should be an additional area of focus for poverty reduction strategies going forward.

Savings as a strategic element could be important to pursue in tandem with supporting the growth of the mobile network infrastructure since there are cost savings to be realized with providing mobile-based savings platforms. Savings incentives and programs could also be tied to the cash transfers of PSNP or the other safety net initiatives in Ethiopia. Savings accounts could become the landing point for those transfers on a future digital cash transfer platform.

Our recommendations

As a whole, we find the report extremely thorough concerning the approaches it covered and very much tied to the experience seen on the ground — as least in so far as our limited view into programs in Ethiopia from our Innovations in Social Protection program affords us. Of the six financial inclusion areas the Campaign sees as key to ending extreme poverty, three (agricultural finance and value chains, conditional and cash transfers, and the graduation approach) are mentioned in detail in the reports assessment of what will be needed to end extreme poverty in Ethiopia. We think that graduation programs can be a key response to the report’s recommendation to build opportunities for self-employment in non-agricultural activities.

Further consideration, however, should be given to the potential for digital technology platforms to play a powerful role in facilitating and improving the cash transfer programs. Though, Ethiopia will need to improve its telecommunications infrastructure to make this a possibility. Savings also has a role to play in supporting individuals’ ability to build an asset base which will help them seize opportunities and resist vulnerabilities. By linking cash transfers on digital platforms to savings accounts, this also can be an important part of Ethiopia’s financial inclusion strategies in the future.

Ultra Poor Graduation

PRA

Photo credit: BRAC

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>> Authored by Shameran Abed, Director, BRAC Microfinance Programme

Shameran Abed, BRAC’s Director of Microfinance, joined the Microfinance CEO Working Group in January. He and BRAC are welcome to additions to this collaboration. He joins the Working Group’s efforts to support the positive development of the microfinance industry and brings tremendous insigShameran Abedht into the discussion around pathways out of poverty.

This month, the results from six randomised controlled trials (RCTs), published in Science magazine highlighted a model of development that is an adaptable and exportable solution able to raise households from the worst forms of destitution and put them on to a pathway of self-reliance. The graduation approach — financial services integrated within a broader set of wrap-around services — is gaining steady recognition for its astonishing ability to transform the lives of the poorest.

These findings can be contrasted with the results of six RCTs published in January by the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, which cited limited evidence of “microcredit” transforming the lives of the poor.

In many ways, that was not surprising. There is only so much that microcredit alone can do to address a phenomenon as complex as poverty, especially within the rather short, 18-month timeframe of a research project. This partly explains the diversification most financial service providers have made into savings, microinsurance, financial education, and other models of financial inclusion that integrate different development services.

While the transformative effects of microcredit alone — or even microfinance — remain up for debate, it is now clear that access to savings and credit provided together with other wrap-around services not only provides a viable pathway out of poverty for the poor, they do so for the very poorest!

Following 30 years of work in building livelihoods for the poor, largely through microfinance and agricultural extension, BRAC learnt the hard way that we were not making effective poverty reduction gains for those most in need. We were consistently failing to reach the millions of households at the very bottom.

Classified as the “ultra poor,” this sub-segment of the extreme poor, who live on less than USD 0.80 per day, fail to meet their daily energy requirements, are chronically ill, and live on the fringes of society. In these circumstances where basic needs are unmet, microfinance alone can do little to provide a pathway out of poverty.

In 2002, BRAC developed a model designed to create livelihoods for the ultra-poor in a way that also addressed the other dimensions of abject poverty creating barriers to their development. Capitalising on our previous social safety net programme experience, BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra Poor programme (the basis of the graduation approach) combined asset transfer with livelihood development and social support.

GradBlogGraphic

For two years, clients receive an integrated package of cash stipends, an asset (such as a cow or chickens) with training, and basic healthcare. Early into the programme, clients cultivate strong savings behaviour, and learn the basics of financial management. The programme also includes a large social component: regular household visits from our staff and integration in the community.

Notably, the model in Bangladesh does integrate microcredit for some clients; 70 percent of the graduates in Bangladesh actually received their assets as “soft loans,” which they repay over the course of two years.

The results have been remarkable. Since 2002, 95 percent of the 1.4 million clients who have come through this programme have graduated from ultra-poverty. The programme is costly in one sense, because it’s grant-based and financially unsustainable, but the social returns are high and extend well beyond the end of the intervention period.  An RCT has shown that even years after members graduate, most continue to experience growth in their household income and well being.

The achievements of ultra-poor graduation are even greater because this is not a success story limited to Bangladesh. An initiative led by CGAP and the Ford Foundation sought to test the replicability of the BRAC model by piloting it in several contexts internationally.

The RCT results published in Science, which covered pilots in India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras and Peru, show definitively that they were successful. In all six of the countries studied, all treatment households witnessed significant improvements across a range of indicators that continued beyond the end of their programmes. Today, the graduation approach is continuing to break ground with a range of other actors that include microfinance providers, multilateral agencies, NGOs (e.g. Fundacion Capital, UNHCR, Concern Worldwide) as well as governments looking to improve costly social safety net programmes that protect the poor from destitution, but fail to put them on a ladder out of poverty.

As a sector that has come under fire for failing to make conspicuous reductions in poverty, the success of ultra-poor graduation carries notable implications for the role that financial services can play in putting millions onto pathways out of extreme poverty.

One is a lesson to microfinance providers that, actually, the extreme poor can be extremely credit worthy – once the initial investment is made. Indeed, some of BRAC’s most reliable and disciplined microfinance clients are graduates from our ultra-poor programme. Microfinance institutions may not be the ones to make that investment, but they can help ensure that “graduates” of such programmes have a bridge that transitions them from ultra-poverty into mainstream microfinance.

Secondly, this model shows that financial services, when integrated within a broader set of wrap-around services, is unquestionably transformational, even for those in the most desperate forms of poverty.

Critics will likely ask, which are the most crucial elements? Is it financial access that is making wrap-around services transformational, or is it the wrap-around services that make financial access transformational?

The answer is most likely some combination of the two, but so long as this interaction is producing these results, I am satisfied in knowing that access to financial services remains a vital ingredient in the solution to extreme poverty.


Shameran Abed is the director of the BRAC microfinance programme, which serves more than five million clients in seven countries in Asia and Africa, and has total assets exceeding USD 1 billion.

Starting its work in the early 1970s, BRAC was one of the earliest known organisations to use the modern microfinance model of lending small amounts to groups of women. Working alongside several other development programmes, the success of the microfinance programme supported BRAC in its growth to be the largest development organisation in the world in terms of staff numbers.

Mr Abed also serves on the boards of BRAC Bank’s mobile financial services subsidiary, bKash, and Guardian Life Insurance. Additionally, he sits on the Microfinance Network Steering Committee and the World Economic Forum Financial Inclusion Steering Committee. Prior to joining BRAC, Mr Abed was a journalist and wrote primarily on political issues.

Mr Abed is a lawyer by training, having been made a barrister by the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in London, UK. He completed his undergraduate studies at Hamilton College in the United States, majoring in economics and minoring in political science.


BRAC launched a Campaign Commitment in 2014! We invite you also to…

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Join the movement to help 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty:

#tbt: Interview with Sir Fazle Abed of BRAC

Photo courtesy of BRAC

Photo courtesy of BRAC

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Pathway

Ultra-poor graduation programs


We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2011. It documents an interview conducted with Sir Fazle Abed, founder and chair of BRAC in Bangladesh.


Interview with Sir Fazle Abed of BRAC

What excites you about microfinance today?

Microfinance is the most exciting thing that has happened to poor people over the last 30 years. We have worked with the poor in a way that honors their dignity, and we have shown that poverty alleviation is not a give-away thing.

What concerns you about microfinance today?

BRAC Chair Fazle Abed to Attend Africa-Middle East Regional Microcredit Summit

Sir Fazle Abed, founder and chair of BRAC in Bangladesh

There is a lot of greed coming into microfinance. A lot of people wish to make a lot of money out of it, and that worries me a little bit. I also [understand] the other side of it – when return on investment is high, more money will flow into the sector … I just don’t think that people should make money out of poverty.

I think we still have a long way to go in reaching people, particularly poor people in remote areas, rural areas, and so on. That remains a great challenge.

You came into microfinance as a poverty alleviation tool …

[Yes], we came to microfinance by looking first at integrated rural development, looking at people for their health, education, employment [and] savings. We actually started a savings program before we started giving credit.

I have always felt that poor people have very short time horizons to think about – daily bread, daily needs. They can’t think more than 24 hours at a time. I thought the thing to do was to start savings because that would give a person a longer time frame to think about, not just one day.

What about the randomized control trials (RCTs) that have been done to measure the impact of microfinance? Largely they have shown very limited impact, sort of mixed results, and yet in BRAC you have millions of people coming back for loans year after year. How do you reconcile your experience with the results of these studies?

I understand that RCTs may be scientifically quite good to have, but microfinance works best when you have done it for a number of years. With the first microcredit taken by a woman, she has immediate consumption needs, so she buys those things which she needs most [but] doesn’t show a great deal of improvement in either nutrition or health or welfare. But we found in a longitudinal impact study [from] 1999 to 2005 that you can see significant results in somebody’s income and welfare if somebody has taken three loans and the quantum of the loans is more than US$400.

Does microfinance help a poor person lift herself out of poverty, or is it microfinance combined with other things that does that?

Microfinance has to be combined with other things like health and education. When going into a new area, [get] microfinance … working right and then you can provide education and health care and other things.The unique thing about microfinance is that it creates…capital that can be leveraged to supply other development services. We have eight million women meeting together every week in 300,000 Village Organizations. They know how to invest money, pay it back and save for the future. They know how to work together. Because of their work with us, they now know how to interact with formal institutions. So that forms the base for addressing the other constraints that they [face], and it also provides the scale you need to develop [viable] programs.

That sounds complicated. Shouldn’t a microfinance organization focus on what it does best, financial services, and let others focus on the other needs?

I think that is too limited a way to think about what we do best. The basic spirit of microfinance is to search for possibilities based on knowledge, understanding and perspectives that start at the ground level. We understand our clients and their needs. We know how to select clients, enforce contracts, manage money, develop systems and deploy people and resources on a very large scale. There is no reason why we cannot use those same skills to address the other constraints our clients face.

In BRAC, we saw that many women were stuck in low-return activities. We saw that many were involved in poultry but were not making much money because of diseases, so we trained a person in each Village Organization to do vaccinations, treat basic diseases, and train in proper feed and hygiene. These people get paid for the services they provide to the women who raise chickens. Between the growers, advisers and sellers, they have created almost two million poultry jobs.

We did something similar with basic health care. We trained a person from each Village Organization … to provide basic health information and advice. They each cover 300 households and sell nonprescription medication, bring pregnant mothers in for check-ups and help mothers bring their children in for immunization. We have 80,000 volunteers covering 64 districts and a population of 92 million.

We’ve added other things, too. Economic development for adolescents, training in legal rights, programs for commercial sex workers, primary schools that have trained four million students, and programs aimed at those too poor to make good use of our financial services.

How can someone be too poor for microfinance?

Our Research Division looked at those who dropped out of our program and found that most of them were among the poorest. This group tended to borrow far smaller amounts, do so less frequently and have more problems with repayments. We worked with donors to develop a program that targeted the ultra-poor.

It starts with a ration card for food, plus training in business skills and money management. Over time, we provide them with a small loan and then seek to graduate them to our microfinance program. So far, about three quarters of them have graduated. CGAP did a study on this program and found that the average subsidy per woman was US$135. As more and more of these women graduate into the microfinance program, we hope to recoup these subsidies.

What is BRAC doing with small and medium businesses?

You need to create jobs for poor people [in addition to making] them social entrepreneurs. [For this reason], I asked a group of donors [for] money to start a small and medium enterprise lending program, and this has been very successful in creating new jobs for people. We set up a bank in Bangladesh and it is creating jobs on a fairly large scale, $1.2 billion now for small enterprises.

Are you able to use technology in a way that lowers your costs and helps you get out to more rural areas?

This is my hope. In the next three to five years in Bangladesh, almost everybody, including our poorest clients, will have access to a cell phone. BRAC has already got a license from the Central Bank to set up a mobile cash management system. In other words, all these 30 million Bangladeshi microfinance borrowers will have access to mobile payments, and then we will be able to cut down the costs of delivering financial services to the poorest people in the remotest areas.

Do you think this will create a push to more individual lending, or will the group programs continue?

The group programs will still continue, but face-to-face time with people will diminish a bit and we will have to find another way of meeting them. Right now, 8.2 million people in Bangladesh meet BRAC staff every week. That is too costly. I would rather meet these 8.2 million people once a month and cut down [their] travel. We can collect their money and stay connected to them through cell phones. They will be able to transact business among themselves through their cell phones. I think tremendous efficiency comes out of this, on their side as well as our side.

It sounds like you are looking forward to what comes next.

I just hope I live long enough to see this happen. It is wonderful to see all the changes that are happening and in the right direction. Some people have said that as you grow older you get more and more pessimistic, but I get more optimistic the older I get.

Re-post of “Next Generation Innovation in Microfinance? The Graduation Approach”

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Aude de Montesquiou, a microfinance specialist at CGAP, published a nice summary of the June 9th e-workshop called “Adopting the Graduation Model to Serve the Ultra-Poor.” If you want to learn more about the graduation model, BRAC offers “Immersion and Training Visits” and the next two are this August (week of the 18th and 25th). Please contact Sadna Samaranayake to register.

The e-workshop clearly unpacked how the Graduation Approach works and how microfinance institutions have and can adopt the model. Sadna Samaranayake from BRAC USA took participants through a detailed look at the various components of the program emphasizing the value of community participation in the client selection/ targeting process, the asset transfer component and how clients are trained on generating an income from their newly acquired assets. She spoke about the integrated focus on savings, health care support, and the important role played by village level poverty reduction committees mobilized to help clients with various issues and household shocks after the duration of the 24 month program. BRAC USA believes that, for sustainable MFIs looking to extend their pro-poor missions, the Graduation approach is a great use of donor or discounted funding to help them reach a previously inaccessible poorer client segment—much in line with the “double business case” work conducted by Grameen Foundation.

Read the full post.

Graduating Families out of Ultra-Poverty (E-Workshop Recap)

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Due to technical difficulties, the webinar recording function started late. We apologize for this inconvenience and have made a summary and the presenter’s slides available to you.

BRAC client

Image courtesy of BRAC


Webinar resources


Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, moderated an engaging discussion about the Graduation Model pioneered by BRAC, an international development organization based in Bangladesh, that included Sadna Samaranayake (Program Manager of the Ultra-Poor Graduation Program at BRAC USA), Carine Roenen (Executive Director of Fonkoze in Haiti) and Raymond Serios (Special Projects Manager at Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation).

Sadna Samaranayake, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Program

Sadna opened by describing BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Approach which targets ultra-poor households and follows a process of focused interventions carefully sequenced to “graduate” households out of ultra-poverty. While the World Bank uses the $1.25 per day income threshold to define extreme poverty, BRAC understands the ultra-poor as those in the bottom half of earnings among those below the $1.25 a day line.

Sadna explained that the first step in the process to graduating households from ultra-poverty is to carefully target and select families for program participation. This requires community mapping and wealth ranking exercises to determine which community members are in the most need.

Once chosen to participate in the program, clients receive a transfer of productive assets and a cash stipend. Sadna explained that productive assets can be livestock, seeds for planting, or small goods for enterprise. The cash stipend allows clients flexibility to start improving their livelihood while beginning to generate an income from the productive assets.

Next the clients receive training and they start to generate an income for themselves. As time progresses, clients are encouraged to save money and are given access to appropriate health care. Ultimately, the objective of the graduation approach is to ensure that all families are better integrated into the social fabric of the community and are generating enough sustainable income to conquer ultra-poverty.

Graduation occurs over a period of 24 months when households achieve set economic and social goals including not having a reported food deficit in the past year, having multiple sources of income, owning livestock/poultry, having a sanitary latrine and clean drinking water, having cash savings and school age children attending school. Over the past 12 years, BRAC has graduated 1.4 million people, mainly in Bangladesh and has committed to graduating 250,000 more families by the end of 2016.

Carine Roenen, Fonkoze

Carine followed by illustrating the challenges of implementing a graduation model in Haiti. The Fokonze approach is an adaptation of the BRAC model with slight changes for the context for working in Haiti. Fonkoze has reached 62,735 clients with loans, and graduated 2,900 clients from ultra-poverty. Currently, Fokonze is hoping to expand its outreach in Haiti to graduate more households out of ultra-poverty.

Raymond Serios, Negros Women for Tomorrow

Raymond used his opportunity to interview both Sadna and Carine about the process of implementing a graduation model in his context in the Philippines. Raymond inquired about how BRAC and Fonkoze choose productive assets with the households. Carine responded that it depends on the skills of the client and should be something that she is already familiar with or willing to learn.

Larry then moderated a discussion among the panelists based on questions submitted by webinar participants. Some of the questions focused on monitoring and evaluation processes to track progress toward graduation. Others touched similarly on impact in the long term. It was a lively discussion that included an optional time extension after the official schedule ended to continue discussions. (See all the questions and comments in the webinar chat.)


We would like to thank all of the panelists and all of the participants who attended the webinar and participated via the chat and Q&A functions. We invite you to comment on this post to continue the discussion about the graduation model and further share ideas.

We also invite you to explore the links below to the recording of the webinar, presentations from BRAC and Fokonze, as well as the Robin Burgess report about the impact of the graduation model program on employment choices.

We hope you will join us for our next e-workshop “Instilling Confidence in Poverty Measurement: The New PPI Certification” on Tuesday, June 24th at 10:00 AM (EDT/GMT-4) and featuring panelists Frank Ballard (Grameen Foundation), Analí Oda Salcedo (Planet Rating), and Chiara Pescatori (MicroFinanza Rating).

Webinar Resources:


E-Workshops are hosted by the 100 Million Project of the Microcredit Summit Campaign and strive to feature the work of organizations who have announced Campaign Commitments to take specific, measurable and time-bound actions that demonstrate their commitment to the end of extreme poverty. Are you Committed?  Find out how to share your Commitment to the end of extreme poverty.

2014 Report Sneak Peak: The CCT-Graduation Model Ecosystem Infographic

Like what you see? Excited to learn more? Join us tomorrow at 3 PM for the launch of Resilience: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2014. RSVP today!

The Conditional Cash Transfer-Graduation Model Ecosystem

Click on the infographic to see it in full size


In-person: Busboys and Poets (14th & V)

Online here

If you RSVP, we will send you an electronic copy of the report.


BRAC declares Campaign Commitment to graduate 250,000 households from ultra-poverty

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Summary: The Microcredit Summit Campaign welcomes BRAC as the newest Campaign Commitment member, joining a global coalition to help 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Read the full Press Release.
BRAC group meeting

Image courtesy of BRAC

BRAC is a development organization founded in Bangladesh in 1972 and has since become one of the largest NGOs in the world in terms of employees and number of clients served, spreading successful poverty alleviating solutions born in the developing world to other countries. In 2002, BRAC launched the Ultra-Poor Graduation Program, which aimed at lifting the ultra poor out of their situation of poverty so that they can access mainstream development services such as microfinance. The program targets extremely deprived women and their households, and maintains BRAC’s holistic approach to development by providing targeted asset grants, skill training and healthcare support. Since 2002, 1.4 million households have already graduated from BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Program. With this tremendous success, BRAC plans to continue the spread of this model to reach even more households around the globe.

When asked about the origins of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Program, Program Manager Sadna Samaranayake responded,“The extreme poor, living on less than $1.25 a day, are far from homogenous. Among them are households trapped in the direst forms of destitution, who are chronically hungry, lack assets, income, or support from their communities. It was to address the needs of these populations, the ultra-poor at the margins and beyond the reach of microfinance and other development programs, that BRAC pioneered what is now known as the Graduation approach. Even the poorest can “graduate” from ultra-poverty with a set of carefully tailored interventions designed to help achieve increased incomes, food security and better resilience overall. A complement to MFI, NGO and government strategies to reach the ultra-poor, BRAC is committed to advancing knowledge and implementation of the Graduation approach.”

Some key excerpts of BRAC’s Campaign Commitment:

  • In Bangladesh alone, BRAC commits to graduating 250,000 households out of ultra-poverty by the end of 2016.
  • BRAC commits to publishing an in-depth implementation guide in September 2014 to help governments, microfinance institutions and NGOs execute their own ultra-poor graduation programs. Additionally, BRAC commits to providing technical assistance and consultation where requested to governments, NGOs and MFIs looking to implement the graduation approach.
  • BRAC commits to hosting a national conference on the graduation approach in a country where BRAC operates in 2014.
  • BRAC commits to hosting annual Immersion and Training Visits in Bangladesh for interested parties including policy makers, microfinance institutions, multilateral funders, and donors to witness the graduation program in action. During these visits, participants will get an in-depth look at the program, from field staff training ultra-poor women on how to realize a return on their new assets, to the healthcare, savings and social integration elements of the approach.

The next round of these Immersion Training Visits are on the weeks of August 18th and August 25th. Contact Sadna Samaranayake at sadna@bracusa.org to register.

Read the BRAC Commitment Letter.


Join BRAC and State your Campaign Commitment

Join us in the global coalition to help 100 million families lift themselves out of poverty – state your Campaign Commitment at mycommitment@microcreditsummit.org

Need additional guidance in formulating your own Campaign Commitment? Refer to our Commitment Development Toolkit.

Be social with us on Facebook and Twitter (@MicroCredSummit) using the hashtags #Commit100M and #100MGoal