Is Ultra Poverty Graduation Working?

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Date Published: 
Aug 2016
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Spoiler alert: The answer is yes. Find out more at the 2016 SEEP Conference.

Farmer planting field in Indonesia. Photo by Ichmunandar, 2014 CGAP Photo Contest.The movement to end extreme poverty is dedicated to achieving results. Leaders share a renewed focus to promote programs that can work in tandem with other interventions and are better able to reach those most desperately in need. The wish list is ambitious: implementing programs that 1) minimize costs, 2) succeed at scale, 3) are sustainable, and above all, 4) are proven to be effective.

The Ultra Poverty Graduation approach checks every box. Substantial global investment in graduation is expected to change the lives of millions of families living on the margins of poverty.

Where the Graduation Approach Has Worked

More than one-fifth of the world’s population lives on less than USD 1.25/day. Many of the ultra-poor depend on insecure, fragile livelihoods, including casual farm and domestic labor. Their income is frequently irregular or seasonal, putting laborers and their families at high risk to cash flow fluctuations. Such families cope with hunger, are vulnerable to health crises and confront limited educational opportunities for their children.

Poverty programs have had trouble reaching this special population. The graduation approach centers on creating effective pathways for the ultra-poor living at the bottom of the poverty pyramid where MFIs and government programs struggle to reach.

We now have growing evidence of its success in countries like Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Peru, Ghana and Pakistan where rigorous studies have documented its impact in causing (yes, causing) broad and lasting economic impacts and improvements in psychosocial well-being.

These effects were consistent across multiple contexts and implementing partners. There is no longer a doubt that graduation pilots--careful sequencing and a multifaceted, time-bound approach woven together with intense, systematic coaching—led to sustainable improvements in quality of life, food security, health, income generation and financial inclusion.

In terms of gender, when women are reached, they gain the courage and skills to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Their achievements go beyond individual impact to transform families, communities and countries. The graduation movement can attest to these changes from regions around the world. The movement is now expanding into Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, and more than 65 countries that have expressed interest in graduation.

Hands picking nuts from floor in Ghana. Photo by Solene Ducretot, 2014 CGAP Photo Contest.Working and Learning Together at #SEEP2016

To reach scale and achieve the goal of eradication of extreme poverty by 2030, the graduation approach requires collaborative action amongst NGOs, MFIs and governments implementing safety net programs.

At the 2016 SEEP Annual Conference, BRACFonkoze (Haiti)Plan International (Peru/Honduras)Uplift andWorld Vision (Sri Lanka) will run the Peer Learning Session, “The Graduation Approach for the Ultra Poor: Is It Worth It?” under the Enhancing Food Security through Market-Oriented Interventions technical track, and share how they have learned and adapted BRAC’s original graduation model to diverse contexts.

They will touch upon critical elements of sequencing with coaching, stipends, training and asset transfers and how these combine to generate income-building assets and contribute to savings and a greater financially inclusive environment, which in turn, leads to a focus on enhanced food security outcomes. Relevant market-oriented interventions and other results of pilots will be described.

The pathway to eradicating extreme poverty and the systemic changes needed to achieve this won’t be straight or easy. Global leaders are showing the way toward a brighter future that can lift up and positively and sustainably transform the lives of even the most vulnerable and ultra-poor families and their communities.

- Article contributed by Daniel Kessler. Daniel coordinates Uplift's digital team of strategists, writers, and designers. Previously, he had several positions in the social sector, including with Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace International, 350.org and Living Goods.


SEEP Conference LogoThe Microfinance Gateway is proud to be an outreach partner for the 2016 SEEP Network Annual Conference, with the theme of Expanding Market Frontiers.

This blog was originally posted on The SEEP Network’s website as part of their ongoing Annual Conference - Peer Learning Session series.

Read the full set of Highlight Articles from our SEEP partnership:

Learn more about the Graduation Approach >>  

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