Can empathy end poverty?

 

The connection between Zakia and Firoza becomes instantly evident when you see them talk to each other. Firoza listens intently as Zakia speaks in a soft, empathetic tone. For Firoza, Zakia is not only a manager apa (sister) from BRAC – she is the only person who she trusts completely.

Zakia meets Firoza four times a month, twice in a group with other female participants in her neighbourhood, and twice individually at her home. She supervises the growth of Feroza’s livestock, including the cow that she has received as part grant, part interest-free loan. She gives her tips on how to earn more from her assets, discusses about health and social issues and collects her savings and loan installments.

Zakia has been seeing Firoza for nine months now and she already sees a difference. Firoza’s family used to rely on day labouring and earned approximately USD 75 (BDT 6,500) a month. Now they own a cow worth (USD 310) BDT 26,000 and have managed to buy chickens and a goat. Firoza diversified her income – she started selling dried cow dung to buy chickens, and then sold eggs from the chickens to buy a goat. Firoza also worked as a domestic help in her free time.

Firoza can now save every week. This change deepened her faith in Zakia, who had guided her through all of it.

 

A mentor and a participant sit together during a weekly meeting.

 

Firoza, however, knows that Zakia will not always be there to guide her. The two-year intervention will end soon, in just 10 months, and Zakia will be assigned to work with other families. Firoza sometimes worries whether she will be able to maintain her progress without Zakia’s advice, but Zakia has a solution for that too. She has already started encouraging Firoza and her husband to plan and make all their decisions without getting directly involved. She guides Firoza to receive healthcare services from the nearby government hospital, and get vaccines for her cow from the livestock department. Firoza is aware of her entitlements to government services and feels more confident to seek them by herself.

 

Zakia is one of the 1,456 frontline staff working for targeting the ultra poor (TUP) programme in Bangladesh. The programme supports women like Firoza, who are living in ultra-poverty, to climb the economic ladder towards a sustainable livelihood. People living in ultra-poverty do not just have too little income. They are confronted by a multitude of interconnected and cyclical problems that affect their wellbeing.

They have little to no land or productive assets, and simultaneously struggle with food shortages, poor health, social stigma, and a lack of basic services like clean water and sanitation. They are mostly excluded from social services and healthcare, generally live in remote areas disconnected from markets, and are often unable to work due to prolonged illnesses or disability in the family. Conventional development programmes have not been able to cope with these complex, interrelated needs. Approximately 20 million people are trapped in this cycle of ultra-poverty in Bangladesh.

 

 A crucial step to climbing out of ultra-poverty.

 

The ultra poor programme recognises this complexity and takes a holistic treatment through pioneering a globally recognised model called the Graduation Approach. Since 2002, the TUP programme has reached over 1.8 million households in Bangladesh.

 

A key part of the programme’s success is attributed to the emotional and psychological support provided by mentors like Zakia. Individual coaching and mentoring has proven to be crucial for participants to climb out of ultra-poverty.

The secret to Zakia’s efficiency and dedication is the rigorous screening process which she underwent before joining the programme. The process ensures that those being recruited as mentors possess empathy, patience, gender sensitivity, communication and technical skills, and are willing to travel to remote communities.

Working for the programme is a constant learning process. After joining the programme, Zakia received training on various technical areas ie, poultry and livestock health and management, agricultural techniques, social awareness, etc. She constantly interacts with her colleagues and they regularly share experiences and learn from each other.

Zakia has been working for the programme for the last 14 years, and has worked with countless participants. She is certain that Firoza too will be able to sustain her success after the programme intervention ends. She says this not only because of past experiences, but more because of the confidence and trust that only such personal connections can build.

 

Originally posted on BRAC BLOG on September 25, 2018 by Upoma Mahbub. Upoma Mahbub is a manager for global learning and collaboration at BRAC’s ultra-poor graduation initiative.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
  • Microfinance
Social Protection Topics: 
  • Programme graduation
  • Social protection systems
  • Targeting
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Gender
  • Health
  • Human capital
  • Poverty
  • Resilience
  • Social inclusion
  • Water, sanitation and hygiene
Countries: 
  • Bangladesh
Regions: 
  • South Asia
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's