Social Protection: Debating Graduation

Since its inception in Bangladesh in 2002, the Graduation Approach has received much attention, including in mainstream media outlets. Beyond this positive media acclaim, momentum has gathered behind graduation as an important social policy instrument. There has been a proliferation in the implementation of new graduation-inspired programmes.

Primarily, graduation has been advanced as an effective means to combat extreme poverty and embodies part of the ‘big push’ to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 1: “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”. It is one of the most thoroughly evaluated poverty reduction programmes ever, and its putative results are resoundingly positive, which helps explain the surge in interest. However, the increased enthusiasm and visibility enjoyed by the Graduation Approach has not been free from controversy. Significant concerns linger—centring on targeting efficacy and equity and what happens post-graduation (i.e. after households exit the programme)—and impact results have been vehemently contested.

Nevertheless, the buzz continues to grow, and thus graduation-type programmes merit further examination. Given this groundswell of interest, this special issue of Policy in Focus attempts to capture the diversity of views that exist in the debate. The articles feature a veritable smorgasbord of perspectives, ranging from those of committed proponents and enthusiastic new implementers, to the cautiously optimistic who reason that graduation could be a valid component of wider social protection systems, to outright contestation.

Today, the Graduation Approach has arguably arrived at an inflection point. The debate on its role and effectiveness remains to be settled. There might be increased take-up, or it might recede into obscurity— it may even possibly be repurposed into other hybrid programmatic forms. Whatever its destination, we hope that this publication contributes to promoting a better understanding of this significant policy development and stimulating the debate even further.