BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Approach: Evidence, Innovations and Intersection with Social Protection

BRAC is one of the world’s largest development organizations, and in 2002 pioneered its Ultra-Poor programme in Bangladesh to improve the resilience of the ultra-poor and to address extreme poverty. In this webinar, hosted by socialprotection.org, Sadna Samaranayake (Senior Advisor, BRAC Ultra-Poor Advocacy and Advisory Services) and Michael Samson (Director of Research, Economic Policy Research Institute) presented analysis of BRAC’s success, and its intersection with social protection.

The session was moderated by Sally-Anne Vincent (Deputy High Commissioner, Australian High Commission, Dhaka). The presentation of this webinar, which was held on 7th February 2017, can be accessed here, and the recording can be accessed here. All of the webinars in this series can be found under the Linking Social Protection to Sustainable Employment Series tag. 

Following an introduction to the topic by Sally-Anne, Sadna presented BRAC’s graduation approach, evidence for its success, and the plans for further development of the programme. The graduation approach, Sadna explained, does not refer to an exit event, but rather a combination of sequenced interventions over 24 months which work to build the resilience of ultra-poor households. Following eight steps, the programme aims to help households meet multiple graduation criteria which represent economic and social advancement. These steps address broad sustainable livelihood, ranging from healthcare provision to asset transfer. A particularly unique and significant step in the programme, Sadna emphasized, is the life-skills coaching. These regular visits from frontline staff are key to the success of BRAC’s approach, as they ensure the household receives the correct support and encouragement they require during the 24 months. Analysis shows that the approach has led to a 95% graduation rate, displaying long term impacts on annual income, savings, and productive working hours. Sadna presented evidence which showed that seven years after the intervention, the ultra-poor continue to escape poverty at a steady rate. In particular, Sadna highlighted the positive impact on nutrition and children, including greater food security and a reduction in child malnutrition.

Sadna then discussed several adaptations and innovations of the programme. This included the variety of graduation adaptations undertaken around the world. A central feature of this discussion concerned complexity and cost. Finally, Sadna discussed the next chapter in development for the programme, including implementation beyond Bangladesh, the integration of technology for monitoring, and modifying the training. Sadna concluded with the consideration that the graduation approach strongly contributes to meeting the SDGs through its comprehensive approach tailored to the ultra-poor.

Subsequently, Michael Samson continued the webinar with further analysis of the results achieved by the programme. His presentation answered two questions; how and why does BRAC’s graduation approach work, and what does this mean for social protection? Michael reiterated Sadna’s message by explaining how BRAC’s approach is unique in its complexity of integrated approaches, interpreting graduation as a process. Due to this, there is strong evidence of long term improvements. Michael in particular took note of two long-term impacts; occupation change to high-paying less volatile earning streams, and a large transfer of capital and skills. These have produced results of increased working hours, increased earnings and increased savings. The results have led to a reduction in the relative gap between the ultra-poor and non-poor on expenditure, savings, livestock value, productive assets, and land value. The research shows, as Sadna introduced, that seven years after intervention, the ultra-poor continue to escape poverty at a steady rate.

So, why is BRAC successful? Michael suggested two of the many reasons why the ultra-poor graduation approach in Bangladesh has achieved such positive results. Firstly, Michael explained, is because the approach is integrated and comprehensive. BRAC has successfully tackled a complex problem with a complex solution, allowing for the building of bridges across sectors, and thus addressing the variety of struggles faced by the ultra-poor. Secondly, BRAC is successful because it learnt by doing. Through experiencing difficulties, BRAC has been able to learn and adapt using honest and substantial monitoring and evaluation. This has meant that it has been able to develop a programme that supports social protection ambitions by empowering the poorest households and strengthening resilience. In this way, Michael concluded, the graduation approach has the ability to contribute to achieving inclusive social development and equitable economic growth.

Following the presentations, Sally-Anne led a question and answer session with the panellists. The questions from the audience addressed topics including the management of the graduation programme, its interaction with other social protection programmes, and options for monitoring and evaluation. Both Michael and Sadna emphasized that BRAC will continue to develop and adapt in order to improve the programme in Bangladesh, and around the world. The webinar concluded with thanks for the presenters, moderator, and encouragement for attendees to continue to discuss and engage with the topic at socialprotection.org.

This webinar was organized by the Social Protection Employment Community (SPEC), and supported by the Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and the German Development Cooperation (GIZ).

Watch the recording of the webinar here!

 

This blog post is published as part of the Webinar Series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organized by socialprotection.org and partners on a variety of themes related to social protection. If you have any thoughts on the topic discussed, we would love to hear them. Please add your comments below and we will get back to you.