By Bobby Irven | Communications Manager, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative


When Jenalyn Dizon, a mother of five, joined BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative’s DOLE Graduation Pilot in 2018, she was not prepared to overcome the severe disruption and devastation that would be brought about by COVID-19. Yet, two years after the pilot started, when the lockdowns and travel restrictions were enforced to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and the survival of her family and neighbours were put at great risk, Jenalyn was able to withstand the shock. In fact, she was able to increase her income by providing fresh food to her community during grocery lockdowns thanks to the training and support she received as a participant in the DOLE Graduation pilot. 

Designed to build the skills, knowledge, and resilience needed to develop a sustainable pathway out of extreme poverty, the holistic Graduation approach equipped participants to adapt to the dramatic impact of COVID-19. By creating linkages between participants and available public services, nearly all pilot participants received monetary assistance from the government. Through training from Graduation coaches, 99 percent of the participants reported a high understanding of hygiene awareness—and because of livelihoods designed to be easily adaptable and shock resistant, participants like Jenalyn were able to continue earning incomes during lockdown.

However, that is not the case for everyone in the country. Many livelihoods in the Philippines have been incredibly impacted if not decimated by measures taken to stop the spread of the virus, and thousands of people are at risk of being forced into poverty as a result. A recent BRC assessment found more than two-thirds of the people it works with in the Philippines saw their incomes greatly reduced or completely disappeared. After a relatively successful campaign of keeping numbers low, the country returned to lockdown in early August (the longest of any country), reinstating stay-at-home orders to tens of millions of people, creating yet another period of uncertainty and chaos. 


Adapting in the face of COVID-19

By requiring participants to have multiple streams of income and creating new connections to healthcare and savings, Graduation builds resilience for participants, enabling them to withstand major shocks. Through swift adaptation of the approach, we have been able to maintain core programmatic efforts during and after lockdowns, including the provision of critical health and hygiene information to prevent further spread of the virus, which further enhanced participants’ resilience.

Although lockdowns exacerbated pre-existing issues along with new ones, almost two-thirds of participating households in the pilot were able to continue working. Through the coaching Jenalyn received on business recovery, diversification, and mitigation, she was able to make quick changes to maintain income and provide for her family. She turned her home garden - originally developed to provide her family with greater food security - into a supplementary livelihood to help recover the funds lost during the previous lockdown. In addition to providing her family with nutritious meals, Jenalyn was also able to sell her produce to members of the local community, securing a steady stream of income and helping to feed her neighbours and friends. 

BRAC’s Graduation programs are built with more than just the individual in mind, and its impacts are meant to be both long-lasting and intergenerational. “As we have immersed ourselves in all aspects of the household, we have built a connection that can address shocks and uncertainties,” said Lian Sayno, Assistant Project Coordinator. “I am positive that our families in Negros are now confident in facing struggles and capable in developing their households.”


Exceeding immediate needs for long-term gains

As the DOLE Graduation pilot reaches its final stage, the growth and commitment of the pilot participants during these harrowing times could not be more extraordinary. Although the future remains uncertain, we firmly believe that with the right tools, support, and knowledge, the world’s poorest people can withstand and overcome devastating shocks like COVID-19. The Graduation approach has proven itself to be a holistic tool designed to build resilience of extreme poor households in even the most dire of situations. It serves as a clear example of an intervention that can effectively empower individuals and households to weather a storm and come out the other side with confidence that they can continue to improve their lives and quickly adapt to change. “We are all in this together like family. We may fall but we learn and recover every time,” said program participant Murcia. 

The need for holistic, sustainable social protection, and financial inclusion programs for the most vulnerable has never been so strong, and while the impacts of the global pandemic have been destructive to so many, we also see this as an opportunity to rethink how we reach and work with extreme poor populations.


As the DOLE Graduation pilot concludes its initial programming, our team will be putting a heavy focus on taking key learnings from the endline data results. This information will be used to analyse desired outcomes like resilience and livelihood sustainability, particularly how they fared and were adapted to withstand a major shock like COVID-19. The results and trends observed in this pilot can then be applied to future program design, furthering advancing the iterative nature of BRAC’s Graduation approach.

For more information on how the pilot has been responding to challenges brought on by COVID-19, visit our pilot webpage and dedicated COVID-19 adaptation bulletins.



Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Programme design
  • Programme implementation
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Programme graduation
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Financial education and inclusion
  • Resilience
  • Philippines
The views presented here are the author's and not's