The ‘SPEC Webinar 8 - Integrating the Graduation Approach with Government Social Protection and Employment Generation Programs: Sharing experiences from Asia and Africa’ took place on 27 September 2018. 

Graduation programmes blend together elements of social protection, livelihood promotion, financial inclusion, and social empowerment -  each of which tackles separate aspects of extreme poverty. Backed by independent research and adapted in more than 40 countries, the typically two year time-bound approach has helped extreme poor households build resilience to shocks while placing them on an upward trajectory out of poverty into sustainable livelihoods. The webinar presented examples of how governments globally are integrating the graduation approach into their social protection and employment generation programmes.


The webinar  addressed the following key issues:

  • Drivers behind governments adopting the graduation approach.
  • How the graduation approach adds value to cash transfer programmes.
  • What challenges governments encounter (e.g. cost and design-complexity).
  • Roadblocks to scaling up.


Please access the webinar presentation herethe webinar recording here, and join the SPEC Online Community.


The webinar was onganised by the Social Protection for Employment Community (SPEC) in partnership with BRAC and the Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI) of the World Bank.  It was sponsord by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

The event was moderated by Kate McKee (Manager, Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI), the World Bank, who was joined by the following speakers: Alex Avila (Assistant Secretary, Workers Protection, Policy Support, Human Resource and Internal Auditing, Services Cluster, Government of the Philippines), Samia Liaquat Ali Khan (Senior Group Head, Quality Assurance, Research & Design, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund), Lara Storm (Director of Advisory Services, Ultra Poor Graduation, BRAC USA) and Stephen Barrett (Team Leader and Policy & Programme Development Advisor on the Capacity & Policy Development Facility).


a. BRAC’s Graduation Approach

The webinar opened with a presentation on the global context for graduation, the concept of graduation and BRAC’s Graduation Approach. In 2002, BRAC pioneered the Targeting the Ultra-poor (TUP) programme in Bangladesh to improve the resilience of the ultra-poor (defined as the poorest subset of the extreme poor, living on significantly less than $1.90/day) and effectively address the major drivers of poverty. BRAC has since scaled-up the graduation approach, graduating 1.8 million households (7 million people).

The success of the programme drew global attention. The Ford Foundation and the CGAP of the World Bank piloted the approach in ten countries to determine its effectiveness in diversified contexts. These pilots found strong impact in most of the countries. BRAC has piloted the approach in Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan, Uganda, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nepal.


Impact of the graduation programme  in Bangladesh:

In Bangladesh, evaluations after 7 years of enrolment with BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra Poor Program (TUP)  program found significant positive impact including:  

  • 37% increase in annual income
  • 361% increase in working hours
  • 10% increase in consumption
  • 9 times increase in savings, and
  • 2 times increase in access to land.


Further, the programme found positive impact in:

  • access to more stable and secure employment
  • reduction in economic inequality between the ultra poor and the non-poor
  • promotion of social cohesion
  • gender empowerment
  • building resilience to cope with shock, and
  • enabling faster recovery from shocks at the household and community level.


The following graphic presents the reduction in relative gaps between the ultra-poor and non-poor:


Drivers behind the Phillippines’ graduation pilot

The Government of the Philippines’s Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) has launched a graduation pilot, integrated with their Kabuhayan Livelhood Program (KLP), with technical assistance from BRAC and Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA), and funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).


The key objectives of the pilot are to:

  • effectively target the poorest and most vulnerable households,
  • apply coaching and mentorship to the sustainable livelihoods model,
  • strengthen monitoring systems within government programmes,
  • collaborate between the social protection and labour ministries, and
  • test group coaching and livelihoods for effecting the cost and programme impact.

Alex Avila of the Department of Labour and Employment responded to a critical question on the motivation of the government behind adopting graduation approach. He confirmed that it was not difficult for them to appreciate the value of the graduation approach. The Department had been implementing livelihood programmes for many years and was looking for new ways of working.

The graduation model offered a framework to address poverty through a comprehensive government approach. It also provides tools for determining the progress or impact of the livelihood programmes. The Department of Labour and Employment is currently working with three other departments to implement the graduation pilot.


b. Opportunities and challenges of integrating graduation approach in East Africa

Stephen Barret touched upon the incentives for the graduation approach or social protection in East Africa: In some cases this includes the genunine desire for eradication of extreme poverty. In other cases, where social protection is new, there is a desire for realocating resources.

A number of challenges for graduation approach in Africa and in general were discussed. Political institutions that surround the government social protection programme are very different from those of NGOs. This could have very unexpected effects on policies and the design of graduation programes by the government.

The model we develop should depend on the nature of poverty and income distribution in a country. For example, in Rwanda, the extreme poverty line is 37 to 40 cents, compared to the international poverty line of 1.90 dollar/day. A large proportion of the population - maybe 60 to 70% - are either extremely poor or highly vulnerable. This has implications for the type of programme we should advocate for.

Great things are happening in the region. We need to build on these and establish a multisectoral approach to spread the responsibility among a broad range of institutions at the national and the local levels to achieve sustainable outcomes. We can be optimistic that this can be achieved. Accordingly, Rwanda has adopted a multisectoral strategy for accelerating poverty reduction. This is a very positive move and other countries are following suit.


c. The Pakistani case: The graduation approach requires a coordinated approach among multiple agencies

Samia Liaquat Ali Khan of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) shared the experience and challenges in implementing the graduation model in Pakistan.  

In 2008, PPAF scaled-up and tested its asset transfer interventions, linking this to its framework for livelihoods, employment and enterprise development. Building upon its learnings, PPAF continues to design and undertake integrated community development programmes.

Samia hightlighted that implementing the social empowerment part of the graduation model is a challenge for the government. The social empowerment component is better suited to civil society organisations because of their reach up to the village level. Accordingly, the graduation approach could be best implemented by multiple agencies with coordination from within the government with clear articulation of the division of labour.


d. Misunderstanding around the term ‘graduation’

The graduation approach is often misunderstood as an instrument to exit poor people out of social protection so that the resources can be reallocated. However, this is not the intention of the graduation approach. The objective is rather to lift the extreme poor people above the extreme poverty line and put them in a trajectory toward non-poverty through livelihoods related activities.

Stephen Barrett  flagged this issue. He said that the limited understanding of graduation has a risk that it appeals to a certain agenda or incentive that counters the long term objective. Stephen suggested that there is a need for advocacy, leadership and a vision at the national level to take this agenda forward in terms of linking social protection and sustainable livelihoods development.


e. How to address some of the challenges?

Lara Storm (Director of Advisory Services, Ultra Poor Graduation, BRAC USA)  highlighted that the success of the graduation model depends on building feedback loops and continuously adapting this integrated and complex model of poverty reduction.

Lara also recognised the challenge of coordination within a government. The graduation model involves multiple ministries who often work in silos. There are also many exisiting programme with similar objectives. Integration among these ministries and programmes is not an easy task. It often takes an internal champion and also an external party to come together to explore how the different entities can work together. This takes time and investment but the investment pays off.

Beyond pilot programmes, it is important to think about scale: is it possible to take the programme to the national level? With this in mind, BRAC’s graduation team supports national governments to adapt, implement, and scale-up the graduation approach according to the context of each country in terms of the vulnerabilities and opportunities they face.


f. Conclusion

Kate Mctee concluded the session with some important remarks. She said, we have more work to do:

  • on defining what we mean by graduation or finding better terminology that might be more precise;
  • there is a need to be more precise about which package of support we are discussing for which segment, what are the expectations, and the limitations of who this can work for;
  • to be precise on what we are building on and what we are adding, and
  • the challenges of coordination and integration are not to be underestimated.

Kate concluded emphasing on the need to capture the experiences that are emerging and to build further evidence to equip policy champions and programme managers who are on the frontline to make this approach work.


This blog post is part of the Linking Social Protection to Sustainable Employment webinar series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organised by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and DFAT on the topic. Please join the Online community Social Protection for Employment if you are interested in following the most recent discussions on the topic. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below!