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Women of Concern around the world: Razia, Pakistan and Mary Joseph, MalawiWomen of Concern around the world: Razia, Pakistan; Salay Sesay, Sierra Leone; Mary Joseph, MalawiWomen of Concern around the world: Razia, Pakistan; Salay Sesay, Sierra Leone; Mary Joseph, Malawi

Invest in a change-maker

By changing one woman's life, we change many more.

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In the poorest communities, it is women and girls who earn the least and are the most vulnerable.

Globally, 388 million women and girls live in extreme poverty.



Living in extreme poverty means struggling to earn enough to eat and access adequate healthcare and education. It also means being unable to access the resources you need to build a livelihood and forge your way out of poverty.

Having a secure livelihood is one of the most effective ways for people to sustainably move out of extreme poverty.



We know the barriers women face in developing safe, secure livelihoods are much greater than a lack of capacity, knowledge or resources. For women to earn their own income and gain independence requires a holistic, gender transformative approach, working with entire communities to positively shift attitudes and facilitate opportunities. 

When a woman lifts herself out of poverty, she brings her family and community with her. So, by changing one woman's life, you change many more.

Who we are

Concern Worldwide is an international humanitarian organisation dedicated to ending extreme poverty, whatever it takes. For more than 50 years, Concern has been working together with people living in the most difficult situations, rebuilding and transforming lives, livelihoods and communities. Women of Concern is a community within Concern, specifically focused on working towards achieving gender equality for the most vulnerable communities around the world.

Gender equality and extreme poverty

What we hope to achieve

Danny Harvey, Concern Worldwide (UK) Executive Director.
Women have endless potential, but we have to create the right opportunities on the ground.
Danny Harvey - Executive Director, Concern Worldwide (UK)

Graduation: An innovative approach

Graduation is Concern’s flagship livelihood programme – an innovative and holistic approach to developing sustainable livelihoods and enabling the most vulnerable households to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

Mary Mandala and Eneles Mpela took part in the Graduation Programme in Malawi where families' farms have been flooded. Here, in Phalombe, they're helping to divert the water runoff to prevent further floods.
Mary Mandala and Eneles Mpela took part in the Graduation Programme in Malawi where families' farms have been flooded. Here, in Phalombe, they're helping to divert the water runoff to prevent further floods.

Over 18 months to three years, programme participants progress through what we describe as a 'sequenced' package of support, carefully designed to address the many complex barriers that are the stark day-to-day reality for women living in extreme poverty.  

These tailored, locally focused Graduation programmes are a result of long-term consultation with community members and leaders ꟷ while taking on board individual participants' ideas of how they want to develop their livelihood opportunities and achieve self-reliance. 

Concern has been implementing Graduation Programmes for over 15 years, supporting 110,000 people to develop secure businesses and transform their lives.

Akunsitu Kananji, Graduation Programme Manager in Mangochi, Malawi
With Concern’s financial support and the mentoring and coaching, programme participants can produce their own food. Before, their children would skip classes because they were hungry - they would go days without food. Now families can buy uniforms and have three meals a day – they eat normally.
Akunsitu Kananji - Graduation Programme Manager in Mangochi, Malawi

Invest in a change-maker like Violette Bukeyenza

Past Graduation participant, Violette Bukeyenza, at home with her children in Burundi.
Past Graduation participant, Violette Bukeyenza, at home with her children in Burundi.

Violette Bukeyenza and her children live in Burundi. When she enrolled in Concern’s Graduation Programme there, she was already doing everything she could to provide for the family. But with only insecure, casual labour on offer, they were struggling to survive. Living in their cramped house with a leaking roof, they often went to bed hungry.  

Only a few months after starting Graduation, Violette had used the initial cash transfer to feed her family and buy iron sheets to fix her roof, while getting bespoke business- and life-skills training. As she progressed through the programme, Violette started her own small business selling banana juice, and used the profits to buy a goat. 

Violette and her son Lievain with the pig she has bought from the profits of her business at her home in Burundi. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
You will see that I have changed! I have food to feed my family. I can get money from renting land, not from working for others. I work for myself.
Violette Bukeyenza - Entrepreneur and Past Participant in Concern's Graduation Programme

Two years later, Violette is a successful entrepreneur and the proud owner of five goats, one cow and a pig. She grows nutritious crops on the land by her home that she saved to buy. Her children now go to school, kitted out with previously beyond-reach uniforms and textbooks.  

Violette is ambitious. Twice a week she and a couple of neighbours hire a truck to sell their products in the city. And she's looking ahead: by investing her earnings, she's been able to purchase enough land for 400 coffee trees. A savvy businesswoman, Violette now supports her neighbours, helping them with loans at a fair interest rate. 

The graduation model

As outlined above, Concern’s graduation programmes incorporate tried and tested components in a carefully sequenced package.  It begins with cash transfers, providing participants with financial support while they participate in business and life skills training.  As participants progress through the programme they can access savings and loans and a start-up grant for their business. And throughout their time in the programme, participants receive one-to-one coaching and mentoring, often cited as the key factor in the programme’s success. This is all underpinned by a gender transformative approach using the ‘Engaging Men’ model to promote gender equality.

Below we provide more information on how Graduation works in practice. As the slides show, different programmes around the world incorporate the same core components, but we make adaptations to reflect local community needs and contexts.

Impact

Concern’s Graduation Programmes are intensive, yet cost-effective. They enable the very poorest households to improve their lives, resulting in: 

  • greater food security 

  • savings and assets 

  • improved access to health care and education 

  • resilience to economic shocks 

  • better standing in the community 

  • improved gender power dynamics at both the household and community level.

Bangladesh

By the end of the programme, 97% of participants were  financially literate. On average, individuals had increased their income by 156% and had more than tripled the value of their assets.

  • Bangladesh

  • Burundi

  • Rwanda

  • Ethiopia

Jenny Swatton, Social Protection and Economic Inclusion Advisor, Concern Worldwide
The evidence that the Graduation Approach works has been well documented and we remain committed to the approach.
Jenny Swatton - Social Protection and Economic Inclusion Advisor, Concern Worldwide

For 15 years, Concern has invested heavily in research and learning to contribute to the global evidence base on effective livelihood interventions, including the Graduation Approach. 

This includes three operational research studies in Rwanda and Burundi, in partnership with the UK’s Institute of Development Studies, and a study in Malawi focusing specifically on the impact of gender-equality interventions, in partnership with the Trinity Impact Evaluation Unit at Trinity College Dublin. 

The success of our Graduation Programmes has been the foundation for engagement in policy discussions at both national and international levels. For example, Concern's initiatives in Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malawi and Bangladesh are having a direct influence on national and/or regional policies around social protection. 

Partnership is central  

We work alongside local organisations already on the ground in communities, as well as engaging with local governments and global networks to contribute to and learn from the global evidence on effective livelihood interventions, including Graduation.’ 

Governance

Concern Worldwide (UK) is a limited company by guarantee and is governed and regulated by a Board of Trustees. We are registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity Number 1092236). We aim to achieve the highest standards of effectiveness and transparency across all our programmes and measure this against a number of internationally recognised codes and standards. We are certified against the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability. We also publish full details of all relevant UK funding to the IATI (International Aid Transparency Initiative) standard - this is a global initiative to improve the transparency of development and humanitarian programmes and their results.

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