In our thought leadership series, Chris Pain, Concern’s Head of Technical Assistance, examines graduation programmes as a potential solution to extreme poverty and looks at where the model can go from here.
Of course, there is no ‘magic bullet’ when it comes to addressing extreme poverty but a small number of interventions are increasingly showing great promise. One of these is the graduation programme. The positive perception of this programme does not just come from NGO practitioners, but also in findings put forward by a number of academics and researchers after a rigorous review of about 500 interventions. The accompanying article in the highly influential ‘Science’ magazine highlights how graduation programmes create lasting progress for the extreme poor.
Concern Worldwide has been implementing graduation programmes for over 10 years. In their most basic form, they incorporate elements of direct cash transfers, enhanced access to financial services, a programme of training and mentoring and the transfer of an asset to help improve on livelihoods. However, as we have seen increased levels of income and asset holdings amongst our programme participants, we have also identified a number of questions that we need to answer as the graduation programmes evolve.
Results to date have often focused on the ‘easy’ to measure things such as income from a specific activity or level of asset holding (such as the number of goats a programme participant has). But with such a narrow focus, are we missing something? Some of the less tangible but no less important outcomes of the programme? Discussions with participants suggest they are now being invited to engage more in the social lives of their communities. They are more likely to join cooperatives or attend women’s meetings and other community activities. Importantly, they also have increased levels of self-confidence to attend those meetings. Quite often this is for the most basic of reasons, like having better clothing to wear or having the ability to make financial contributions to social events. Or it can relate to how they are viewed in their communities because they now have better housing or are better able to care for their children. Measuring these feelings of self-confidence, self-esteem, and social capital in a rigorous manner continues to provide a challenge for all of those involved in the field. So too does setting thresholds that reflect programme participants own perspectives before we can say a household has ‘graduated’. However, these should not be discarded in favour of more easily measured indicators, and Concern will continue to focus on identifying ways to achieve this with our research partners.