Meeting the Immediate and Long-Term Needs of the World’s Poorest People During the Pandemic

By Lindsay Coates, Managing Director of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative

While COVID’s reach is global, its impact is diversified and disproportionate. For countries with strained resources, fragile health systems, and large populations of people in need, COVID-19 is a humanitarian and economic catastrophe. People living in extreme poverty are the most affected with already-limited access to food, clean water, steady income, and public services — and often are unable to practice social distancing. Lives and livelihoods are both at risk.

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI) applauds the call for additional funding and adjustments to meet the accelerating needs of those most affected. UNDP’s analysis and call for a Temporary Basic Income (TBI) for 2.7 billion of the world’s poorest people enabling them to stay home and prevent further spread of the virus, as well as an increased focus on social protection systems that will help make the poor and near-poor more resilient to economic downturns in the future, is a shift from the usual. We support global actors working toward different solutions to ensure support reaches people living in extreme poverty who are being pushed deeper into poverty during this pandemic.

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Parvin helps her son practice good hygiene as part of ongoing life-skills and WASH training in BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program in Bangladesh (BRAC 2017)

Emergency response work, such as UNDP’s proposed TBI, are an essential service. BRAC’s UPGI urges global leaders, governments, multilaterals, and NGOs, to go beyond emergency response work to develop responses that meet the increasing and evolving needs of people living in extreme poverty through comprehensive and adaptive programs and policies that meet both their immediate and long-term needs by building resilience and supporting sustainable recovery. Such mechanisms are especially critical during this time of global crisis to ensure these communities are not overlooked and made even more vulnerable.

Adopting social protection programs is not a traditional response to a public health issue like a pandemic. Yet, resources to live, much less any measure of financial security, are at risk due to the economic shutdown. In turn, robust social protection can support greater access to health care services and include cash transfers and food aid, which increase resilience and prevent poverty for those enrolled. To be truly universal, social protection programs must reach the poorest and most marginalized populations — populations that are often left behind by traditional development programming.

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A participant making a visit to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) center as part of the connections made through the PROFIT Financial Graduation program in Samburu, Kenya (BRAC/BOMA 2019)

BRAC is the pioneer of the Graduation approach, a multifaceted set of interventions that helps people develop sustainable, resilient livelihoods and lift themselves from extreme poverty. We offer advisory services and technical support to governments across Africa and Asia on integrating Graduation with existing social protection systems so they better meet the needs of the poorest people. Working with government partners in the Philippines, Kenya, Rwanda, Lesotho, Guinea, and Pakistan, among others, we adapt our approach in each country to fit the local context and effectively integrate into existing pro-poor programming. Since Graduation’s inception in 2002, BRAC has influenced 100+ partners in 50+ countries to pilot or implement the model and graduate five million people out of extreme poverty, not including two million of our own Graduation participants and their families — a total of almost nine million people.

Through supporting national government partners to design inclusive policy and programs, and facilitating high quality implementation in collaboration with local government, BRAC UPGI has gleaned key lessons which can help enhance the ability of local governments to ensure holistic support reaches those most in need during the pandemic.

The global pandemic has made our work more urgent than ever; measures like temporary basic income are a critical lifeline for the most marginalized people. Helping the most vulnerable is an act of justice, not charity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines social safety nets and a decent standard of living as fundamental rights we must uphold. In order to achieve long-term success for those living in extreme poverty, and help them recognize those fundamental rights, we must work together with governments at scale.

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A typical scene at a group training session as part of the Targeting the Ultra-Poor (TUP) Graduation pilot in Bamyan, Afghanistan (BRAC 2011)

Breaking the cycle of extreme poverty by providing a pathway out of persistent uncertainty and destitution through our Graduation programs.

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