Scaling Graduation Beyond Bangladesh: Governments at the Helm

By Lauren Whitehead, Director of Technical Assistance and Caitlin O’Donnell, Technical Officer | Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative

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A facilitator in Bamyan, Afghanistan leads a life skill training session for Graduation participants.

Audacious goals cannot be achieved without ambitious action. That is the foundation for our plan to help 21 million more people lift themselves from extreme poverty in the next six years. In order to reach the most marginalized populations among those living in extreme poverty, governments must take the lead and be equipped to scale up and sustain holistic pro-poor approaches like that of Graduation.

To date BRAC has successfully scaled Graduation in Bangladesh and globally, reaching more than 2 million households. An additional 3.1 million families have lifted themselves from extreme poverty through adaptation of the approach by other organizations. But this is just the beginning. The majority of programs outside of Bangladesh have been small-scale pilots and programs, and without buy-in and support from well-resourced entities like national governments, will be unable to fully address the scale and urgency of extreme poverty This issue has since been compounded due to the impacts of COVID-19, which in an instant has unraveled decades of progress towards poverty alleviation.

To fully meet the scale of the need requires a shift in the paradigm. It is for this reason that BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI) will be receiving more than $60 million as part of the Audacious Project to partner with governments and international organizations to help lift 21 million people from extreme poverty by 2026, while setting millions more on the same path. By creating strong and lasting partnerships in countries where we see the greatest potential for impact, and building on past and current successes through government adoption and integration, we believe our Audacious plan will succeed in helping global efforts toward Sustainable Development Goal 1, ending poverty in all its forms.

Many of the underlying resources to do this already exist through government investments in poverty reduction and social protection programs such as cash transfers and inclusive livelihoods programs. What remains, however, is supporting governments to create systems that can best deliver multidimensional programs and services in a cost-effective and coherent manner that is well-integrated to meet the full spectrum of needs of the poorest. This is how Graduation provides a useful framework for the convergence and coordination of government services. To drive the shift towards government-led Graduation, BRAC engages governments in countries where we see the greatest promise and need with a high burden of poverty, dedicated resources for social protection and economic inclusion, and a commitment to transformative change for the poor.

As a result, in 2013 BRAC launched the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI), to partner with key governments and development partners. In service of this mission, UPGI provides technical assistance and advisory services to government actors worldwide to successfully adopt the Graduation approach, adapt it to be context-specific, and integrate it into government systems that can demonstrate real impact for the poor. Through a highly collaborative and iterative process, we work together with our partners to identify where our technical assistance and capacity-building support can be most impactful to strengthen government systems. Our partners have ranged from the Governments of Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, Tanzania, Guinea, Zambia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and State Governments in India to the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and UNICEF, among others.

Through our partnerships with governments, UPGI has learned what it really takes to support high-impact government adoption and scale of the Graduation approach in diverse contexts. Erecting a foundation of inclusive policy, for example, enables governments to embed Graduation principles that outlast a given administration. This paves the way for extending benefits to greater populations enshrined in consistent, reliable policy at scale. We have observed this with our partners in the Government of the Philippines and Guinea with whom we have helped develop national strategies and recommendations for policy reform poised to reach upwards of 4.4M and nearly 1M households, respectively.

Scaling also requires leveraging existing government programming — not just investing in new initiatives — in order to interlace social services and programs across ministries and partners as a base to build interventions that can reach a broader swathe of the population. In Pakistan, UPGI helped the government develop a Graduation program design for the Punjab Human Capital Investment Project (PHCIP) that could amplify the impact of the Benazir Income Support (BISP) cash transfer program reaching 5.6M households nationally. Similarly, dedicated financial resources for programs is likewise critical to ensuring that a government has the capacity to deliver at scale. Development partners play an essential role especially in generating funds to lay the groundwork for proof-of-concept pilots and testing new policies and programs. However, a commitment to scale requires a government to match and even exceed external funding, indicating a stable income stream for entitlements and services viewed as a right and government responsibility not a novel pilot to test.

Financial resources do not necessarily signal a clear investment in the human resources required for governments to have the capacity to scale and scale effectively. In Indonesia, the government is investigating how to harness the human power of its cadre of facilitators serving upwards of 10M cash transfer households annually for productive inclusion programming. In Kenya and Egypt where UPGI has served as lead technical agency, our partners enlisted the support of local civil society as frontline implementers to offer services to recipients of the national Takaful and Karama cash transfer in Egypt (2.5M households), and National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) in Kenya. Without solidifying a learning agenda and process, however, governments are unable to iterate and improve on successful policies and programs at scale. UPGI works to underpin every government partnership with data-driven decision-making. In Rwanda, for example, our government partners chose to expand livelihoods and social protection for the poor with a national Graduation strategy featuring key lessons gleaned from our process evaluation of their government-led pilot program. In other contexts, impact evaluations and monitoring data form evidence to evolve key pro-poor policies and programs.

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A PROFIT Financial Graduation participant in Samburu, Kenya visits a local NHIF facility.

Our ethos places government partners first as the torchbearers of systemic change at scale. While civil society, international organizations, private sector, and other development actors all have an important role to play, governments must lead the charge to drive radical, scalable and lasting change. As one of eight awardees of the 2020 TED Audacious Project, BRAC UPGI will be receiving more than $60 million to help lift 21 million people from extreme poverty by 2026 while setting millions more on the same path. Through this, BRAC will vastly scale its efforts to partner with governments, multilateral institutions, NGOs, and civil society. Yet, the level of effort, programming, resources, and tenacity required to eradicate extreme poverty vastly exceeds the capabilities of a single entity, however well-intentioned. Success requires scale and scale requires government commitment to transformative change. Only then will we move from promise to effective policy and practice to reach 21 million more and beyond.

For more information about BRAC UPGI’s Audacious plan to eradicate poverty, please visit our dedicated webpage or read our recent blog on the World Bank’s SocialProtection.org

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

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