Graduation into Sustainable Livelihoods

People living in extreme poverty are among the bottom 50 percent of those living below national poverty lines. At the global level, they are those living with less than USD 1.25 a day, estimated in 2012 to be nearly 1.2 billion people. Although the extreme poor are those most in need, they are often, if inadvertently, overlooked by many development interventions. With a few notable exceptions, both microfinance and livelihoods programs typically do not reach the extreme poor.

Adapting a method pioneered by BRAC in Bangladesh and drawing from the most relevant aspects of social protection, livelihoods development, and access to finance to deliver results, the Graduation Approach targets the extreme poor with the goal of moving them out of extreme poverty and into a sustainable livelihood in a time-bound manner.

The Graduation Approach:

  • Draws on the most relevant aspects of social protection, livelihoods development, and access to finance to deliver results;
  • Combines support for immediate needs with longer term human capital investments, thereby protecting participants in the short-run while promoting sustainable livelihoods for the future;
  • Purposefully targets the extreme poor—people at the lowest level of the economic ladder, who usually have few or no assets and are chronically food insecure;
  • Focuses on five “building blocks”: targeting, consumption support, savings, an asset transfer, and skills training and regular coaching.

Multiplying the Graduation Experience

In May 2015, researchers from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) published an article in the Science Magazine explaining that the Graduation Approach has a lasting impact on the lives of the poorest. The research is based on randomized evaluations conducted in six of the countries where CGAP and the Ford Foundation began Graduation pilots in 2006. Positive impacts were recorded well after the program ended in almost all of the sites where the program was evaluated.

As more governments and development agencies are demonstrating interest, a global graduation “community of practice” has come together to promote awareness of this approach and further work to design, implement and scale up graduation programs. The specific focus of CGAP and Ford Foundation work in this new stage (“Graduation 2.0”) is to support large-scale implementation and testing,  especially by governments, and analysis of key policy-relevant topics including the relative cost-effectiveness of the approach, options to reduce cost and complexity, and challenges of implementation capacity, inter-agency coordination, partnership models and linkage arrangements. A specific area of interest is the role and impact of financial services in the graduation approach and how graduation approaches are or could be synergistic with national financial inclusion initiatives, social safety nets and large-scale digitization of social transfers. 

Important Announcements from the CGAP Graduation Initiative:

Preserving the Essence, Adapting for Reach: Early Lessons from Large-Scale Implementations of the Graduation Approach
Nov 2016, Ford Foundation
This publication presents the case studies of three governments and one large NGO who are scaling the Graduation Approach within their ongoing programs. The Ford Foundation hopes that the lessons provided by the case studies and companion analysis encourage other governments and NGOs to adopt, adapt, and scale an approach that works.

A woman casts a fishing net. Photo Credit: Trickle Up.
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Could four goats and two chickens change a life? If you live in the rural Northern district in Ghana, the answer is yes. 

The film, Climbing the Ladder, documents the Ghana Graduation Program and its evaluation by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). The film highlights the daily choices and progress of a few participants in the program, from their initial selection by means of a poverty ranking system, to their growing savings account balances, improved food security, and greater access to education for their children. 

View long film (38 min). View short film (15 min).

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UNHCR established a Graduation Programme pilot in Egypt in 2014, with the overarching objective of supporting refugees in urban areas to sustainably improve their livelihoods and ultimately become self-reliant. The first of their kind, the pilots in both Cairo with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Alexandria with Caritas presented an opportunity to adapt a proven methodology to the refugee context in order to better respond to protection needs. This mid-term evaluation of the UNHCR Egypt Graduation Programme presents findings in three key areas: impact, process/performance and project monitoring activities. The report provides evidence-based recommendations for UNHCR and its partners on the ground to continually improve the implementation and monitoring of the Graduation Programme and thereby increase its impact.

Driven by a vision to end extreme poverty in the drylands of Africa, BOMA implements a high-impact poverty graduation program for ultra-poor women in the drought-threatened arid lands. They help them to start small businesses in their rural communities, so they can pay for food, school fees and medical care for their families, and accumulate savings for long-term financial planning. Since 2009, BOMA has enrolled over 9,000 women in their program. 
Read more on BOMA’s Rural Entrepreneur Access Project >>
Read BOMA's latest impact reports >>

In October 2015, the Institute for Development Studies along with researchers and expert practitioners from around the world helped launch a new agenda of research for FONKOZE’s “Chemen Lavi Miyo/Pathway to a Better Life”.The agenda of research launched highlighted two related areas:
1. The lives of the ultra-poor in Haiti
2. CLM, Fonkoze's Haitian adaptation of the BRAC Graduation Program for the ultra-poor
Read more about the proposed research agenda for CLM >>