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By Helen Greene
Development & Communications Associate

Hovering over a wooden table, Maria draws a line on a large piece of paper to indicate a main road in her community. Small squares along the thoroughfare indicate homes and important community buildings. Seated in a ring around the emerging map, her neighbors and community leaders wait their turn to contribute. The group has assembled to count every household in their village, taking care to include those who are often forgotten: the poorest.

This collaborative technique for identifying those living in extreme poverty and vulnerability is called participatory wealth ranking. It’s how Trickle Up ensures participants and their communities have a say in our projects from the start. From there, participants drive their own path out of extreme poverty by choosing and investing in a livelihood that speaks to their skills and interests. But how do we include women and vulnerable populations as active, equal partners when comes time for us to measure the success of our programs?

Succeeding on Their Own Terms

Over nine months, our team in the Americas conducted four focus groups in Tamahú, Guatemala, and Chontales, Nicaragua. The focus groups consisted of women and people with disabilities who participated in both current and past projects. During these discussions, participants told us what they think success looks like. Here’s what they said:

  1. Eating enough food is critical, including having three meals a day, a diversified diet, and enough corn for every day.
  2. A reliable income from a stable business that generates profits is key.
  3. Success includes diversifying activities, creating a variety of revenue streams to ensure resiliency.
  4. Increased knowledge is a factor, including understanding how to run a business and look after income and savings.
  5. Success means owning assets, especially productive materials for businesses and homes.
  6. Understanding the importance of devoting resources to children’s education is critical.
  7. An essential component is resilience and the ability to deal with unforeseen circumstances, like withstanding a medical emergency or economic shocks.
  8. Kitchen gardens are a measure of success because growing food near the house can help feed the whole family.
  9. Families prioritize hygiene and healthy practices.
  10. They can own or lease land to grow cash and subsistence crops.
  11. Especially for people with disabilities, but for everyone, it is crucial to be independent, take care of themselves, and ensure their own futures.
  12. Success means having the know-how to access basic services that can improve lives even further.

Simply by listening, we learned a great deal.

Many of the criteria identified by participants match the ones we measure at Trickle Up already, an important confirmation that they’re relevant to participants’ own goals. However, some new indicators of success emerged from the conversations: participants in Nicaragua included hygiene, for example.

By having a voice in the process, participants and communities gain ownership over their own development and become more motivated to succeed. Participants learn to define goals for themselves and how to turn their smart ideas and hard work into reliable incomes. They’re our most important partners for success in every part of the process. Often, the most effective solutions are those generated in partnership with the women, families, and communities who participate in our programs.