Determined to Rise: The Women of Passoré Province, Burkina Faso
By Rose Wilder
Program Manager - Graduating to Resilience
I joined Trickle Up in January 2018 to support a new AVSI-led, USAID Office of Food for Peace-funded pilot program. The Graduating to Resilience project seeks to test the Graduation Approach’s ability to foster greater food security, resiliency, and self-reliance among extremely poor refugee and host community households in Kamwenge, Uganda. As part of my orientation, I traveled to Burkina Faso in February 2018 to see Trickle Up’s program in action and learn from my colleagues about the successes and challenges of adapting the Graduation Approach to local contexts.
During my visit to Burkina Faso, I was struck by the impact of the Graduation Approach and its ability to empower women living in extreme poverty – even in the most remote locations and long after the project’s completion.
While there are many definitions of what it means for a family or individual to have “graduated” from extreme poverty, it was quite clear that the women who participated in Trickle Up’s program in Passoré province were now more economically self-sufficient, hopeful about the future, and confident in their ability to meet their households’ needs. Passoré is in the Northern region of Burkina Faso. According to Burkina Faso’s National Institute of Statistics and Demography (2014), the Northern region has a high poverty rate (70.4%) compared to the national average (40.1%).
In the community I visited, Nambegyan, 50 women had participated in a two-year Trickle Up Graduation program. As we arrived, women were seated in two circles under a large tree providing shade from the afternoon sun. Each circle contained 25 women in a savings group. Trickle Up’s program was completed in this community in July 2017, yet the women were continuing to meet on a weekly basis to save together, take small loans for investing, discuss their challenges and successes, and plan for the future of their families. Their commitment to maintaining the savings groups is truly a testament to the Graduation Approach’s primary objectives: improved self-reliance and resilience.
In this project, the Graduation Approach included the following components:
Trickle Up and our partner, AIDAS, utilized a participatory process where partner staff worked with community members to define what constitutes poverty in their communities and identify extremely poor households as project participants. In this community, they collectively determined the criteria for extreme poverty, which included food insecurity, chronic illness, lack of transportation, inadequate housing, and children not attending school.
While modes of coaching (individual, group, mixed) and frequency (weekly, monthly) vary, coaching starts right away and continues until the end of the program. For these women, coaching was on a monthly basis through the savings group, with flexibility for individual support as needed. Coaching provides participants with a mentor to discuss successes and challenges in applying new skills, whether related to livelihoods or other trainings topics.
3. Technical Training
Technical training seeks to build women’s capacity around business skills and income-generating activities. Strong livelihoods are the foundation for future resiliency, as households with steady income streams are better able to meet their basic needs, overcome unexpected shocks, and plan for the future. The women I met had learned how to improve their agricultural yields, livestock health, and keep records of their business transactions.
4. Savings Groups
Savings groups provide a foundation for sharing key information with participants as well as a platform to build solidarity among women in the program. In this project, the savings groups were platforms for group coaching, as well as technical training sessions. At the time of my visit, the two groups of women had already completed two and half years of saving. Over a two-year period, the 50 women had collectively saved upwards of 4,600,000 CFA – roughly 92,000 CFA savings per woman ($170). In addition to individual savings, there is a solidarity fund, to which each woman contributes 100 CFA ($0.18) each week to assist one another with social events or unexpected shocks. For example, during this meeting, one member’s mother had passed away; the group collectively agreed to provide her with 1,000 CFA ($1.90) to assist in receiving family members for the funeral.
5. Asset Transfer/Grant
After making a business plan with the support of their coach, women are provided with the seed capital to kickstart their business. In the community of Nambegyan that I visited in Passoré province, each woman received a 50,000 CFA ($100) one-time transfer to start new businesses, including livestock rearing (poultry, sheep, pigs), agriculture (onion, cabbage, tomato, peppers, sesame), and buying goods to sell (peanuts, cowpeas, okra).
When asked about the biggest difference in their lives as a result of the program, the women agreed it was the peer support network they have developed through the savings group.
Now when they have a problem, they know they can bring it to the group for help and together they will find a solution. Before participating in the program, they felt alone with their problems and did not realize other women in their community were experiencing similar challenges. Additionally, they didn’t think they could save, as they did not have much income. Over time, they’ve realized that even saving a tiny amount of money each week can grow to a substantial amount over the course of the year.
They unanimously echoed that their coach had been key to their success in achieving greater economic empowerment and resiliency. With their savings to date, women in the group have invested in livestock, healthcare, clothing, business equipment, bicycles, improving their homes, and paying their children’s school fees – purchases they previously could not afford.
Empowering the most marginalized and impoverished women in communities has the power to not only effect change in families’ quality of life now, but also better equip the next generation. Women spoke of the hopes and dreams they have for their children, visualizing a positive path of opportunities provided by an improved home environment, adequate diet, good health, and access to education.
The impact I saw in Burkina Faso highlights the potential of the Graduation Approach to break the cycle of poverty in a sustainable and effective manner.
In Uganda, the Graduating to Resilience project will utilize a woman plus household approach to target participants, similar to Trickle Up’s program in Burkina Faso. This approach does not negate the interdependency of household members, but instead recognizes women’s economic marginalization and seeks to empower women’s agency over their individual lives as well as their household.
The Graduation program in Uganda also includes an external impact evaluation, which provides a unique opportunity to better understand the impacts of Graduation on extremely poor households, especially those in conflict-affected zones. We hope to build the evidence base on adapting the Graduation Approach to refugee contexts to inform future social protection and humanitarian policy and programming. I look forward to sharing more about the Graduating to Resilience project soon!