Making It Count!

By Kingsly Atem

Program Director


The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include targets for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, with a focus on strengthening women’s empowerment. As countries, institutions, and international organizations initiate projects and programs to address these social gaps, the question of what constitutes extreme poverty and how many people live in extreme poverty remains an important focus.


Some development experts emphasize monetary poverty - the less than $1.90 per day measure. While this measurement of income poverty is essential, it does not fully capture the conditions of extreme poverty as it is experienced by people themselves. More importantly, focusing on income level exclusively prevents economic development programs from identifying people experiencing multiple vulnerabilities and addressing the full range of barriers they face. How then do we ensure the poorest of the poor are not left behind?

As I’ve seen in my work with Trickle Up’s Graduation & Refugees Initiative, the case of UNHCR Zimbabwe provides an interesting example of collecting data on extremely vulnerable families and implementing a holistic approach to poverty alleviation.

Zimbabwe’s Tongogara Refugee Camp, located outside Chipinge about 500km southeast of Harare, is home to over 9,658 refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and other countries. Families living in this camp are fully dependent on humanitarian assistance and lack meaningful prospects for building their own livelihoods and integrating into the local community. Given the protracted nature of the refugee situation in this area, families may remain in the camp for years.

It’s critical to develop medium- to long-term plans to ensure that refugees living in extreme poverty can increase their self-reliance.

Traditionally, the support given to refugees has been primarily the domain of humanitarian organizations addressing immediate needs, including national asylum. Therefore, any data collected on refugees is often omitted from national poverty surveys and other crucial studies, and so refugees are left out of efforts to track the progress of people moving out of poverty. As a result, the longer-term livelihood needs of refugees and displaced people are not systematically addressed.


As part of our partnership to implement the Graduation Approach in refugee and host communities, Trickle Up supported the UNHCR Zimbabwe office to conduct a socio-economic profiling of refugees. This step deliberates on the multidimensional nature of extreme poverty to show that income measures alone do not capture all deprivations these families experience. Income can fluctuate widely; only a multi-faceted assessment portrays the true picture of a family’s situation. In our assessment in Zimbabwe, indicators ranged from availability of manpower, savings, health, education, and living standards to analyze both the incidence (the percentage of the population who are poor) and intensity (the combination of overlapping deprivations each person faces at a given time) of poverty.

Our study found that 63% of households surveyed are living in poverty and vulnerability.

This assessment is complemented by the Participatory Wealth Ranking (PWR) exercise that is inherent in the Graduation Approach design. This process begins by engaging community leaders and key stakeholders to define poverty and understand it in the context of the refugee camp. Then, we begin the targeting process to identify participant households by categorizing a sample of households into very poor, poor, self-sufficient, well off, and very well off. Community members participating in the exercise will then map all the households in specified area of the camp and fill a card with the name and any other critical information for each household. The agreed criteria are configured into a mobile application called KoboCollect, where field staff collect, analyze, and report data.


In developing our programs for refugees in Zimbabwe with UNHCR, we aim to put poverty data on refugees at the center of decision-making. Globally, the inclusion of refugees in national poverty surveys would go a long way to ensuring that their needs are reflected not only in humanitarian programming but also in national development plans.