Town Hall: Building Resilience to Climate Change

Climate change has been called the defining crisis of our time. On February 10, 2021 Trickle Up hosted a Town Hall to discuss the lessons learned with partner Concern Worldwide from adapting to extreme weather while implementing a livelihoods program for people in extreme poverty in Bangladesh and Vietnam. Panelists examined how organizations can support people in poverty to become more resilient to future crises.

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Barbara Jackson, Vice President, Programs, Trickle Up
Jo Sanson, Senior Director, Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning, Trickle Up
Nilanjan Chaudhuri, Manager, Monitoring & Evaluation, Trickle Up
Gretta Fitzgerald, Programme Director, Concern Worldwide


Tyler McClelland:

Here we go. Hi everyone. I'm Tyler McClelland, a Trickle Up's Communications Director, and I want to welcome you to our Trickle Up Town Hall today. Thank you all for spending the next hour with us this morning, or evening, if you are Nilanjan or Gretta from our panel, or afternoon, wherever you are in the world, thank you for joining us to discuss one of the most pressing challenges faced by people in extreme poverty, climate change, and the increasingly volatile and extreme weather as a result of it. We have a terrific panel for you today. And I know for a fact that they are eager to answer all of your questions about this important topic. But first, a few housekeeping notes. And then we'll get into the discussion with our panel today.

If you've been to a Trickle Up Town Hall before, then you know this your old hat. But we have a few folks joining us from all over, who have various qualities of bandwidth. So with the exceptions of our panelists, and myself, occasionally, we are all keeping our cameras and mics off throughout the Town Hall today. If you're trying to find the mute and video buttons, don't panic, we've already taken care of that for you. But this is a Town Hall, of course, so the panel will be answering your questions live. We have Barbara Jackson with us today, Trickle Up's Vice President for Programs. She will be taking your questions and moderating our discussion with the panel. Please be generous with your questions. Throw those into the Q&A while we're getting started today.

So how you do that? Down below, you will see there's a button that says Q&A. Easy enough, you just click that and a box should pop up for you to submit your questions directly to Barbara and the panel. She'll say your name, read your question and then the panel will answer it. It's really that simple. And if you want to remain anonymous, that is also an option. Just hit that anonymous button or write anonymous before your question, if you're having a little trouble finding that. And we won't say your name, but we will read your question. And with that, it is my great pleasure to introduce you all to Barbara Jackson, as I said, Trickle Up's Vice President of Programs, who we are lucky to have guest hosting our panel today. Hello, Barbara. How are you? Can you tell us a little more about who we have with us today on this stellar panel and maybe give us a little context about what we're all here to discuss.

Barbara Jackson:

Sure. Thank you. Thanks, Tyler. And good morning, good afternoon, good evening, everyone, wherever this finds you. We're really glad you could join us, as Tyler said, and really appreciate your interest in this, such an important topic. And we know it's going to be an interesting and compelling panel discussion. We have a distinguished group of panelists and I'm really proud to introduce them before asking them to share some reflections on their experience of Building Resilience to Climate Change, working with extremely poor and vulnerable populations, which is in Trickle Up's mission.

We have with us today Gretta Fitzgerald of Concern Worldwide, Jo Sanson and Nilanjan Chaudhuri, both of whom are with Trickle Up. Gretta is Concern Worldwide's Program Director, based in Bangladesh. Gretta has been with Concern since 2014, and has been engaged with the design, monitoring, evaluation, and implementation of multi-sectoral projects aiming to address food and nutrition security through livelihoods and community resilience, building initiatives in many countries, including Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Malawi, Mozambique, and most recently Bangladesh. Her greatest academic background and research focus on the livelihoods and resilience of small scale farmers, so very applicable to her work in Bangladesh currently.

Her current role in Bangladesh, she leads Trickle Up's partnership with RDRS. I think a number of colleagues from RDRS are with us today, the Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service, which is the partner for Concern for the implementation of our MetLife funded Empowering Women and Youth through Graduation and Financial Inclusion. We're really honored to have you join us, Gretta, today. I'll introduce the other two panelists before we go to individual reflections, if that's all right.

Nilanjan Chaudhuri, based in Kolkata, India, is Trickle Up's Monitoring and Evaluation Manager along with another colleague of ours in India in our Asia office. And he is the key Relationship Manager and has been for our regional program in Bangladesh and Vietnam, working both with Concern for programming in Bangladesh as well as Plan International in Vietnam. Nilanjan has been with Trickle Up now for, I think, three years and has worked with several international research institutions and has a distinguished career in both policy analysis, as well as in monitoring, evaluation, and implementation of programs. Nilanjan holds a master's degree from SOAS, and we're really pleased to have him join us today from his home in Kolkata.

And lastly, but not least, Jo Sanson is Trickle Up's Senior Director of Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research based in our New York office or from home obviously, right now. Jo has been with Trickle Up since 2009, and has extensive experience in the international development and humanitarian fields. She has been working in many countries in Asia and the Americas, are too many to pick out here. Her work in Trickle Up has focused on the inclusion of highly marginalized individuals and households in economic strengthening. Their integration into national social protection schemes and systems to track social and economic development to guide program design and delivery. Jo has led Trickle Up's climate change strategies through passion and strategic leadership, as well as her digital engagement work and many other initiatives. Thanks, Jo, for joining us today.

And before I turn to our panelists, I'd like to just give a brief overview of our work in Asia to set the context on the stage. We opened our first office in Kolkata in 2006. But had previously worked with several community based organizations in the eastern states of Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, and Jharkhand, always focusing on working with the extremely poor, particularly women as well as in recent years with indigenous groups. These are the groups we often find most powerfully impacted by climate change. The MetLife funded regional program initiated in 2017 enabled us to build upon our 25 plus year experience in India and expand into Bangladesh and Vietnam, with a strong focus of addressing key vulnerabilities faced by the very poor, including climate change.

While we identified climate change impact as a key impeding issue affecting human development progress, particularly for the most vulnerable four to five years ago, as Trickle Up organization, it has become overwhelmingly obvious that climate change is one of today's biggest, if not the major threat to the economic and livelihood security, particularly for the most vulnerable, and is yet another cruel twist to the burden that the most vulnerable end up bearing. And with that, I will turn to Jo first and ask her to share with us some key findings and learnings from our recent experiences in TU, and how we are working to address what has been called the defining crisis of our time, even beyond the impact of COVID-19. Over to you Jo, I'll go on mute.

Jo Sanson:

Thanks so much, Barbara. It's wonderful to be here with you all today. So thank you for joining everybody. So to the first thing we've learned, as Barbara has noted, and it's not a new learning. Is that this is an issue that we absolutely cannot ignore. At this point, integrating adaptation to climate change needs to be mainstreamed through all anti-poverty and livelihood programs. So as Barbara had mentioned, climate crisis it's been called a threat multiplier. It takes existing vulnerabilities like poverty, hunger and poor health and amplifies them. So as with most issues, like COVID, climate change disproportionately impacts those that are already worse off. And that's, of course, critical for us when we're working with the ultra-poor populations.

So our programs have always been designed to build resilience. We have been seeing that people who have diversified their sources of income and accumulated savings are generally better able to cope with shocks, like extreme weather events. Having social connections and learning new skills also helps households cope and proactively adapt to changing conditions, like changes in rainfall patterns. Over the last year, I've also seen that those households that have established kitchen gardens are better able to maintain adequate nutrition during shocks, and making otherwise "invisible" people to relief and entitlement programs has also proven important, which we've also seen in the case of COVID and extreme weather events.

That's not enough, even worked ahead actually what's already upon us. Already this year, our program participants in Mexico and Guatemala were pummeled by two major hurricanes. In Vietnam, they were hit by 15 consecutive major storms just in one year. And these are just two examples. Many of our own program participants lost their assets and in some cases, homes, and experienced major disruptions in their livelihoods. And we know it's going to get much worse.

So in the last year, we also completed an organizational strategy to deepen our work to respond to the climate crisis. This includes more systematically promoting climate adaptive agricultural practices, such as vertical gardens, which use less water, which our programs in India have been supporting, and systematically ensuring that livelihood planning takes into account climate change trends. This includes moving away from activities that may no longer be viable in some places, such as certain sorts of agriculture, and ensuring that we're promoting diversification of livelihoods that cross cut risk categories. So if there's a drought or flood that destroy a crop or a particular type of activity, they still have other sources of revenue.

And also utilizing simple tools like readiness assessments to check for example, if a family has a plan for where they can move livestock if there is a flood, before distributing the capital, the seed capital grants that we provide, and this was one of the many learnings we had from our friends from Concern in the last few years. Integrating disaster preparedness training at the household level and group level is also important. And we've been exploring options for doing more so at the community level, and partnering with others to do so. This includes helping people build their capacity to assess risks and develop plans accordingly, and also having reliable information access such as weather forecasts. How to avoid over-stressing resources that are already getting stressed due to climatic changes is also critical.

In the Sahel, where we've been working, we found that the climate stresses are believed to be exacerbating the conflicts that are already there, and are getting much worse, we must say. So ensuring for example, that any investments in livestock are done in a way that don't put additional pressure on resources, for example, by accompanying them with fodder crops is really important.

So one significant challenge is what to do when disasters hit households before they have had time to build their resilience through these programs. It's happened in a range of our projects in the last year. In some cases, our donors were generous enough and MetLife Foundation, particularly to replace lost assets, so participants could continue to build more sustainable livelihoods and get to that point where they can cope more on their own. But preparing for and managing such contingencies will continue to be very important.

And I've also been identifying some tricky issues that we may need to preempt. For example, for many years, we've been helping people from extremely poor households stop having to undertake stress migration for survival. But what happens when that's the most viable option in the longer term? How do we help people plan for the future so that they can be making such changes in their lives as much under their own terms as possible? A strategy also addressed how we communicate about this issue. And that includes not glossing over that while climate adaptation is essential, it's certainly not going to make everything all right. And lastly, looking at our programs on carbon footprints. So it's been really great working with Concern Worldwide in Bangladesh over the last years, we've been able to learn a huge amount from them, and we've adopted many of their good practices home from working in one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world. So thank you, Barbara.

Barbara Jackson:

Thanks so much, Jo. That's a perfect segue to move over to Gretta. And thanks again, Gretta, for joining us. I think you're on your second day back from your home in Ireland. So really appreciate having you join us. Gretta lives and works, as Jo has noted, in one of the countries most prone to climate induced disasters globally. And I believe you've been there for less than a year. And in that time, you've witnessed more than one major climatic disaster, including flooding. As we shared here, a major focus of our work with Concern has been to examine the impact of climate change and resilience, and we've learned a great deal from it. So we hope you can share some of those insights with us today. And also to speak to how some of the program participants have demonstrated their resilience, integrated into our programming around graduation. So we'd be looking forward to hearing from you. Over to you, Gretta.

Gretta Fitzgerald:

Thanks, Barbara. And thanks, Jo, as well. I think a lot of what Jo described earlier is corroborating with what we found in our own experience here in Bangladesh, but also this small study that we undertook late last year to help us better understand the impact of climate change in the Char context. We implemented the Empowering Women and Youth project in Kurigram District which is in the Char region of Bangladesh. Before we get into the study, just to give you a bit of background, the Chars and char being Bangla for island, are temporary tracts of land formed through silt deposition in riverbeds. These temporary land masses, they're very prone to natural hazards such as flooding and riverbank erosion.

The Empowering Women and Youth implemented in Kurigram District. This is one of Bangladesh's districts with highest poverty rates, with 44% of people living in extreme poverty, compared to 17% off the national average. Char communities, they are generally very poor, have limited access to services, and more vulnerable to natural hazards compared to mainland populations. Populations in Char are also very much reliant on agricultural production, crop production, fishing, livestock, and poultry.

From the study, when considering climate change, we can see from data between 1996 and 2016 that there is increasing trends in the mean temperature, and also total rainfall in Kurigram District specifically. When talking to communities and project participants, they all validated this trend in the data. And it's also appeared in other studies as well. So climate change is having an impact, things are shifting when it comes to rainfall and temperature. Kurigram itself has been identified as one of the most flood affected districts in Bangladesh. Every year, there's monsoon flooding and there's major damaging to housing, agricultural land, harvest, and overall, just disruption to livelihood patterns, access to clean water, and sanitation and displacement to people.

Though the floods do appear to be disastrous, when you see them on the news or the media or when you go down and visit, they do look to be disastrous. But we do need to remember that monsoon flooding are a vital component to the livelihood system with Char communities. Without this annual inundation of water and siltation, the fertility of the farmlands would reduce. So there's a very fragile ecosystem there that is reliant on the monsoon flooding to ensure soil fertility.

When we're considering climate change, the impact seems to be the intensity and the variability of rainfalls. That probably is kind of disrupting the flooding pattern. When we're looking then at the impact of the extended duration or dispersion of the flooding, and this is more related to topography in the Chars context, not so much climate change. Is more to do with how populations have used the natural resources, and then how floods are managed when they do happen. So when we talk about monsoon flooding in Bangladesh, climate change, yes, it is having a massive impact, but it's I think exacerbating issues that are already there around natural resource management and flood management.

Then when looking at the impact and the resilience of our project participants over the last two years, we've seen really impressive capacity for them to be able to absorb some of the shocks. In 2019, over 90% of our project participants were badly affected by the flooding. Some were displaced, some lost all their assets. Then came 2020 with the COVID-19 lockdown, but also in 2020, the monsoon floods, they took twice as long to recede. And some people are stranded for up to six weeks on embankments or evacuation centers. The communities themselves, they have standard coping strategies like moving their assets and harvesting crops early, seasonal migration, and storing dry foods or shifting to safer shelter. But through the project, with the project participants, they have increased their livelihood diversification.

So they have more options and livelihoods throughout the year, so they're able to build up their asset base, which is proving to be really effective. And they also have developed savings habit through ROSBI with some self-help groups, so they have that access to savings. But they are still quite reliant on these agri-based likelihoods which are vulnerable to this increased frequency or increased intensity of the monsoon floods. So I think we need to maybe look at that further in future programming.

Some examples of household resilience that we've seen is how the self-help groups, the groups of women around 20 women per group, and their savings, and they've also set up emergency funding amongst the group, they call it Mushti chal. And with their regular savings and assets they've built up through the project. It kind of ensured that all was not lost. And once the floodwater receded, the women could build back up. But I think out of all of the findings in the study, and our final evaluation, common theme that seems to be coming out is the importance of social capital.

There's a common assumption about people that live in the Chars, that social capital and social cohesion is weaker than what is on the mainland due to the constant displacement and migratory patterns of the community. However, from the study and from the evaluation, we can see that local CBOs, CSOs, community groups, support groups, etc. They cooperate with each other during flood, and it's the communities themselves that lead in their evacuation and linking up with government or NGO support. And during focus group discussions, the women's self-help groups talked about how they cooperate with each other in terms of hiring boats, getting relief, looking after livestock. And so there's a lot of resilience there, especially in drawn people's human and social capital, but if the trends of increase in intensity of monsoon floods are going to continue, these will deteriorate and we tested. So the roles of other capitals and natural capital, I think we need to better understand those and resource them to ensure that there's a holistic approach to flood resilience. Thanks Barbara.

Barbara Jackson:

Yeah, thank you, Gretta. Thanks so much for really capturing the complexity of the number of issues, considering the fragile ecosystems and how to manage what are productive measures with the balance of climate change impact. And then also just detailing a bit more about some of the surprising results with regard to community resilience. And we'll learn about that a little bit more later, too. So thanks so much, Gretta. I will pass to Nilanjan now, if I may. And given Nilanjan's experience over the last several years, working as the key Relationship Manager with our program in Vietnam and in Bangladesh, and the direct engagement you've had with those partners there, and the multiple crises, as Jo mentioned, many segue consecutive storms in Vietnam, not to mention the flooding in Bangladesh, could you share with us please, Nilanjan, some of the key recommendations that our program partners have made to ensure building climate resiliency into their graduation approach, really focusing on the sequence approach to help the most vulnerable move out of extreme poverty. Over to you, Nilanjan.

Nilanjan Chaudhuri:

Sure. Thanks, Barbara. That's very interesting question. So, in the context of our program in Bangladesh and Vietnam, let us spend one or two minutes in understanding the kind of hazards which our participants have experienced or are experiencing or have experienced during our program in the last three years. So in Bangladesh, there is the cyclical pattern, there is a calendar, which includes floods being the most important, particularly in the Char area which is our intervention area, drought, then river erosions because the shifting of the rivers and storms. So a gamut of hazards participants regularly face every year. A kind of calendar pattern.
In Vietnam, also the situation was particularly bad in the last quarter even. Our participants have encountered droughts, tornadoes, hailstorm and typhoon Molave hit Vietnam and it was the biggest one in the last two decades. So, having said that, what are the effects we have seen the participants are encountering? Obviously, the participants and the community at large residing in those areas, the land reductions and degradation, low agricultural yields, loss of crop and livestock, then you have the crop and livestock diseases often as aftermath of the disasters, and then a loss of on farm and off farm activities. So, even though farm activities suffer and that threatens the people's livelihood opportunities as well, and of course, loss of assets.

So, having set the context and then how did the program which we implemented in Bangladesh particularly, because Bangladesh program with Concern Bangladesh had an inbuilt climate disaster coping strategy in the program. So, of course as support mechanism, there were the immediate relief responses from our partners that happened both in Bangladesh and Vietnam. And during the selection and the targeting also, Bangladesh program had these two very important tools to do. One was like the coping and adaptation strategy assessment. And now what was it doing? It was trying to understand the impact of each natural hazard and also assess the effectiveness of the strategies which the participants adopt normally in dealing with those hazards. That's one thing.

Another really important tool which was used as a part of the PRA exercise during the selection and targeting was a vulnerability matrix. And so, what is the vulnerability matrix? This matrix was measuring the vulnerability score and to see that which hazard pose a bigger threat to the participants. And it was done through PRA techniques. So themselves were calculating the relative threats based on their perception of impact, frequency, risk, and adaptation. So, these tools were used and as, Gretta, has already touched upon, and there were certain standard strategies based on the local wisdom as well as the practice, like arranging provisions from before. By provision, I mean arranging money from before for the disaster time, food provisions, those kind of things.

Participants in those areas use the flood resistant varieties of crops of paddy. Then depending on the calendar, because now there is a pattern to the natural disaster which they've experienced and they adjust the sowing and the harvesting activities in response to the hazard calendars. Then kitchen gardens, homestead kitchen gardens and sacks so that it doesn't get drowned and can be transferred to a relatively safer place when the floods and all those kinds of things happen. And also adopting a lot of home remedies for the common livelihood diseases, these bacteria. And particularly important as a part of the graduation program, was the creation of the emergency funds where the participants were pulling money and saving it for that time. Also, graduation program relies on a robust individual level business planning.

And so when we were developing the business planning for each individual household, the disaster coping strategy was made a part of that business planning so that it helps in preparedness and what to do. Preempting the situation from before, that was another strategy that was used. Very important mode of communication, which was used as part of making the people aware from before for early forecast and warnings through the community FM radio channel. There is a local FM channel called Radio Chilmari, which is run by our implementing partner RDRS in the Kurigram area where we were implementing the project. So that was another thing which proved to be extremely, extremely useful.

Now, these were the things we have used. But I would also like to touch upon a bit to highlight that what can we do as a proactive measure in future in our program design rather than being reactive about disaster, because this is a part and parcel of people's lives and it's going to be worse in the coming years. So the first and foremost thing is that, yes, we implement the projects, but we also have to be a part of a common collaboration platforms, whether government, the international NGOs, the local partners, the local communities, and synergy between even different departments of the government for policy convergence and inclusion. That is extremely important. Otherwise, in isolation is going to be very difficult, because each... Bangladesh has a national level strategy. So we have to ensure that there is a convergence, those things are implemented in our intervention area so the benefits reach to our project participants as well. That's one thing.

Ultimately, the implementers will be through the local government. So more bottom-up planning, the regular coordination with the local government is required. The program might venture into some kind of options, either as a part of the program investment or through convergence, again, with the government for creation of some eco-friendly infrastructure like clean tracing, stilt house designing, embankment solution with locally available materials, water retention ponds, community shelters for livestock, these kind of things.

And another thing which is worth mentioning, I mean, we all know that insurance is a very important way of hedging the risk. But the low cost micro-insurance are often not that great incentives for the private players, because it involves a lot of transaction costs when the companies collect the data, to calculate the laws and give the payout, so on and so forth. So recently, there has been another very innovative insurance approach, which is called index insurance, which is gaining popularity, which is a very relatively new but very innovative approach. And what does the index insurance does? Index insurance reduces the transaction cost by capturing data through various modern technologies, satellite based solutions as well, and creation of these algorithms and so on and so forth, on the basis of a predetermined index, say, for instance, the rainfall level, and to calculate the loss and the investment.

We were attending a seminar a couple of weeks ago, organized by Concern, again, where one of the big NGOs in Bangladesh is working with the Art Institute of Columbia University on this index insurance. So that can be a great solution. Obviously, it also requires coming together on a common platform, the private sector, the CBO, NGOs, implementing partner. So these were some of the strategies which were made part of the program and these are the things which can be thought about in our future program designing within the ultra-poor population. Thanks, Barbara.

Barbara Jackson:

Yeah, great. Thank you, Nilanjan. And thanks for taking us from direct community based involvement from even the beginning of a program and how to adjust climate change and resiliency in that process, up to a policy level innovations and articulations. So, yeah, really helpful. Thanks. Thank you Nilanjan. So I'd like to turn over to the... Everybody, come back on screen Nilanjan. And I ask Gretta and Jo to please come back on screen and just do a couple of questions very quickly, if you don't mind, then we'll move over to the audience participation.

And I would like to remind the audience if you don't mind, just send in your questions through the Q&A feature. We see some coming in on the chat. So we're monitoring that as well. But I'll be looking at two different streams, so I hope to get to all your questions. My first question, it's really about what has surprised you the most in terms of seeing what the program participants have been able to do, and how they're responding or even adapting to climate change? So, Gretta, if I could start with you.

Gretta Fitzgerald:

Great. Thanks, Jo and great question. So what surprised us most? I suppose with the support that was provided to the 13,000 self-help group members, the women themselves they saw great levels of return from the support they received, despite the impact of flooding and COVID-19. So they still had great levels of development in their own personal lives. But I think what was more surprising as well was the confidence and the assurance of the women, that despite the setbacks and the shocks to their livelihoods, they had this sure belief that they could rebuild and continue on with their livelihoods with the skills that they built and the savings they were able to accumulate through the ROSBI.

And there's also, I think, the respect and recognition of the women from their families and community members. They all said that nowadays they are seen as being successful business women, or successful crop producers. So they were given this respect and recognition. I think that's the most surprising outcomes that you can capture that on a log frame. And it's really the human impact that you see on the ground and that was great.

Barbara Jackson:

Yeah, thanks, Gretta. Thanks. That's pretty inspiring, actually. Thanks. Nilanjan, can you share with us some of the things that you were really surprised by in terms of learning how program participants are actually really addressing this issue head on in some ways.

Nilanjan Chaudhuri:

Yeah. So one thing which this whole graduation program and involvement with participants for the last three years by Concern and RDRS has done, and which is really encouraging, is that people have become less fatalistic about these issues of climate change and the natural disasters. So now they're extremely aware that this is part and parcel of their life, they can preempt the situation from before, and they have developed a kind of preparedness in themselves. And even within the small efforts, within their means, they're saving from before creating emergency fund, saving from before within the family as well. They can articulate the business plans in response to the imminent disaster they will be facing, suppose next year or so. And they can say when to produce, when to sell, and how much to store.

This kind of acumen is coming to people's mind in response to the climate change disasters, which are part of their daily lives. And even people were saying that if something happens, if a flood happens, they have actually identified the areas where to move the livestock, so that the loss can be minimized. So I would say that people have become less fatalistic about these things, and are trying their best to brave the situation with whatever means they have. And that's an incredible thing. And I would say that that's the best part of the program in the last three years. The effect of the program.

Barbara Jackson:

Yeah, that's great Nilanjan. Imagine that many community members are well aware of the situation and are trying to find ways to deal with it on their own. And they're being very smart about planning to do so. So it's great to build upon that initiative and effort. Jo, in our experience globally, have there been... I'm sure there have been, key surprises for you in terms of takeaways that we can build on for the future.

Jo Sanson:

Sure. I think I've experienced globally very much reflects what both Gretta and Nilanjan have already mentioned. Just in terms of that their resilience that they're moving beyond fatalism and so on. The sense that people can rebuild. We have an evaluation underway in Guatemala at the moment, in which we're tracking how people are investing their seed capital in the midst of this simultaneous crisis of COVID and major floods and hurricanes. We design our programs with the idea that people have enough buffer to be able to start investing. But we're really asking ourselves this question, so what happens when you start a new project in the middle of a crisis? And I think many NGOs over the last year have been asking themselves. Okay all sorts of adaptations we need to do and this has been a big question for us both in terms of projects that are underway and starting.

One of our big concerns was that they would end up using a lot of that capital that we do provide to invest in livelihood activities after the livelihood planning process just to meet their basic needs, putting food on the table. So that'd be resorting to those sort of basic survival mechanisms. But what we found was that despite their hardship, the vast majority are still managing to invest in productive activities. Even more than that, what we found is that people's enthusiasm is actually even higher than in so called normal times.

So in Latin America, we're sometimes faced with what's called in Spanish asistencialismo, where people have come to expect having assistance in the form of handouts. So it sometimes actually takes a bit of work to engage people in a project where it's about them building their own livelihoods as well. I think we find that in Latin America much more than the other regions we work. And so it was actually really interesting to find that in the context of these crises, where there are these additional stressors, that attitude actually diminished. So we found that people are actually paying even more attention in the trainings, even more enthusiasm and actually more sacrifice on their own parts to really be putting in that effort and that time and reducing their own consumption sometimes to be able to be investing. I think it goes back to what both Gretta and Nilanjan were saying. I think with just some of that support, you can really help people move beyond that sense of fatalism and say, no, look, this is an opportunity, we're in a crisis, we got to do something about it.

Barbara Jackson:

Right, right. Yeah, thank you. That is a common thread there, about building upon momentum and understanding that actually people have already moved beyond fatalism in many ways, and are dealing with reality in a very pragmatic and constructive approach. I just have a final question before moving to the audience questions. And that is really around or you may refer to it, Nilanjan and Gretta and all of you, Jo as well. But this is a major question in terms of policy levels. That we can do so much at the community level, what is our role? What have we been able to do? What should we be doing? What's been our experience with the host government policy level, let's say. Let's start talking about global policy at this moment. So if you don't mind, if I could go quickly to Nilanjan, and then over to you Gretta. And just talk us specifically about some of the experience in the countries we've been working, Nilanjan and then Gretta, over to you for Bangladesh.

Nilanjan Chaudhuri:

Sure. So we did an evaluation to understand the impact of the program on the issues of the climate change and the disaster risks faced by the participants. One thing which has come up is like, the country does have policies, but in many cases, the kind of issues faced by the participants in that particular area haven't become part of the policy mainstreaming. So even in the context of the Char, so all the disaster risk reduction policies of the government adopted in the recent years, which is still valid for the current period. So, many of these policies haven't taken into consideration the specific issues which the participants in the community in those intervention areas encounter, and hence, the strategies of dealing with it.

So, there is a huge necessity to have more dialogues with the government to make these things a part of the policy mainstreaming. The issues which we are seeing in the ground, so that we bring those experiences and our data to government to make the issues of the people in those areas a part of the policy mainstreaming and hence policy convergence, because otherwise in isolation, it becomes very difficult because it's after all affecting the whole area of the country. And so Concern Bangladesh has also tried having talks from the very local district levels, and so on and so forth to initiate those dialogues. And that is going to be a significant thing in influencing the policy. Yeah.

Barbara Jackson:

Yeah. Thanks, Nilanjan. So Gretta, having worked at the district level, in terms of what Nilanjan was referring to, and understanding that Bangladesh is really taking this quite seriously as a country. How have you and Concern and RDRS proceeded in what are your key areas for looking forward in the future in terms of influencing government policy based upon learnings?

Gretta Fitzgerald:

Yeah. So in the Chars, we've actually got an overall program approach in the Chars, and empowering them an unusual one project there. So what we're trying to do is with all our projects in the Char area, is to have feed into one overall advocacy strategy that will try and advocate for more climate disaster risk sensitive livelihood approaches, social protection, financial services. And we'd also like to advocate for better management of natural capital in terms of flood management. Now how to go about that advocacy process. CSL platforms, which are quite strong in Bangladesh and cover all areas in the Chars. There's a national Chair lines.

So linking up with those types of CSL platforms and actors, to work with local government and administration to feed up to the national level, to make sure the issues and the resource allocations that are needed are heard at the national level and then trickle back down. A huge component of this is relationship building from the community level right up to district level. That's something that we have, I think, as one of the strengths of the Empowering Women project. By linking the whole way up, issues that were raised at community level they were landing on the tables at Upazila level. So it's how to empower communities and empower their voice and make them aware of what services and supports they're entitled to us citizens, and then link them up to the different actors along the way. So that's the thing, that's our key role, and making sure that our advocacy points are coming from the community up to the national level, and using the CSL platforms as a vehicle to deliver those messages.

Barbara Jackson:

Yeah, no. Thanks, Gretta. And thanks to all of you for responding to those specific questions, which I believe resonate with a number of the questions that are coming up from the audience, too. So if you don't mind, we'll shift over to some audience participation. And thank you, for those who have submitted your questions, I hope we can get to a number of them for the remaining time on this panel.

One of the questions posed by Liz Corbishley who is with Village Enterprise was what should we do when someone already loses their assets before they have been engaged in disaster awareness and planning, and having those contingency plans in place? Perhaps, and I'm adding this on to another question, how is that linked to being engaged or promoting engagement in safety nets that are available within the countries in which we are working? So if I could ask, Gretta, if you don't mind quickly responding to that, and then I'll ask Jo about some experience elsewhere in the world.

Gretta Fitzgerald:

I think it's a great question. And I think this is something that we're being tested on, I guess, with all these different natural disasters and increased frequency and intensity of the natural disasters. The graduation approach itself is quite well fitted for addressing these issues. When it comes to starting out on a graduation process, there needs to be some sort of assist base there. So that support needs to be provided, and then the capacity building layered on top of that, the access to services layered on top of that. So it's all the layering approach after graduation model.

What is being tested, though, is when you're going through that graduation process as an individual and you get hit by a major shock. How then does a project have the budget and resources then to reset you and prop you back up? Or do you have the soft skills to be able to do that? So that's where Nilanjan mentioned earlier is the readiness assessment, vulnerability assessment. That's where they're critical in making sure that the graduation model that we use is shock sensitive. Hope that answers the question.

Barbara Jackson:

No, it's a great answer. Thanks. Jo, what in terms of our experience elsewhere?

Jo Sanson:

Sure. It is a really tricky question. And I think part of the answer is in the second part of your question, the extent to which we are expecting to be able to address these shocks through our own program resources versus linking people to the relief programs, that governments and others that often don't do as well as we would like or as comprehensively as we would like, put out in response to these disasters in terms of replacing lost assets. Insurance is another issue, but as we've mentioned, as I think Nilanjan mentioned this, there's often barriers for the people at the very bottom of the pyramid associated with it.

But, also it's been discussed within our project cycles, how do we build in contingencies, is another issue. And honestly, it's quite tricky, because most of these sorts of programs are funded by donors for graduation, is a time bound period. Building into contingencies is not something that is, I would say, as universal within the funding communities would like. So I think it's also, maybe some advocacy with the funding community about how these things are addressed.

And as I said, I think we've been also very fortunate that many of our funders have been very understanding and have had the flexibility to be providing more funds when disasters have hit, but really, of course, ideally, we should start off with that plan, saying, okay, we are providing this amount of seed capital, what happens if some of that is lost because of an unprecedented shock, than having those plans in place upfront. I don't think we've got all the answers yet, it's something which I think everyone in this sector is trying to figure out.

Barbara Jackson:

And hence the benefit of events like this and many others in terms of working with others to gain lessons learned, and how do we build upon each other's strengths, and gaining in momentum in terms of really networking and learning from others. Nilanjan, I'm going to post you a really tricky question here, which a couple of people have put into the chat box and the Q&A. And that's around, what is our role, and what is it... Not just Trickle Up, but what is the role of nongovernmental organizations, for example, working with populations living in very, very vulnerable areas that are systematically vulnerable to climate change? Is there a role to play in supporting movement to other locations? And how do we engage with community members around that issue?

Nilanjan Chaudhuri:

Thank you, Barbara. It's intriguing and interesting question, indeed. Moving to other areas? I don't think so, otherwise the community has moved out. It's a conscious choice of theirs. And there is another issue related. And also moving to other area for the vulnerable people is not as rosy as it sounds. At least this is a known terrain. So going to an unknown terrain can even be worse. And second thing, what can we do, especially in the context of working with the population, like by the issues of the climate change and natural disasters? Two things. We can create a model, and then do an advocacy with the government and if the model has the components of that preparedness, that resilience factors in it, so that's a way of doing it.

And also kind of exit strategy. Ultimately, you also need to create those islands of hopes within the community through this, they have tasted success, and you create the natural leaders, and the community members, and have a kind of exit strategy devised by the people, so that once we leave the program then also people are prepared and people who have been part of the program to tackle the situation, they can guide other people in the community to deal with the uncertainties that will come up in the near future.
That's another thing. With the climate change, I would again say dialogues with the government, there is no other alternative. Extremely well thought through advocacy and influencing strategies required to make the government responsive to the challenges which we have seen, which our participants in the community in our intervention areas encounter. Bringing that knowledge and that experience to the government is hugely successful. And is going to be critically successful and significant. Yeah.

Barbara Jackson:

Thank you, Nilanjan. Putting you on a hot spot with a very difficult and sensitive question, but one that is often considered and how do we engage with government policies around that? Andrea Breed proposes another question in terms of advice. Advice that we would offer to other organizations that are looking to prioritize specific and growing issues of climate change, but are driven and really want to retain the community-led initiatives and programming. I think we referred to somewhat of this in our discussion so far. But are there other recommendations that you would like to share? Gretta, is it all right if I come to you?

Gretta Fitzgerald:

Yeah, no. It's something that I think, like Concern as an organization, we are quite community-led in our approach. We work with the extreme poor. And we have had considerable success around advocacy on specific issues. And I think the best or the most impactful advocacy is often based on a solid ground of experience at community level. So you're speaking from experience and it's the voice of the communities and the people affected that you're bringing to the policy dialogue or the discussion table. So that's when advocacy is probably most effective, and when it's based on somewhat experience bottom-up. So I think having the balance between the two, when it works, it works really, really well. I suppose, but I can say that.

Barbara Jackson:

Yeah, no, great response to that. I think it's really demonstrating the community initiative, the beyond fatalism, and how do you approach it and build upon that. So thanks for sharing that specific response. Jo, did you want to add on to that? And then we'll have to say thanks to all.

Jo Sanson:

Yeah, no, I think it's an important point. And as I think, Gretta has mentioned, most of this planning and adaptation has to be done at the community level. You need that. A lot of our programs in Trickle Up are not necessarily involving the whole community, but certainly a subset of it through self-help groups, which often end up really speaking for the most vulnerable in the community as well. So I think it is about having that combination of making sure that you are empowering, helping people build that sense of agency and that ability to plan and project their voices and so on, at the community level, both with the planning within the community and making sure that, again, those poorest and most vulnerable are not left out of these plans, as well as what Gretta was saying, it's also having a mechanism for pushing those messages up.

I would also say that most of our work in Trickle Up is also working in collaboration with governments with the objective, not just of improving the outcomes of these participants who were directly working with, but of also influencing how those government programs are working as I think we've all been mentioning. I think one interesting example here is our work with the Adaptive Social Protection Program of the Sahel, which is a big, is a World Bank supported five country initiative to really lay the foundations for a social protection program that can be productive. Meaning that it can help people move out of poverty, but they can also have the flexibility to be used and deployed at times of crisis. And I think there's always this sort of balancing act between designing such programs in a way so that they are engaging and empowering people at the community level, but they can also be scaled on a national level as well.

Barbara Jackson:

Thanks so much. I'm sorry to cut you off, Jo, didn't mean to do that. I would like to really thank our panelist. We're getting on to the top of the hour, I must say that I feel inspired now by this conversation and this discussion here, and by all the engagement from the audience, but also just really hearing about the momentum, and the initiative, and the resilience that we're building upon with community members themselves. So thank you, Gretta, Nilanjan, and Jo. And I will turn over to Tyler to wrap us up. So thanks very much.

Tyler McClelland:

Thank you, Barbara. And thanks again to our fabulous panel for that fascinating dive into this critical issue and its impact on the poorest. I hope you all out there learned something. I know, I sure did. Gretta, Nilanjan, and Jo as always, it's a great pleasure speaking with you and getting to hear a little more about your work and what we've learned together. And thanks for sharing how we can help extremely vulnerable people adapt and some of the inspiring ways they are already adapting. And thank you again, to our audience too, all of you out there for your great questions.

Before we go, a reminder that this is a series. So look out for future invitations to join in on these conversations with other members of our staff and partners here in New York and around the world. We will return soon with new topics and speakers in the spring, so look out for that next invitation in your inboxes and on our social media.

One final thing before we let you go, we do have a special invitation to extend to all of you today. Trickle Up is holding our very first virtual celebration of International Women's Day on Monday, March 8th at 5PM Eastern, where you'll get to meet some of the inspiring women in Trickle Up's program. We'll be honoring disability rights activist, Judith Heumann, and filmmaker Mark Lippmann, and we'll be joined by special guests including Vanessa Williams and Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Just like this Town Hall series, registration is free. And you can register right now at So we hope to see you then. And thank you all again for joining us and have a great rest of your morning, evening, afternoon. We'll see you next time.


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