Wrestling with the Tough Questions

By Jaya Sarkar
Vice President, Programs

Trickle Up has helped 51,440 participants break the cycle of poverty over the last four years, but an estimated 800 million people are living in extreme poverty today. In order to have an even greater impact on women and marginalized groups living in extreme poverty and vulnerability, Trickle Up is constantly thinking about how we can continue to successfully serve these groups while scaling our programs to reach more of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Government partnership is one way that Trickle Up works to bring our proven approach to more of the poorest women and families than we could alone.

And because many government social protection programs are asking the same questions we’ve asked ourselves for years, working together is a natural next step. Governments are seeking to ensure that participants in their social protection programs are provided with a means to make sustainable progress out of poverty, rather than remaining reliant on social supports. In addition, they want to make certain that the poorest of the poor are effectively reached and benefit from these programs.

Since 2015, Trickle Up has partnered in the states of Jharkhand and Odisha with India’s National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), which seeks to move 75 million people out of poverty. Our partnership involves integrating the Graduation Approach into their anti-poverty programs to help them more effectively reach women, indigenous communities, and other vulnerable populations living in extreme poverty.

When this partnership was highlighted at the CGAP/Ford Foundation Graduation Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. in December 2015, it caught the attention of the World Bank in Zambia. They requested that Trickle Up host a Learning Mission for a Zambian delegation in India to visit our partnership with the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS). We decided to turn it into an even more rich exchange of ideas by inviting delegations from government agencies in Burkina Faso and from our partner Ko’ox Taani in Mexico as well.

The Learning Mission was an opportunity for these delegations to observe the Graduation Approach in action and meet with government and NGO implementers to discuss common challenges. By sharing successful experiences in implementing the Graduation Approach with government agencies in India, we hoped to inform policy development and implementation in other countries. We discussed the challenges that are at the crux of our work in tailoring the Graduation Approach for populations living in extreme poverty throughout the world.

“We learned through the questions you asked.” - Bishnu Parida, Chief Operating Officer of JSLPS

Were all our questions resolved? Certainly not! But unresolved questions are important in helping us think about how programs should be designed for success. We will continue to collectively seek to answer the following questions:

How can governments effectively serve the poorest and most vulnerable?

Delegates at the Learning Mission were keen to gain insight in specific ways to facilitate the inclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable. They especially wanted to understand the measures JSLPS has taken to include them. We discussed how to identify viable livelihoods and engage participants actively in the planning process, all while comparing the delegates’ own contexts to the villages we visited in Jharkhand, India.

The presence of delegates from Zambia’s Ministry of Gender and Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Women, National Solidarity and the Family, ensured that the issue of gender was an important aspect of our discussions, including addressing how men can be constructively involved in programs ostensibly targeting women. Most importantly, the visitors were able to speak with individual participants to better understand the barriers they faced when establishing sustainable livelihoods or learning to save and access credit.

How can governments deliver program services that require coaching, innovation, and adaptation while facing significant barriers in reaching remote and underserved areas?

When trying to incorporate the Graduation Approach into social protection programs, governments must address the issue of who will deliver program components to participants. Individual and household coaching is an important component of Graduation, but it is difficult for governments to train and place staff in remote areas to work with marginalized populations.

NRLM’s model builds an infrastructure of Self-Help Groups to support these components. Comprised of 10-15 women, these groups empower women by providing specific training in forming their groups, learning to save and access credit, and building sustainable livelihoods. The delegations were able to meet and speak with participants in local groups to understand how they’re organized and how the women support one another. Through these visits, we saw the importance of these groups in facilitating the work of the coach and creating local support systems for participants that live on after the program’s completion.

These local institutions not only help participants build sustainable livelihoods, but also play an important role in helping women become active participants in their communities. Self-Help Groups are also able to liaise with local governments to ensure critical services reach vulnerable groups. Very few government programs in Burkina Faso, Zambia, or Mexico include Self-Help Groups, or savings groups, but the delegates now have considerable interest in exploring how similar local institutions could be useful components of their approaches.

How can governments “invest in capacity” to ensure success at scale?

In the final debriefing of the Learning Mission, Mr. Sinha, the Secretary for Rural Development in Jharkhand recommended, “invest in capacity." JSLPS prioritized training local women to deliver various kinds of coaching that are critical to the success of the programs. Called Community Resource People, these women help their peers to form and manage Self-Help Groups, learn basic agricultural and veterinary services, and open bank accounts. To monitor the progress of individuals and groups, ‘tablet didis,’ or women trained in monitoring and evaluation, collect monitoring data to help JSLPS manage their programs.

The challenges of delivering programs that create a pathway out of poverty for women and vulnerable groups will not be resolved through simple formulas, but rather through an ability to openly share experiences in a community of peer practitioners, drawing on evidence from the field. The questions discussed during the Learning Mission remain relevant as the Graduation Approach continues to influence government programs. Trickle Up was honored to help make this Learning Mission possible, and we learned a great deal in the process.