Post written by by Jordan Belmonte

Every day I wake up inspired by the fact that I have two valuable things: choice and opportunity. Like most Americans, I decide what to eat, where to work and the shape of my future.

In December 2010, I traveled to Africa with six other Jolkona volunteers to visit our partners and see the impact of their work. As part of this trip, we visited Dago, a rural village in Kenya, where the opportunities most Americans take for granted are harder to come by.

In Kenya, approximately 1.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and 1.2 million children are orphans due to AIDS. Dago has an especially high rate of HIV/AIDS, and many of the affected families struggle to meet basic needs for water, sufficient protein and access to medical care.

When I talked to my friends and family about what I saw in Dago, they looked at me with sympathy and said, “That must have been awful to see” or “What a tragedy.” But after leaving Dago, it was not the tragedy of poverty that stuck with me — it was the perseverance of the human spirit and the community’s efforts to help young people envision a future full of opportunity.

blackboard at Dago Dala Hera orphanage

In Dago, we visited two current Jolkona projects that help young people create a brighter future. We got to cheer on the home team during the Kick it With Kenya youth soccer tournament, which also provides HIV-screening and much-needed medical care. And we saw how the Environmental Youth Action Corps is teaching young people to be environmental advocates in their communities.

One of my favorite initiatives in Kenya was the Dago Dala Hera orphanage, soon to become a Jolkona partner. At Dago Dala Hera, 36 at-risk and orphaned girls have found asylum from childhood marriages, abusive households and family deaths. The orphanage’s meal program also allows 95 local primary school children to concentrate on their education rather than on their empty stomachs. While the community’s attention to meeting basic needs for food, education and health care was impressive, Dago’s true triumph was its initiative to feed the soul and reinforce the idea that “if you can think it, you can get it.”

help orphans in Kenya

Near the end of our time in Dago, while we were visiting the orphanage, I sat on the edge of one of the cheerful bunk beds and thought of the girl who slept there every night. I hoped that the girl would rest well, excited for a new day, believing as much as I do in the phrase painted on the dormitory wall: “life is like an ocean, an endless sea of opportunities.”

dormitory in orphanage

Jordan Belmonte is a product marketing manager at Microsoft during the day and the Director of Events here at Jolkona. This story is part of a series of blog posts from the Jolkona team’s trip to East Africa in late-December 2010.

Please welcome new interns to Jolkona’s team!

Jolkona interns

If you’ve been following Jolkona on Facebook for the past few months, then you know that we’ve been recruiting hard for a new batch of interns. Well, I’m excited to introduce you to our first class of summer interns!

They come from near and far and are all ready to rock and roll here at Jolkona HQ. If you tweet or Facebook with us, then you’ll hear from a few of them starting this week. If you read this blog, well, then you’re in for a treat because there are some new voices and perspectives coming your way! Our other interns will have influence in a variety of projects we’re working on and launching over the next few months.

Please help me welcome our new class of interns to the team!

Almudena Rodriguez
Marketing Coordinator Intern

Originally from Spain, Almu is a firm believer in the need for marketing and communications for any business or nonprofit, to reach its full potential. After receiving an MBA in La Coruña, Spain with majors in business and finance, she moved to Dublin, Ireland in 2005 to continue improving her English. She lived there for five years and worked for Canada Life and Citigroup. However, her passion for marketing never stopped growing. While working full time at Citigroup, she took a degree in Marketing from the Marketing Institute of Ireland. She graduated in December 2010. In October 2010, she relocated to Seattle. In her free time she likes skiing, hiking, cycling and staying in touch with her friends spread all over the world!

Marian Yu
Office Manager Intern

Marian will be continuing her studies as a sophomore at Rice University in the fall. Though short at first glance, don’t let her size fool you! As a defensive lineman on her Powderpuff team, she’s a fun-filled ball of energy both on and off the field. She’s currently planning to double major in economics and psychology, but it’s still up in the air. She doesn’t really know what she wants to do but she has always believed in giving back to the community and she loves working with children. Having finally escaped the Houston heat and humidity for the summer, Marian is delighted to be spending her time interning with Jolkona. When not working, she likes to attempt baking, go on long walks with her dog, eat all things frozen, watch Bones, and drown her coffee with milk.

Ty Binschus
Graphic Design Intern

There are two things that Ty Binschus is passionate about. Experiencing as much as he can in the time he has, and being creative while doing it. Although he has an educational background in communications, marketing, and design, he desires a career path in Graphic Design more than anything. In his eyes there is nothing better then seeing an idea of his become something tangible. He hopes he can help Jolkona in creating some tangible print and web media in the near future.

Kelsey McLaughlin
Graphic Design Intern

Kelsey McLaughlin is currently working towards her B.A. in Design at the University of San Francisco. A traveler at heart, she aspires to one day serve in the Peace Corps and put her love of French to great use as well as her passion for making a difference in a community. In her free time in San Francisco she enjoys bike rides through Golden Gate Park and discovering new neighborhoods and coffee shops. Although San Francisco is her second home, she is always excited to return to the beautiful state of Washington with its many mountains and evergreen trees. She is extremely excited to be working with Jolkona and hopes to make an impact with her designs, inspiring people to become a part of this fantastic organization.

Allegra Abramo
Writing/Editing Intern

Allegra is a passionate traveler, cook and reader. She holds an M.P.A. and a certificate in editing from the University of Washington and has a background in social marketing for conservation programs. She is excited to be using her writing and editing skills to help build Jolkona and increase support for Jolkona’s amazing partners.

Jonathan Assink
Writing/Editing Intern

Born in California but raised in Edmonds, Washington, Jonathan is a writer, photographer, baseball nut, foodie and lover of obscure indie bands. In the years after his undergraduate studies in Political Science and Sociology, Jonathan had the opportunity to travel in Europe, Africa and Latin America. His encounters with the realities of life for billions of people living in poverty around the globe left him determined to make the world a better place and led him to return to graduate school in 2009. He just completed a MA in International Care and Community Development at Northwest University in Kirkland where he wrote a theology of justice for artists as his Master’s thesis. He loves to talk about the intersection of art, faith and social justice, and how art and story can be used to motivate people to help others. He also drinks way too much coffee.

Will Dornes
Social Media/PR Intern

My name is William Dornes, but I am better known by my friends as Diesel. I am a 22-year-old student at Washington State University, where I will graduate in December with a degree in Public Relations. I absolutely love it there–there is no place like Pullman and it is paradise to me. My passion is sports, especially basketball and the Los Angeles Lakers. I am super excited to be a part of Jolkona’s team and I have so much to learn about social media and public relations, and how they apply in the real world. I’m an easygoing guy who is looking forward to helping Jolkona achieve its goals.

Michelle Primley Benton
Social Media/PR Intern

Michelle Primley Benton is part of the PR and Social Media intern team, and is excited to help Jolkona expand its reach and engage new donors. Michelle graduated with a BA in Political Science/English Teaching from Washington State University (Go Cougs!) and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Washington, where she works as a Conduct and Compliance Specialist. Michelle has a strong interest in social media and its power to connect and engage, particularly for philanthropic purposes. Michelle’s love for life-long learning spurred her previous career in Admissions, her ongoing interest in higher education and access, and on a lighter note, her avid involvement in weekly pub trivia.

Wow! What an incredible day to be a part of the nonprofit community here in Seattle on GiveBIG Day!

  • At 11am this morning, the GiveBIG campaign brought in $1,267,558 in donations with 5,690 total gifts made!
  • By 1:39pm, donations from individuals crossed the $2 million mark! 
  • And nonprofits are flooding Twitter streams, Facebook feeds, and email inboxes making asks for people to be a part of the largest day of giving in King County’s history!

And who doesn’t want to be a part of this movement??!

You’ve heard from three people in our community tell you how they’re going to be a part of GiveBIG day today – one was our board member and tech maven, the second was a recent college graduate and our intern-turned-volunteer, and the third was a friend of Jolkona’s who is a global citizen. Today, I’d like to take a (small) break from appeals and introduce you to another friend of Jolkona, Kenji Onozawa, who is a big part of Seattle’s social media community but doesn’t forget about his offline community.

Interview with Kenji Onozawa, a Social Media Rock Star


1. Tell me a little about yourself:

During the day, I work managing my company’s social media program but when I’m not doing that, I keep pretty involved in the Seattle social media community.

2. Why are you excited about GiveBIG?

I’m excited about GiveBIG because as a Pacific Northwest native, it’s a chance for us to give back as a community and thank many of the people and programs that keep the Seattle area vibrant. I think for most of us (and I’m certainly included), it’s easy to forget that it’s not by sheer luck that the Greater Seattle area is amazing. It’s quite the opposite; there are a lot of extremely hard working people who dedicate their lives to keeping Seattle amazing. GiveBIG is an opportunity for the rest of us to show these people that we care about what they do.

3. Why do you support Jolkona?

Why do I support Jolkona? Truth is, there’s a lot of different organizations out there and while they’re all great in their own unique way, for me, Jolkona is at the top.

First off, I support Jolkona because if you donate through them, you’re not stuck dedicating to one cause, and that’s perfect for a person like me who cares about a lot of different things. Through Jolkona, I can support causes having to do with the environment, providing basic needs, and the environment in increments is as little as $5. Furthermore, Jolkona can help as local or global as I want; they work with organizations all over the world so it’s great for the times I want to support programs here in the Seattle area or for other times when I want to help people abroad.

Secondly, I like Jolkona because I don’t know another organization that can literally show me the impact of my money. It’s pretty cool that they can provide me proof that my money is actually helping someone is really incredible. Before when I gave to a cause, it felt like it was going into a black hole, never to be seen or heard from again; my money was just magically taken away, but I never knew if it actually impacted the person I intended it to. Well, Jolkona can provide me a picture of the exact person I was able to help – How rad is that?

Lastly, I’m happy to support Jolkona because I’ve met many of people involved with their organization and they’re some of the most passionate and intelligent people I’ve ever met. For me, knowing that my money and support is going to a group like that, makes doing more that much easier.

4. What are you pledging to do on June 23rd.

Truthfully? This is a lame answer but I don’t know yet. I’ll likely give all over the board because I care for a lot of different causes, but most of it will go to providing people with the basic necessities like food, water, and shelter.

Did you GiveBIG today?

If you haven’t, why not? It’s easy and will only take a few minutes out of your day. Here’s what you do:

  1. Go to Jolkona’s page on The Seattle Foundation website today between 7am and 11:59pm PDT. (To be eligible for stretch funds, your donation must be made through The Seattle Foundation website).
  2. Click on “Donate Now.” Donations can only be made by credit card. Give a little – or a lot – and watch it grow!
  3. Tell others about your donation through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Encourage your friends to GiveBIG to Jolkona.

Bonus: When you give to Jolkona through The Seattle Foundation today, you will be eligible for the golden ticket which, if chosen, will award an extra $1,000 to Jolkona! The Seattle Foundation will choose one donor at random every hour throughout the day. Talk about increasing your impact!


Let’s keep this day on the map!

GiveBIG Seattle Foundation

Make Your Donation Go Further

Give to Jolkona through The Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG challenge today, June 23rd, between 7am and 11:59pm PDT and a portion of your gift will be matched. In other words, the more you give, the more of the $500,000 stretch pool we’ll get!

Help Us Grow Our Impact

If you’ve ever donated to our partner projects, you know that 100% of your gift goes to the project as it’s how we ensure that every donation makes the biggest impact.

Today, we’re asking you to support Jolkona itself, so we can continue our innovative global development efforts and ignite the next generation of philanthropists. For example, a $200 donation will allow Jolkona to vet one new partner organization and add it to our website to receive donations.

How to Join the Biggest Day of Giving in King County* History:

  1. Go to Jolkona’s page on The Seattle Foundation website today between 7am and 11:59pm PDT. (To be eligible for stretch funds, your donation must be made through The Seattle Foundation website).
  2. Click on “Donate Now.” Donations can only be made by credit card. Give a little – or a lot – and watch it grow!
  3. Tell others about your donation through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Encourage your friends to GiveBIG to Jolkona.

Bonus: When you give to Jolkona through The Seattle Foundation today, you will be eligible for the golden ticket which, if chosen, will award an extra $1,000 to Jolkona! The Seattle Foundation will choose one donor at random every hour throughout the day. Talk about increasing your impact!


On behalf of the entire Jolkona team, thank you for your support!


Nadia Khawaja Mahmud
CEO & Co-Founder

* Even though this will be one of the biggest days of giving in King County, anyone can donate, even if you live outside of King County, Washington.

We’re two days away from GiveBIG, an event that is designed to encourage you to donate to your favorite nonprofit and be a part of one of the biggest days of giving in King County history. Of course I’d love for you to donate millions and millions of dollars to Jolkona on GiveBIG Day, which is this Thursday, June 23rd, and help us snag the largest stretch goal, but what I’d rather see is a lot of donations to Jolkona at the amount you feel comfortable with to help us grow our giving community here in Seattle.

Yesterday we shared the stories of how two people who work with Jolkona are going to GiveBIG – one was a tech maven and the other was an intern-tuned-volunteer. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Monica Mendoza (aka @feistyfeaster), a Seattleite who is a local and global citizen.

Interview with Monica Mendoza, a Local and Global Citizen

kieranlynam Capitol Hill Seattle

1. Tell me a little about yourself:

I’ve always been interested in helping others and often look for ways to support the community I live in and our global community. Back in January of 2010, I was really saddened by the turmoil the people of Haiti found themselves in after they were hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that claimed over 200,000 lives. I was moved to help and I was able to get the support of 16 local restaurants. They set aside one evening on which they would donate a portion of their proceeds towards supporting relief efforts.

It was such a great experience and it inspired me to look for more ways in which I could help by working with local nonprofits.

2. Why are you excited about GiveBIG?

There are so many local nonprofits doing great work, but they really need support from donors in order to be able to continue in their efforts. GiveBIG day is day for them. An opportunity for them to get that needed financial support. The Seattle Foundation is introducing many of these nonprofits to people who are interested in volunteering their time and making financial contributions. I admire organizations who work on behalf of other nonprofits and who’s goal is to make more and more people aware of how they could contribute.

3. Why do you support Jolkona?

I love how Jolkona brings to life the impact you are making when you make a contribution. Jolkona has brought together a great list of deserving projects. They’ve done the research on each organization they partner with and they also make it easy for anyone to donate online. When you make a donation thru Jolkona you will soon find out exactly where your contributions are going and the type of impact they are making.

4. What are you pledging to do on June 23rd.

GiveBIG is an exciting opportunity for non-profits in King county to get the kind of support that will allow them to continue the great work they are doing. On June 23rd, I will be making my own contribution to Jolkona. I hope that not only will others will do the same, but that they also rally together friends, family, neighbors and coworkers on this day. I know I’ll be using social media to get the word out!

Are you a local or a global citizen, too?

Monica supports her community here in Seattle and also around the world as they need the help. That’s one thing that I appreciate about the projects we feature on — you can help someone get job skills training right here in Seattle so they can earn a liveable wage as well as educate artists on how to sell their work down in Nicaragua.

So the question is, are you a local or global citizen or are you both?

GiveBIG Day is coming!

But in order to maintain the level of diverse projects on our site and all of the features that make giving fun, we need your help. This Thursday, June 23rd, please make a donation to Jolkona through the Seattle Foundation.

On this day, all donations made to Jolkona through the Seattle Foundation’s website will count towards the GiveBIG goal and will help us receive part of the $500,000 to stretch match — increasing your contribution and maximizing your impact.

For more information about GiveBIG, read this blog post and Save the Date for June 23rd!

Photo credit: Kieran Lynam

GiveBIG day is right around the corner (literally!). In today’s post we’re featuring two people currently involved behind the scenes here at Jolkona: Valeria is a veteran in the tech industry and currently serves on Jolkona’s board; and Keegan Falk is an intern-turned-volunteer at Jolkona and recent graduate of Seattle University.

My GiveBIG with Valeria Cole

Barri and Val at Canlis
Board members, Barri Rind and Valeria Cole, at our Charity Poker Tournament at Canlis Restaurant.

1.     Tell me a little about yourself:

I’ve worked in tech for over 15 years and the funny thing is I’m not a technology geek in any way. I believe technology is meant to simplify lives and make the things we do easier (such as giving!).

One of the things that I love about working with Jolkona is it combines technology and giving. Young people pretty much communicate all through technology; it’s all about connecting young people, technology and philanthropy

2.     Why are you excited about GiveBIG?

It’s a great opportunity for a smaller foundation like ours to:

  1. Get visibility, exposure to the community
  2. Get to a level of funding that will get us to the next level.

Here in King County people are big givers and are really into philanthropy. People rally around the community and it’s exciting because the response can be huge. It’ll be exciting to raise money for our causes that we so desperately need.

3.     Why do you support Jolkona?

I have never come across an organization that could reach such a broad audience and target that audience so effectively. I have three teenagers and come across many young people wanting to get engaged but there’s no other way to do so. Jolkona brings it down to a level where they can donate. How many organizations are there where a young person can give and make an impact across the world?

4.     What are you pledging to do on June 23rd?

I want to go on the site and make my big donation for the year so we can get the most out of it.
I am also going to communicate to the givers that I do know. Hopefully this initiative will get great exposure for Jolkona and see great results from the Seattle Foundation.

My GiveBig with Keegan Falk

Jolkona Team at Canlis
Keegan in the back on the left, posing with the Jolkona team at Canlis, photo by Rishi Sanyal Photography.

1.     Tell me a little about yourself:

I am a recent graduate and volunteer at Jolkona. At Jolkona I help with day to day tasks when it comes to social media and other marketing needs. I am passionate about sports, social media and Taylor Swift.

2.     Why are you excited about GiveBIG?

I am excited about this initiative because of the scope and goal of the Seattle Foundation. Taking on the challenge of biggest giving day in King County history is a large task but very ambitious. I hope that rubs off on other nonprofits and donors here in Seattle and creates an even bigger giving community.

3.     Why do you support Jolkona?

The leadership and dedication of the volunteers at Jolkona cannot be beat. They way Jolkona is using technology to change giving is the future of philanthropy and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

4.     What are you pledging to do on June 23rd?

I am pledging to make sure everyone I know is aware of GiveBIG. During this week I will be helping Jolkona spread the word through social media and making sure everyone is part of the biggest giving day in Seattle history.

Make sure you save the date for June 23rd. All donations to GiveBIG and Jolkona need to be done through the Seattle Foundation website. Seattle Foundation is providing $500,000 to stretch match all donations.

For more information about GiveBIG, read this blog post and Save the Date for June 23rd!

This is the last in a series of posts from Saman Nizami about her experiences and observations while interning for BRAC’s “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” program in Bangladesh. You can read her previous posts in the series, A Tough Graduation, part I and part II.

There is much to explore in BRAC’s innovative Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) program, given its comprehensive approach towards breaking this vicious poverty cycle for hundreds of thousands of ultra-poor households.  In my previous post, we discussed the healthcare and social development aspects of the program.  We saw how these two components empower women in their communities and households and help them lead healthy lives. In this post, I’ll discuss the final two aspects of financial discipline and the subsistence allowance.

Financial discipline

As I mentioned earlier, microfinance can’t be deemed to be a solution for these ultra-poor women. Since these women were engaged with distress occupations (e.g. domestic servant, begging, etc.) to secure sufficient food to sustain their families on a day-to-day basis, the circumstances inhibited the development of their financial dexterity. These women were intimidated merely by the prospect of taking a loan and could not contemplate saving some of their scant income as a safety-net. As a result, I noticed that the majority of the new TUP recruits were unable to articulate their investment plans for the future due to the lack of training, experience, and confidence.

BRAC helps them achieve financial literacy and assists them with building their savings. Through training and experience in micro-enterprise development and financial planning, the graduates actively participated in the credit market with microfinance loans and successfully managed their portfolios. These women took loans for enterprise investments, house repair, or incidences like their children’s weddings, but not for survival. Additionally, nearly all the graduates I met were building their savings with BRAC, and some with multiple sources.

Thus, giving them opportunities to hone their financial acumen is vital in preparing them to take on microfinance loans and reap the benefits from other conventional development programs.

A snapshot of a Village Organization (VO) Microfinance meeting I observed in Rangpur, Bangladesh
A snapshot of a Village Organization (VO) Microfinance meeting I observed in Rangpur, Bangladesh

Subsistence Allowance

Some may think that the subsistence allowance (i.e. a cash transfer) is simply equivalent to traditional charity. However, in the situation of these women, who are suffering from dismal poverty and hunger, it serves as a buffer until they are able to stand on their own feet. These subsistence allowances serve as a means to ensure food security for the women and their families. It allows them to focus on their enterprise development and eat three times a day, effectively preventing their families from begging, borrowing, or taking on distress work.

These women can’t benefit from any initial investment if they’re suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Thus, it becomes critical to fulfill their nutritional needs in the initial untenable stages of the program until they establish their micro-enterprises and achieve self-sufficiency.

My final thoughts….

Spending time with these women and observing their challenges (and progress) is when I realized that these components may not be effective individually, but rather the optimal impact is created by addressing all of these areas collectively. Given where these women lie on the poverty scale, if you only address one of the problems, they may inevitably falter in other areas, ultimately reducing the benefits of the intervention. These various support mechanisms are important to the initiative because many different aspects of a woman’s life are intertwined and are thus mutually dependent on each other for strong impact. For example, Tasmeena’s health condition needs to be conducive for managing her economic activities. Similarly, Masooda needed to feel empowered as she may have lacked the confidence and motivation to build her livelihood if she remained isolated in her community.

Nasreen (TUP 2010), Shaheena (TUP 2010), and I in the Sirajganj district of Bangladesh.
Nasreen (TUP 2010), Shaheena (TUP 2010), and I in the Sirajganj district of Bangladesh.

As a result of the program’s holistic approach, a substantial number of the graduates I met had the confidence and know-how to expand their enterprises, to make critical decisions for the well being of their families, to provide healthy environments for their families, to establish a support network in their communities, and to promote their rights. Consequently, these women were equipped with the right skills to participate in and benefit from mainstream development programs like microfinance. The optimal combination of interventions to address the myriad needs of these neglected women is no easy task, and BRAC should be commended for their innovation and promising success to date.

Saman Nizami graduated from UCSD with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and History. She is currently working for a Pakistan-based NGO, HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Education), primarily in disaster response projects aimed to help the victims of the recent 2010 floods. She’s also a Project Team Lead for ADP (Association for the Development of Pakistan). During her spare time, Saman enjoys trying new restaurants (particularly sushi), learning North Indian classical singing, watching Bollywood movies, and most recently – tweeting. You can follow her @saman_nizami.

GiveBIG Seattle Foundation

For those of you from Seattle, or even those that aren’t, you may have started to hear the buzz around GiveBIG hosted by The Seattle Foundation. Well, this year Jolkona will be participating so I hope you save the date for June 23 to GiveBIG with us!

What is Give BIG?

GiveBIG is an initiative by The Seattle Foundation designed to encourage community philanthropy. To do so, The Seattle Foundation has raised $500,000 to match contributions from local donors who give to various non-profits through their website on Thursday, June 23rd. The fund won’t match every donation dollar for dollar, but rather match the portion of total giving that each charity receives. They’re calling it a “stretch match.” We hope you join us in being a part of the biggest giving day in King County history!!!

Why Should You Donate to Jolkona on This Day?

We always ask for you to support our partner projects, but today we’re asking for you to support Jolkona. By making a gift, your donation – no matter how big or small – will be stretched, allowing us to continue our innovative global development efforts and engage the next generation of changemakers and philanthropists.

GiveBIG Day and Give More

June 23rd is the big day! From 7am – midnight (PST), all donations made to Jolkona via Seattle Foundation’s online Giving Center will be eligible for the stretch match so your donation will go further. So on June 23, please visit our page on The Seattle Foundation’s website and make a donation that will grow!

For more info on GiveBIG, check out Clay Holtzman’s article, Seattle asked to ‘Give Big’ on June 23.

From all of us at Jolkona, thank you for your support and for being a part of giving history in Seattle!

P.S. Click here to RSVP to GiveBIG on Facebook and receive updates throughout the month.

P.P.S. If you give to Jolkona, throughout the day on June 23rd, donors will be chosen at random by The Seattle Foundation to receive a golden ticket worth $1,000 extra to Jolkona, in addition to part of the stretch match! (Bonus: they’ll be giving out one golden ticket every hour!)

This post is a reflection of Saman Nizami’s experiences and observations during her internship for BRAC’s “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” program in Bangladesh.

To recap on my previous post, BRAC’s “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” (TUP) program takes an integrated approach towards empowering women at the bottom of the poverty ladder. In addition to providing income generating assets and enterprise development training, the other four components of the program play a subtle but vital role in lifting these women out of poverty as well. In this post, I’ll discuss two of these powerful catalysts (i.e. healthcare support and social development) and the other two (i.e. financial discipline and subsistence allowance) in my next post.

Preliminary Healthcare Services and Education


Meet Tasmeena (above). She is a domestic servant, who was recently recruited into the TUP program. Tasmeena suffers from fever frequently, which hinders her from working. Even when I met her, she had a high fever – which I had to diagnose by touching her forehead and wrist because she couldn’t afford basic healthcare essentials like a thermometer. In the past, she has met physicians who suggested she get blood tests, but she never followed through because, again, she could not afford it.

Her weak livelihood and poor health condition were inter-dependent. Her meager income would not allow to her seek formal medical care for treatment or purchase medication. Similarly, her poor health condition was pushing her into further destitution by limiting the manual labor she could perform or making her take days off from work. For Tasmeena and her family, not going to work for a day meant forgoing a day’s income which had dire consequences. Her family may have to starve for the day or she may have to resort to begging for cash and food. Fortunately, BRAC will provide her healthcare services to improve her health condition which will ultimately strengthen her livelihood.

Another strategy of the program is health education. I sat in on one of BRAC’s health education sessions with the TUP members where BRAC’s health volunteers were discussing the importance of feminine hygiene and family planning. See my picture below.

BRAC health education session

These women are also given hygiene education and essential items like sanitary latrines and tube-wells for safe drinking water to protect them from communicable diseases.

BRAC’s integrated health services aim to improve the nutritional and health statuses of these women and their families. As a result, this improvement in their families’ health plays a key role in stimulating any improvements in the households’ economic conditions.

Madhu Bi, wearing sandals and using a tube-well, BRAC, TUP Program
Above: TUP member, Madhu Bi, wearing sandals and using a tube-well she received from BRAC for safe drinking water. She explained that in the past, her children have suffered from diseases like jaundice and diarrhea, but now they have been much healthier as a result of changing simple practices and receiving key facilities (i.e. sanitary latrine and tube-well).

Social Development

Another important mechanism propelling the program’s success is mobilizing the community and building the human social capital of the rural poor (particularly women). The first time I went to a Gram Daridro Bimochon Committee (GDBC) meeting, a local rural elite committee formed to protect these vulnerable families, the leadership proudly described their responsibilities including information dissemination on health issues, protection of the women’s assets , and advocacy of their rights to the local government. At the meeting, the TUP members were closely following the meeting’s agenda and openly expressing their thoughts on how to address their communities’ needs. Towards the end, the women and the GDBC gifted a tin house roof to an ill widow purchased through collective donations from the community.  I was amazed to see this strong affinity and urge to help others among these women, despite the difficult conditions they’re in themselves.

Here is a short video I took from one of the GDBC meetings:
[youtube] As an additional effort in socially empowering women, BRAC’s field staff trains them on social issues that plague their communities. This includes teaching them how to write their name, the importance of marriage and birth certificates, and laws on early child marriage, dowry, etc. These women are then encouraged to uphold their rights, play a more active role in their communities, and strongly resist abuse and exploitation.

BRAC's field staff teaching Rukhsana
Above: BRAC’s field staff teaching Rukhsana how to write her name as part of the social development training.

I met a TUP graduate (2006) named Masooda who has progressed significantly in terms of social development.  When she was recruited to the TUP program, Masooda felt alienated as a poor widow living on her own. Further, she had no time or energy to interact with people because of her arduous manual labor as a domestic servant. However, after graduating from the TUP program, she plays an active role in her community. She frequently gives her community members advice, and even stopped two early child marriages among her relatives by vehemently protesting against it. She is approaching local government representatives to secure her entitlements (i.e. widow allowance) as well.

Another TUP graduate, Afreena, used to be physically tortured by her husband, but she felt like she had no one to turn to. However, now that she generates income and has assets in her ownership, she has authority within the household and her husband treats her with respect. Now, the question that arises is if her husband is treating her well because he considers her to be a source of income, or have his fundamental beliefs about women changed? Will this change be sustained unconditionally in the long term even if Afreena decides to sell her assets and stop contributing to the household? A little too soon to tell…

Nevertheless, it’s clear that lifting these women out of poverty requires the need to intrinsically empower them, where they learn how to protect themselves from marginalization and control their own lives. It also involves instilling perception changes among men and women and dismantling the entrenched ideology of gender inequality.

And it doesn’t stop here…more to come in my next post!

Saman Nizami graduated from UCSD with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and History. She is currently working for a Pakistan-based NGO, HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Education), primarily in disaster response projects aimed to help the victims of the recent 2010 floods. She’s also a Project Team Lead for ADP (Association for the Development of Pakistan). During her spare time, Saman enjoys trying new restaurants (particularly sushi), learning North Indian classical singing, watching Bollywood movies, and most recently – tweeting. You can follow her @saman_nizami.

This post is a reflection of her experiences and observations during her internship for BRAC’s “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” program in Bangladesh.

Woman with baby

About 40% of Bangladesh’s population lives in poverty while 20% fall below the poverty line. This bottom 20% can’t meet 80% of their dietary needs despite spending 80% of their meager income on food. They are so deeply trapped in poverty that they are unable to benefit from mainstream development interventions like microfinance. Among these ultra-poor households, it is imperative to focus attention on women because, while their role as a caretaker is pivotal for the family, they are at the bottom of the poverty ladder and discriminated against because of their gender. Targeted efforts on these marginalized women have the potential to catalyze long term social change by improving their families’ quality of life and raising their status in society.

An initiative to empower these women living in abject poverty was thus born.  It was determined that their various needs must be holistically addressed, coupled with extensive monitoring and training by field staff.  This, in turn, would change the perception of the woman both within the household and the community.  I was fortunate enough to observe and work for this cause in Bangladesh, dubbed BRAC’S “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” (TUP) Program.

So, what is the TUP program?

The TUP program identifies and targets these ultra-poor households in the most impoverished districts in Bangladesh through a participatory wealth ranking survey tool.  The TUP program empowers these women through various channels:

  1. Transfer of income generating assets (e.g. livestock, cultivable land, etc.)
  2. Enterprise development training
  3. Preliminary healthcare services
  4. Social development
  5. Subsistence allowance
  6. Financial discipline

The women are expected to “graduate” the program within eighteen months, after which they will be considered moderately poor (i.e. closer to the poverty line) and economically active. It is then that they can be effectively mainstreamed into microfinance and other conventional poverty alleviation programs to further improve their lives.

The micro-enterprise development component of the program, which includes providing productive assets and enterprise development training (i.e. numbers 1 and 2 above, respectively), is crucial to help these women achieve financial self-sufficiency. Micro-enterprise development has been discussed at great length and, in some respects, appears to be a straightforward solution to alleviating poverty.

Meet Golapi Begum, a TUP member who received 3 goats and poultry as her productive assets. And on the right, Golapi Begum happily showing me the first two eggs her chickens had just laid.

Meet Golapi Begum, a TUP member who received 3 goats and poultry as her productive assets.Golapi Begum happily showing me the first two eggs her chickens had just laid.

However, my experience with TUP has shown me that perhaps giving women the means to build their own enterprise is not the silver bullet to truly improving their livelihood. The program’s other four aspects (i.e. numbers 3 – 6 above) complement the micro-development component bringing about powerful impact in these women’s lives. I’ll delve into these four components of the program in my next post. So, stay tuned to see how these pieces fit together to solve this puzzle.

Saman Nizami graduated from UCSD with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and History. She is currently working for a Pakistan-based NGO, HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Education), primarily in disaster response projects aimed to help the victims of the recent 2010 floods. She’s also a Project Team Lead for ADP (Association for the Development of Pakistan). During her spare time, Saman enjoys trying new restaurants (particularly sushi), learning North Indian classical singing, watching Bollywood movies, and most recently – tweeting. You can follow her @saman_nizami.

Related post: Taylor in Bangladesh: What are you doing here?