A Tough Graduation: Graduating Out of Poverty

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?


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    June 7, 2011 at 6:07 am

    Jolkona Blog » Blog Archive » A Tough Graduation: Graduating Out of Poverty, II

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    June 15, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Jolkona Blog » Blog Archive » A Tough Graduation: Graduating Out of Poverty, III

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    May 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    A Tough Graduation: Graduating Out of Poverty, III | BRAC Blog

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