In 2002 the ‘graduation’ approach emerged in Bangladesh as an innovative way to address extreme poverty. Graduation models present a time-bound, integrated and sequenced set of interventions supporting households transition into sustainable livelihoods. Today there are more than a 100 graduation programmes in nearly 50 countries, with increasing evidence of positive impacts.
In June 2019, Save the Children convened five INGOs to host a seminar – Breaking the Poverty Cycle: Lessons from Graduation Approaches in Dhaka. It brought together the graduation community to identify common opportunities and challenges, and to explore how graduation approaches might be made more sustainable and scalable.
Our collective experience affirms graduation approaches have positive impacts on livelihoods, women’s empowerment, nutrition, and inclusion of people with disabilities. But they are no ‘magic bullet’ and require considerable time and investment. We need a new generation of graduation thinking that focuses on resilience and sustainability of livelihoods and the systems supporting them; rather than being satisfied with a set of economic thresholds or outcomes.
- Graduation ‘into’, rather than ‘out of’. Graduation does not signal the ‘exiting’ of people from development programmes but their ‘entering’ into government support/services, markets and community. We don’t see graduation as ‘help/charity’, but as building on the agency and rights of poor people.
- Accounting for heterogeneity. Broad-brush approaches won’t work for all marginalised groups. At Save the Children, we know generic poverty reduction policies/programmes targeted only at the household level, don’t guarantee benefits for children. Future graduation designs must be context-specific, capturing idiosyncratic and systemic characteristics of different groups.
- Tackling the targeting dilemma. Targeting is a major challenge impacting programme effectiveness and coverage. Proxy-means targeting excludes the majority of the poorest households, while universal targeting is costly. Graduation practitioners must critically reflect on how inclusive and effective current targeting approaches are.
- Generating and communicating robust evidence. While there is evidence that graduation approaches have positive impacts, it is less clear why, for whom and when they work. Given the wealth of experience and scale of the challenges, a platform focusing on knowledge generation, exchange, and innovation, is essential – not least for a common voice for policy engagement.
- Costing Graduation. Graduation programmes are costly, and this has a significant bearing when considering scaling-up interventions. However analysis suggests they can be cost-effective, and the costs of not introducing them needs to be carefully considered. We must support governments to balance these costs and benefits.
Bangladesh has made sustained progress in reducing poverty. Is there appetite for a new generation of graduation programmes? We believe so.
- In Bangladesh, poverty reduction has been accompanied by an increase in inequality. There will be policy focus on those left behind, and graduation approaches can play a key role in this space.
- Government, donors and development agencies are committed to social protection reform, and there is growing interest around incorporating graduation approaches into social protection schemes.
- For an effective policy dialogue, the graduation community needs to harmonise its experiences, evidence and messaging.
Joe Devine, Head of Department, Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath
Mathew Tasker, Social Protection Advisor, Save the Children UK
Vanessa Self, Senior Food Security and Livelihoods Advisor, Save the Children UK