Leaving it behind: How to rescue people from deep poverty
IN A small hut overlooking a muddy river, a dozen women are trying to explain how they fell into destitution. After a few stories of husbands falling ill or vanishing, of ill-paid work drying up, of children sickening, of resorting to begging, almost all are crying. This is quite usual, says Sagarika Indu. BRAC, the large aid organisation she works for, has chosen these women and about 1.6m others since 2002 precisely because they are among the most desperate, ground-down people in one of the world’s poorest places.
Graduating from destitution
“BRAC, a big Bangladeshi NGO that originally came up with this approach to tackle abject poverty, calls it a “graduation programme”. Given the many problems of the poor, the logic runs, it is useless to apply a sticking plaster to one while leaving the others to fester. For example, various NGOs, including Heifer International, Oxfam and World Vision, give cows, goats or chickens to poor people in developing countries, to enable them to earn an income selling milk or eggs. But what if the recipients are so hungry that they end up eating their putative meal ticket?”
How the ‘most astounding social enterprise in the world’ approaches development
“The key feature of our social enterprises is our willingness to accept low profit margins and shoulder considerable risk. Because our social enterprises have evolved in direct response to an identified need, there is a demand for their products, ensuring that they are viable. However, the very nature of BRAC’s commercial activities and their concentration in sectors where most of the poor are involved acts to contain excessive profit making.”
Let pregnant school girls back into the classroom in Sierra Leone
“The government of Sierra Leone issued a ruling last month barring “visibly pregnant” girls from attending class or even sitting for school equivalency exams, a decision that drew criticism from girls’ rights groups. While groups like Brac and others continue to advocate for the right of all girls to attend school, we can also draw attention to alternatives that allow girls who drop out, for whatever reason, to continue their education.”
Upward Mobility for the World’s Destitute
The New York Times Opinionator
“BRAC and other organizations in Bangladesh now run graduation programs on a wide scale. So far, 1.4 million households have participated — but that still leaves out millions more in Bangladesh who are ultrapoor.
“These are quite impressive results,” said Frank DeGiovanni, the director of the financial assets unit at the Ford Foundation. “But many people say, ‘Oh, anything can work in Bangladesh, because BRAC is so fabulous and has such incredible grant support.’ Just because it works in Bangladesh doesn’t mean it works anywhere else.”
Microfinance programs: West Africa’s next task force?
“BRAC runs one of the most robust microfinance programs in Sierra Leone and Liberia, targeting women and marginalized families through microloans and small enterprise loans that help them start businesses and contribute to thriving communities. In August, at the height of Ebola’s fury, the Bangladeshi institution was forced to shut down operations in the region as a result of travel restrictions and quarantine policies that prevented credit officers from meeting with loan borrowers.”
The Power, and Process, of a Simple Solution
The New York Times Opinionator
“O.R.S. has undeniably helped Bangladesh make big strides in improving child health in recent decades. Diarrhea caused 2 percent of deaths of children under age five from 2007-11, compared to almost 20 percent in 1988-93, according to the 2011 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey. About 78 percent of children with diarrhea have been treated with O.R.S. since 2007.”
Motives for investing: Profit or altruism?
“The US-based Omidyar Network, the brainchild of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and wife Pam, is a philanthropic investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunities for people to improve their lives and it has gone into partnership with BRAC in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
“What we really like about BRAC, is that certain of these ideas become sustainable social enterprises. Now we want to give them market-based capital – to start up such things as a feed mill and a poultry factory in Liberia,” says Omidyar’s Arjuna Costa.”
Brac programme lifting ‘ultra-poor’ out of poverty in Bangladesh
“When Brac approached donors in 2001 to back its ultra-poor programme on a large scale, the biggest contributor was the UK Department for International Development (DfID), which came up with 40% of the five-year $53m programme. The programme is now being replicated in other countries, including Haiti, Peru, Yemen and Ethiopia.
Research by Brac and CGap indicates strong gains for those most in need, thanks to the programme. Their report from March last year (PDF) showed that 95% of beneficiaries “graduated” on the basis of participants meeting six out of nine indicators, including food security, asset ownership, improved housing and school enrolment.”