The global meeting in Paris has come to an end, but I hope the discussions on this site and within the Poverty Outreach Working Group will continue. A lot of lessons are being learned by the Graduation Program pilots, and most of them are of great value for any type of intervention that aims to strengthen the economc potential of the ultra poor. At the same time, I hope that some among you have valuable lessons to share from your own attempts at linking very poor people to sustainable pathways out of poverty.
The last day of the global meeting was dedicated to looking towards the future. How can these relatively small pilot programs be replicated and scaled up massively so as to make a real dent in extreme povery, which is still afflicting more than one billion people.
Part of the morning discussions were devoted to the role of partnerships in making these programs work, not just on a pilot scale, but at large scale in the future. Partnerships occur when two or more different organizations work in the field together, targeting the same ultra-poor target market, providing different products or services, but with a shared goal and common vision. Easier said than done, of course, and the meeting participants had some great advice on this. First of all, for partnerships to work, each party's expectations have to be very clear. And given that one's own expectations are often not even clear at the onset, new partners would do well by organizing a joint workshop to explore and define each other's and one's own expectations. Moreover, for a partnership to last and be successful, the partners should implement joint monitoring and evaluation of their common programs, using not only 'hard' indicators (like the number of people reached, etc.) but also 'soft' indicators (like the level of satisfaction with a program by participants themselves). Another very important point relates to engaging with private actors, which so far has been limited in most pilots. Some of the most challenging constraints to moving out of extreme poverty have to do with the ultra poor's lack of engagement with or unequal participation in markets. Moreover, in order to attract real attention by private sector, you need to be able to formulate clearly what's in it for them.
Later that morning the discussion moved to the role of finance in creating and sustaining sustainable pathways out of poverty. Everyone agrees that creating a safe place to save and a savings habit are a crucial element of every graduation program. The place where ultra poor people save varies from program to program (ranging from self-help groups to microfinance institutions to lockboxes managed by savings groups themselves), and while the savings amount is not that important, regular and consistent savings contributions are crucial. Teaching financial literacy is also crucial, but the way this is done varies from program to program, depending on local circumstances, target group literacy levels (most ultra poor are illiterate no matter where you are), and the level of experience implementing partners themselves have with teaching financial literacy. Financial literacy has been a popular topic recenty, but there is still a lot to learn, especially when it comes to providing financial literacy skills to the very poor. Maybe somewhat suprising to some, the role of microcredit is not so clear. When these graduation program pilots first started, there was an implicit assumption that it was all about graduation TO microcredit, but that is certainly not the case anymore. Access to formal microcredit is sometimes not desired, not possible, or not appropriate for every program participant. This discussion is still ongoing, but all participants agree that there is a need to clearly define what exactly it is that these programs try to graduate their participants TO. Some would say that the very poor need to be able to graduate to "sustainable livelihoods", but what exactly that means in terms of measuring success still needs to be worked out further.
A lot of these issues ultimately determine whether graduation programs can be scaled up massively in the future. Tomorrow, I will share with you more about that very important and last topic of the conference: how to deliver well and how to deliver at scale?
Meanwhile, please let me know what you think, or share with us your own experience with programs that try to build the economic potential of the ultra poor.