Graduation Approach

The Graduation Approach seeks to empower ultra-poor households and individuals to reach and maintain conditions of greater economic self-sufficiency and resiliency in a sustainable and time-bound manner. The approach is an adaptation of a methodology (Targeting the Ultra-Poor, TUP) originally developed by BRAC in Bangladesh in 2002), the success of which led the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and the Ford Foundation to launch a major initiative to pilot the model in 10 sites in eight countries between 2006 and 2014. These pilots provided an opportunity to rigorously test the Graduation Approach’s ability to create impact across countries and contexts for potential scalability to contribute to the eradication of poverty. 

The Graduation Approach is a time-bound (generally 24-36 months) sequence of crosscutting interventions to address the unique challenges of ultra-poor households and the multifaceted complexities of poverty. Project components vary by context but generally draw on elements of social protection, livelihoods development, and financial inclusion to combine support for immediate needs with longer-term human capital investments and outcomes. Components and processes of the Graduation Approach generally include: 

  • Participatory targeting
  • Consumption support
  • Coaching
  • Savings
  • Core training and livelihood skills 
  • Asset transfer
  • Linkages and/or referrals to other services 


While time and cost-intensive, the Graduation Approach’s holistic livelihood promotion approach enables ultra-poor households to graduate and sustain their household’s upward trajectory out of poverty. Six of the 10 CGAP/Ford Foundation Graduation Approach pilots included randomized control trials (RCTs)—conducted in Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan, and Peru. In May 2015, findings from these RCTs were published, providing compelling evidence that the Graduation Approach is cost-effective and leads to statistically significant and sustainable gains in economic and social outcomes for ultra-poor households across diverse contexts.[1] Every group of economic outcomes (consumption, food security, asset, savings, self-employment income) improved significantly relative to the comparison group immediately after the two-year program ended, with further improvements in social outcomes (happiness, stress, empowerment). What is more impressive is that one-year post intervention, nearly all positive outcomes were sustained. With sustained impacts, cost-benefit analysis from the RCTs (+Bangladesh) indicated that the long-term benefits of sustainable livelihoods built through the Graduation Approach among the ultra-poor outweighed the programs’ up-front costs.[2]

With evidence mounting for the Graduation Approach’s ability to break intergenerational cycles of poverty in an impactful and cost-effective manner, there are opportunities to promote further efficiencies and value for money, not only among the ultra-poor within host countries, but also among ultra-poor conflict-affected refugee populations. Today, roughly one in every 110 people is either a refugee, internally displaced, or an asylum seeker—totaling 68.5 million people.[3] Among protracted crises, it has become increasingly common for displacement to last decades, trapping people in a cyclical nature of reliance on external assistance. A paradigm shift from current emergency-only response to a more durable and sustainable solution is needed. The humanitarian system must adapt to meet the ever-growing demand with limited budgets. The Graduation Approach provides one such solution.

Graduating to Resilience (2017-2024) – Adaptation of the Graduation Approach 

Graduating to Resilience, a USAID Office of Food for Peace (FFP) funded activity led by AVSI Foundation in partnership with Trickle Up and IMPAQ International, seeks to test the Graduation Approach’s ability to graduate ultra-poor refugee and host community households in Western Uganda from conditions of food insecurity and fragile livelihoods to self-reliance and resilience. Through a cost evaluation and external impact evaluation, the Graduating to Resilience consortium seeks to test three variations of the Graduation Approach to identify the most effective and efficient approach to reach ultra-poor conflict-affected populations. The evidence produced can inform future social protection and humanitarian programming and policy.  

The three treatment arms are briefly summarized in Table 1 below, while the components are described more fully and compared to the standard Graduation Approach in Table 2. 

[1]Banerjee, A., Duflo, E., Goldberg, N., Darlan, D., et al. (2015, May). A multifaceted program causes lasting progress for the very poor: Evidence from six countries.Science, Vol. 348 (6236).
[2]Innovations for Poverty Action. (2015, September). Building Stable Livelihoods for the Ultra-Poor.
[3]UNHCR. 2017. Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017.

TABLE 1. GRADUATING TO RESILIENCE ACTIVITY ARMS

TABLE 2. STANDARD APPROACH COMPARED TO ADAPTATION

COMPONENTSTANDARD GRADUATION APPROACHADAPTATION
Participatory Targeting Carried out through a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) process aimed at identifying ultra-poor households, with the community articulating their definition of ultra-poverty, which can include those who sell off their belongings for survival, are chronically ill, unaccompanied minors, unable to afford basic goods, or children eating from rubbish pits, etc.; In the Graduating to Resilience Activity, a PRA process was used for transparency, to build local ownership and to allow for highly contextualized definitions of extreme poverty. Two pilots were carried out to refine the process which involved social mapping, participatory wealth ranking and a tool-based measure of poverty for verification. ​
Consumption Support (CS) A time-bound cash or food transfer, usually in the initial stages of implementation, aimed at stabilizing households until sustainable livelihoods can be developed. In the Graduating to Resilience Activity, all refugee households will continue to receive food assistance from WFP (currently delivered as cash) with a cash top-up provided by the Graduating to Resilience Activity via a mobile cash transfer to meet minimum basic needs. Host community households will receive 12 months of CS via a mobile cash transfer. The exact amount of CS provided by the Graduating to Resilience Activity to refugees and the host community households will be calculated by comparing actual income and consumption data collected in the baseline survey with a locally derived Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB). CS levels will be based on number of household members.
Savings Groups Through financial training and active participation, savings groups seek to promote financial inclusion, often providing a platform for informal loans. In many programs, they serve as a platform to share key information with participants and foster social integration among members. Savings groups in the Graduating to Resilience Activity will be comprised of groups of 25 project participants (predominately women) who will meet once a week to save. Savings groups will provide a platform for core financial training. Gradually, savings groups will be linked to formal financial services and fee-based trainers for long-term support. ​
Core Training and Livelihood Skills Strong livelihoods are the foundation for future resiliency, as households with steady income streams are better able to meet their basic needs, absorb unexpected shocks, and plan for the future. The Graduating to Resilience Activity will cover core training in business planning skills, accounting and recording keeping, as well in reinvestment strategies to all beneficiaries. Technical guidance on selected livelihood enterprises, procurement and linkage to necessary inputs will also be made available. ​
Coaching ​ While modes of coaching (individual, group, mixed) and frequency (weekly, monthly) vary, coaching typically starts early on and continues until the end of the program. Coaches build participants' confidence in applying new livelihood skills, promote savings, monitor progress, and share other information with households (health, nutrition, parenting, etc.). Within the Graduating to Resilience Activity, some households will receive individual coaching, while some will receive group coaching (as illustrated in Table 1 above), with the anticipated frequency being on a weekly basis. At the core, coaches are responsible for guiding participants through goal-setting activities addressing many aspects of their lives, from basic needs, household nutrition as well as savings and livelihoods.
Asset Transfer After the formation of a business plan, cash or asset transfer provide a kick-start to self-employment activities and subsequent income generation. Within the Graduating to Resilience Activity, two-thirds of households will receive a lump sum asset transfer via mobile cash transfer in the estimated amount of $250 USD, while one-third of households will not (as detailed in Table 1 above). While beneficiary households can undertake a livelihood of their choosing, the Activity will promote groundnuts, maize, beans, piggery, and goat value chains.
Linkages This component varies by each program. ​ During the implementation of the Activity all the staff dealing directly with the selected HHs will make the necessary linkages to existing resources and services depending on each household’s individual needs that cannot be met by direct program implementation interventions. Such linkages include quality input dealers, potential apprenticeships, or connections to other private sector partners.
Referrals ​ Generally, a Graduation program will support beneficiaries in accessing basic services available in the area. ​ The Activity carried out a basic Service Mapping with practical information on the health, nutrition, psychosocial, education services, and other services, including how to reach\use the service available in the area of intervention referrals to. Coaches and CBTs will track and follow up on referrals and the use of the available services.
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