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Has a Bangladesh charity found a way to banish extreme poverty? thehindu)


Dughia village is idyllic, but the lives of many of the women who spend their days among its mango orchards, duck ponds and brilliant green paddy fields are anything but. For them, the beauty of the village has been a backdrop to decades of suffering.
They fight back tears to explain how they are lucky to eat once a day and cannot even afford blouses to wear under their tattered sarees. All are illiterate, and several have been parted from their children, who have died, gone to faraway cities or been taken in by other families when the cost of raising them at home proved too much.
“I don’t want to think about my life. It’s a very hard story — even listening to it will make you cry,” says Lalita, who spent 16 years separated from her children, doing back-breaking manual labour to pay off £400 in loans. “My husband got sick, and when he died I was drowning in debt, so I went away to look for work.” Although she travelled barely 100 km, wages were so meagre she couldn’t afford to return home for more than a decade, and when she did her son and daughter were strangers.
Yet, says aid worker Sagarika Indu, in two years’ time the ageing widow and a handful of other women gathered around her, also living without hope or self-confidence, will probably be secure. They will have modest savings, valuable assets in the form of a cow and some chickens, and be respected by fellow villagers, perhaps courted by the relatives who once cast them aside as paupers.
Ms. Indu is confident about this extraordinary transformation because she will be its agent, as head of a rigorously tested project that she has personally seen change thousands of lives. “In Bangladesh we reach 90,000 families a year,” she says of the scheme, which was created more than a decade ago by huge national aid organisation Brac, Ms. Indu’s employer. It has also now been exported to 10 other countries.
It is often described as a “poverty graduation” scheme, because it offers not just a financial lifeline out of destitution, but education, confidence and skills to maintain newfound prosperity.
After two years, the “graduates” can support themselves and their families without further aid, and the team that assisted them can move on to helping others. In Bangladesh alone, more than 1.7 million households have been transformed.
Mutliplying benefits
Supporting people to move out of extreme poverty for a long-term, rather than just providing food, medicine or cash as temporary relief, is a notoriously stubborn challenge, so the “poverty graduation” model has been analysed extensively by academics from the London School of Economics, Yale and other leading universities. They have confirmed that a one-off intervention can permanently end the most crippling destitution, with benefits that multiply over time — making it a kind of holy grail of aid projects.
“The [Targeting Ultra Poverty, or TUP] programme sets beneficiaries on a sustainable path out of poverty,” say the authors of the LSE report, which included seven-year follow-up checks on women once enrolled in the programme. They looked at projects around the world to evaluate whether the model thrived beyond Bangladesh, where Brac can tap into a strong network of services and staff to support the scheme, and found it was still effective in most places.
Charities and governments are often now as keen as bankers to see “return on investment,” although their goal is better lives rather than more profits.
Brac’s vice-chair, Mushtaque Chowdhury, believes the model will be key to the goal of ending the most extreme deprivation within a decade. “I know no other programme that has been followed up for so long, no other trajectory so consistent — not only providing income and occupational changes, but also a wider sustained impact.” — (c) Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2016

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