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Author's note: A proposal by George Ndung’u Kamau;

The challenge: Extreme Poverty

The negative impact of extreme intergenerational poverty continues to be a challenge to many developing countries. According to the World Bank, 689 million (9.2%) of the world, live in extreme poverty (less than USD1.90 a day) In Kenya, more than 11 million households are classified as extreme poor. While progress has been made in alleviating poverty, the frequency and intensity of extreme natural phenomenon associated with climate change and other shocks are pushing more people to slide into the bracket of the extreme poor. The rising challenge of poverty remains a moving target as pervasive deprivation subjects many vulnerable and marginalized groups to incessant suffering and compromises the ability of millions to achieve their full potential.

Although awareness of poverty is high, many still lack comprehensive knowledge about how it can progressively and sustainability be alleviated. Recent assessments have demonstrated that the majority of livelihood development strategies do not reach the extreme poor and have not proven to have their intended impact. It is really hard to reach the extreme poor and most products that have been adapted have not been effective. Therefore, there is a need to revisit the keys to combating extreme poverty in more innovative ways; the main point of graduation. This strategy emphasizes the existence of an extremely effective tangible program -graduation- that has shown amazing results that the poor can indeed start and maintain livelihoods. 

Graduation Approach

Graduation approach is a sequenced time-bound set of intervention that provides a package of targeted support to the poorest households with the aim of lifting them from extreme poverty to sustainable livelihoods using the Graduation Approach, globally recognized for its impact. The “Graduating the Extreme Poor into Sustainable Livelihoods” approach (hereafter “graduation”) has risen as an effective means of addressing extreme poverty, enabling poor and vulnerable households to develop sustainable livelihoods and access financial systems, and psychosocial benefits. Based on a model developed in 2002 by BRAC in Bangladesh, graduation is now used in nearly 50 countries. 

Graduation consists of a carefully coordinated, multi- sectoral, “big push” intervention comprising of social assistance to ensure basic consumption; skills training; seed capital or access to employment opportunities to jump-start an economic activity; financial education and access to saving instruments; and coaching or mentoring to build confidence and reinforce skills. The interventions are time bound (generally 18–36 months) to preclude long-term dependence. Continued linkages to market opportunities or the labour market, as well as effective access to social protection systems, are needed to maintain a sustained upward trajectory. Graduation has been tested in varied contexts over the last 15 years, yielding rigorous evidence of impact on extreme poor households, setting them on an upward pathway and mitigating risks of backsliding. The impacts have resulted in sustained income and asset and consumption gains as evidenced by multiple RCTs in a variety of contexts and have continued seven years after the end of the intervention. 

Government Adoption: The proposed approach to Achieving Scale

In many ways, this is a new era of how government and NGOs can work together. The traditional models of addressing extreme poverty in the development space, in which large scale international NGOs provide services independently and grow their own delivery channels outside of government, is coming to a close. [see GDI’s article on “What’s Your Endgame”[1]]. 

Globally, implementation of graduation programmes is moving towards “Government Adoption”[2] and transformation of national welfare systems. This is my proposed approach to achieving scale.

In line with this global trend, our team operates based on the principle that the most sustainable and scalable pathway towards ending extreme poverty is via full government ownership and scaled innovation of proven approaches. Therefore, the role of NGOs must be comprised of five phases:

  • Phase 1: piloting and proving interventions in target communities 
  • Phase 2: conducting joint implementation with governments and adapting interventions to retain quality and realize cost efficiency at scale 
  • Phase 3: handing over refined implementation tools (i.e. training guidelines, manuals) to government, supporting on M&E and related tools and systems 
  • Phase 4: transitioning most operations that the government teams can lead, providing support where needed on specific programmatic elements
  • Phase 5: supporting entry into new locations, populations and contexts
    • The team will work closely with global/local thinktanks  in collaborations with governments receiving the support to conduct the full round of graduation approach interventions, including local participatory targeting of the extreme poor targeting and local participatory engagement, hiring and training mentors, setting up savings groups, supporting training ahead of and aligned with consumption support (cash transfers) and training on livelihoods for asset transfer to generate economic activity, capacity building support linked to economic activities and support on market assessment and linkages. 
    • Support Government to develop a strong monitoring and evaluation system as a building blocks for effective delivery and shared innovation: The think tanks/ NGOs will support Government to establish a best-in-class monitoring and evaluation framework to guide a process of learning by doing to create one or more cost-effective approaches that the Government(s) can replicate across their jurisdictions.  It will be as cost-effective and as simple as it can be whilst remaining effective. Results from the work will be built on the establishment of a best-in-class monitoring and evaluation framework. 
    • Strengthen Management information system and social registry foundation: The teams/partners will work on strengthening the social registry for harmonized targeting, monitoring, reporting and use of management information system through the developed & operationalised M&E framework. This will support accelerating the interoperability of current robust national social registry and MIS platform that will to be interoperable with other efforts and will to serve as the foundation for registration and economic inclusion intervention protocols (cash, mentoring, etc.) at the county level.
    • Develop materials and provide technical assistance support: The partners/teams will develop coordination frameworks, tools and systems and provide technical training and support to the Governments at national and county level, so that the Governments ultimately lead the implementation of economic inclusion at scale, both for this program of work and future related efforts. 
    • Conduct preliminary organizational capacity assessment at national and county government levels: An initial assessment can help ensure national/county level governments are able to address any critical capacity gaps that may inhibit their ability to support and eventually own implementation of the economic inclusion.
    •  Drive learning across multiple levels of Government: The broad selection of governance units and their geographical spread across countries provides an opportunity to develop context-specific strategies. The learnings from each unit and subsequent locations will inform government strategic development and planning considerations at the national level. The learning agenda will translate directly into a set of tools and blueprints that can easily translate into government-led program scaling for other regions. 
    • Integrate the learnings to support the development and implementation of  policy framework/legal instruments.  The partners/teams will provide critical capacity building support to national and other government units by providing a means through which this effort can be truly owned and operationalized at both national and devolved level and at scale.

Working in partnership with central and devolved government units, the specific objectives of the proposed initiatives, that can be adapted to different regions globally, include:

  1. Support the program implementation of the pilot socio-economic inclusion intervention in select regions within countries
  2. Develop Tools and Systems, processes, and capacity-building materials for implementation and scale-up by Government
  3. Build the capacity of government staff to effectively implement and support the economic inclusion intervention

The Partners will work with responsible government ministries and actors, equipping them to take over economic inclusion activities and integrate with existing welfare programs and delivery systems. Additionally, this proposed endeavour will connect to market and value chain development and ensure interoperability with other social services and the national social registry. It is also critical that this effort coordinates with activities by private sector actors such as loan providers and banks as well as with programs supported by global agencies such as the World Food Programme, USAID and other local NGOs.

The projected Impact of the Approach 

The application for the approach to socio-economic inclusion looks forward to enable 1.5 million Kenyans living in extreme poverty to engage in sustainable livelihoods and build their resilience in the next 5 years. Additionally, it aims to establish good practices of strengthening national and county governments to build their capacity to deliver effective economic inclusion graduation programs through systems strengthening with the aim of creating a replicable model for potential future scale up. The approach has specifically led to significant improvements of extreme poor households registering impressive results and sustained impacts over 10 years across the following areas

  • Reduction of extreme poverty levels across regions
  • Increase in household assets (World Bank, 2013)
  • More than 20% increase in food consumption (World Bank, 2013)
  • Increase in social cohesion and inclusion (IRDP, 2014)
  • Increased household resilience to shocks with enhanced with each having access to affordable credit and savings
  • Increase in female financial inclusion (FAO, 2014) 
  • Human Capital Investment: All households are able to support their children to attend primary school

Globally, the return on investment on similar programming has been impressive as summarized in the figure below


The funding for scaling up graduation through government adoption can be explored through a variety of ways

  1. Funding The Global Development Incubator, GDI,(, a leading think tank on this subject to advance its work in Kenya and across sub-Sahara Africa. An initial seed capital of USD 1 Million may be a great starting point.
  2. Funding components of GDI’s pilot to Kenyan government with specific emphasis on the research and learning component
  3. Funding a consortium of partners to support a pilot to a new country in Africa/globally.

NB: I have experience in sector having supported central and devolved governments to pilot similar programming. Currently I am leading a technical team on a similar pilot for the Kenya government. Your esteemed organization can partner with us to advance the current pilot or pilot it with another government. 


  1. ^

    What’s your Endgame; Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2015 

  2. ^


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