Many developing countries suffered the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with the Philippines being one of them. The past few years left about 19.99 million Filipinos below the poverty line recorded in 2021. Not only did the pandemic affect families but projections also stated that the Philippines’ GDP would decrease by about 11.5% during the timeline of the pandemic. The DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) Graduation Program in the Philippines, whose purpose is to lead participants into self-sustainability and out of poverty has taken place and proved to be positive even among those latest struggles.
Needed Aide For the Philippines
The Philippines had initiatives and organizations set up even before the pandemic that was working on poverty reduction. UNICEF is one organization with several efforts already in place in the Philippines. For example, it teamed up with CERF (United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund) and Plan International to push the WASH initiative which helps with hygiene and healthier living conditions.
However, even with programs like that, there was still a need for assistance in other ways. Among hygiene health, resources and training for the Filipinos to learn how to manage their livelihoods themselves seemed like the next step.
DOLE Graduation Program
Fortunately, a pilot program called the Graduation program that BRAC started in 2002, was yielding positive results. More than 2 million households had graduated from the program and were out of extreme poverty as a result.
The purpose of the program is to give support and aid through various means like cash transfers. The program also helps find health resources and provides training or mentorship for financial management and long-term resiliency skills. Not just economically but also socially; the program has coached for the participants to learn how to navigate and gain resources through city links or their government.
This type of program is what the people of the Negros Occidental municipalities could benefit from. So, the DOLE had been partnering with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and BRAC UPGI (Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative) to instill this working program in their community. The goal was to help their people become self-stainable and work their way out of poverty like the others in the initial pilot program.
Graduation Initiative in the Philippines
The DOLE Graduation Program for the Philippines began in 2018, reaching about 1,800 participants. The fundamental goal was to put these beneficiaries on a path toward sustainability and have long-term effects even after it would end. According to the BRAC’s country brief, the program ended in September 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic had made many wonders if the program’s desired effects were able to sustain throughout and after it.
For the DOLE graduation pilot to survive during the epidemic they had to adapt. Coaching and peer meetings had to become remote or change in frequency or size. The program included many other measures to ensure safety for all those involved including digital monitoring, and strong communication between workers/participants. Workers also used PPE and participated in training on safety protocols like reporting symptoms and rescheduling meetings if needed or conducting them from a distance.
Through the hygiene training that was already being implemented, the participants were able to quickly handle the COVID-19 pandemic more effectively. There were even cases where participants with food assistance from the initiative were able to feed themselves and other neighbors too during the pandemic.
The results of the DOLE Graduation pilot program and its adaptability have been positive for the participants. In the ADB assessment of the Graduation program households receiving the interventions along with government help, fared better during the COVID-19 pandemic than regular households. Other results from the assessment showed specific numbers, “The pilot project’s regular monitoring system found that, on average, 71% of households met each of the nine criteria under the four pillars of graduation—social protection, financial inclusion, livelihoods promotion and social empowerment.”
BRAC had also started its Rapid Diagnostic Assessment to monitor the participants even during the quarantine and mark down assistance or data. Through this, the pilot participants used the training and resources they received to find government assistance when necessary like the 96% who were able to go and find cash assistance from the government or two-thirds (67.15%) of participants able to keep up earnings and their occupation/livelihoods compared to a smaller amount in April (48.72%), according to BRAC’s bulletin.
The financial literacy training given displayed pilot participants withstanding the financial hardships during the pandemic. Seventy-five percent of the participants had savings to even use at this time compared to the 29% that originally reported in the beginning, according to the bulletin.
The Philippines DOLE Graduation pilot program has shown long-term impact and resilience during the COVID-pandemic for the Negro Occidental municipalities. This in turn has made the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), adopt the learnings of the pilot and instill the full Graduation program in other provinces of the Philippines, according to the country’s report. BRAC also has a worldwide goal to reach around 4.6 million more households by 2026.
– Marynette Holmes