Complex issues call for comprehensive solutions. The significance of this logic cannot be overstated when tackling the most multifaceted issues worldwide, such as extreme poverty. BRAC, a large Bangladeshi nonprofit organization working to support the rural poor, has recently actualized the benefits of such all-inclusive problem-solving.

In recent years, BRAC has implemented a new “graduation” program worldwide, in an effort to fight extreme poverty. BRAC’s carefully crafted approach targets the poorest households within smaller communities. Over a fixed period of time, the program provides these households with the wide-ranging set of services they need.

Beneficiaries of the program first choose from a list of productive assets, such as livestock or goods needed to start a small business. Then, the program provides appropriate training and support, life skills coaching, weekly consumption support, access to savings accounts, as well as health and information services.

The thinking behind this approach is that the most extreme cases warrant the most all-encompassing forms of aid. Providing the ultra-poor with a set of such complementary services lays the groundwork for self-employment activities. In this way, the program can additionally achieve its primary goal: increased consumption.

An MIT study analyzing the implementation of the graduation model in six different countries has evidenced the wide-ranging success of BRAC’s strategy. Randomized control trials conducted on more than 21,000 participants in Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan, and Peru reveal the program’s long-term impact.

Results of the study showed that, across the board, increased consumption was not only achieved but also typically maintained one year after the program’s end. In some cases, gains in areas like food security and household assets remained for as long as three years after “graduation”.

Although BRAC’s graduation approach is criticized for being relatively expensive; however, positive returns were seen in five out of the six countries. In short, the program benefits outweigh the costs. In all six countries, experimenters witnessed the program bringing dramatic improvements to the lives of the ultra-poor.

BRAC prides itself in creating a program that is not only comprehensive, but also “codified, scalable, and replicable”. The study’s results certainly serve as a testament to the model’s versatile workability. In fact, groups like Heifer International, Trickle Up, and Fonkoze are currently implementing the graduation model.

By following BRAC’s lead, such organizations have taken a major step in the worldwide fight against poverty. They have followed suit in combating a deeply complex issue with an astutely comprehensive perspective.

The world’s poorest people commonly lack more than just income. Typically, the ultra-poor face challenges that have to do with health, education, and, perhaps most importantly, morale. The most effective way of breaking the poverty cycle is to acknowledge each of these moving parts by attacking from all sides.

The study’s success story helps to show policy-makers what works. The wide-ranging needs of the world’s poorest people necessitate an extensive set of tools. With time, extreme poverty could very well become a thing of the past. With this goal in mind, however, we must remember to always look at the bigger picture.

– Sarah Bernard

Sources: Humanosphere, World Bank, MIT
Photo: Erol Foundation

Madagascar's Millennium Village is Independent
Madagascar’s Millennium Village, Sambaina, is functioning independently after five years of support and development from the UN Development Program and the Millennium Villages Project. With a donor investment of $400,000 per year, or just $50 per person per year, living conditions have improved dramatically.

The country of Madagascar has suffered in the last five years as a result of political upheaval. Following a coup in 2009, foreign aid to the country has remained frozen, and the government does not have sufficient funds for social programs or the salaries of civil servants. In the commune of Sambaina, where over 60 percent of the population was living in extreme poverty when the project began, residents say that their lives have improved.

Targeted investments in the areas of agriculture, education, sanitation, health care, infrastructure, technology, and local business have made a world of difference in Madagascar’s Millennium Village. Implementing the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has helped farmers increase yields to the point of achieving food security for eleven months out of the year. Previously, their harvests only lasted three months. About 70 percent of Sambaina farmers now use the SRI method, and have seen sustainably increased rice production.

Pumps have ensured access to clean drinking water, while health education has encouraged people to maintain good hygiene and utilize the village’s health care facilities. Other investments include computers in classrooms, renovations in schools and infrastructure, and funding to start-up businesses.

Now that initial investments have been made in developing Sambaina’s basic necessities, the villagers will be responsible for maintaining them. To this end, committees have been established, which will collect contributions from residents to fund maintenance projects.

The success of Madagascar’s Millennium Village is undeniable. Even in a country with almost no economic growth and four years of political crisis, targeted investment and development assistance has nearly eliminated extreme poverty in Sambaina within just five years. The country of Madagascar has no hope of achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. But Madagascar’s Millennium Village Project in Sambaina proves that foreign aid, when responsibly managed, is instrumental in improving the lives of the world’s poor.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN

More Midwives Needed in NepalNepal’s maternal mortality rate (MMR), or the ratio of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for reasons related to pregnancy or birth, has declined in Nepal over the last fifteen years. It is estimated that between 1996 and 2005, Nepal reduced its MMR from 539 deaths to 281. It was estimated in 2010 to be around 170.

These declines, similar to those seen in countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Thailand, are cause for hope. However, health care experts say the gains in Nepal are unsustainable if the country does not address its need for more health care professionals, especially midwives, to prevent women from dying in childbirth.

Declines in maternal mortality rate are attributable to a number of factors other than improved health care access or services. Nepal’s paradox is that even though the MMR is decreasing, access to skilled birth care is still very low. In general, improved health care positively correlates with reduced MMR, but sub-Saharan Africa and Asia have not demonstrated a strong correlation so far due to lack of skilled birth care.

Experts in maternal health do not have the data necessary to determine the exact causes of the decline, but there are multiple factors involved. The top reasons are the social empowerment of women, reduced fertility, and government health care programs. Nepalese women are now having fewer children on average, and have more access to contraception and family planning tools. Women’s life expectancies and literacy rates have increased as MMR has declined. Women are now also offered financial incentives to seek medical care during pregnancy and have more access to affordable, life-saving health care such as blood transfusions.

Nepal is on track to meet its Millennium Development Goal of reducing MMR by 75 percent, to 134 deaths per 100,000 live births. When it reaches that point, the country will require the help of more midwives and health care workers trained in birthing to further reduce maternal mortality. A 2012 UN study found that a midwife in attendance during birth can reduce up to 90 percent of maternal deaths.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN
Photo: Midwife Ramilla

Further proof that poverty and the environment go hand-in-hand: the UN’s 2013 Human Development Report warns that continued inaction on climate change, deforestation, and pollution could increase the number of people living in poverty to 3 billion by 2050. The efforts of so many anti-poverty activists to decrease poverty rates over the last decade would come to nothing if governments do not come together to address the realities of climate change and environmental destruction that plague the planet.

The Human Development Report lauds the vast improvements made in education and health in developing countries, where more progress has been made, more quickly, than nearly anyone expected. But environmental threats could reverse this progress, even in the next few decades. The Report states, “Environmental threats are among the most grave impediments to lifting human development… The longer action is delayed, the higher the cost will be.”

The Report goes on to state that climate change has already caused some of the world’s poor to lose access to their traditional livelihoods, such as fishing or farming. The results of climate change, which include extreme and unusual weather patterns, have intensified ongoing environmental threats like droughts, wildfires, and severe storms. These catastrophic events have an especially large impact on the world’s poor, who do not possess the resources to prepare for or respond to environmental disasters. This necessitates emergency intervention and relief efforts, usually from foreign countries. The cycle of climate change and poverty will continue until, as the Report emphasizes, more attention is paid to human beings’ impact on the environment.

Action on climate change is an urgent matter, though some US politicians and policy makers have failed to acknowledge the legitimacy of the threat. The UN’s 2013 Report serves as further evidence of the close connection between environmental and anti-poverty activism, and demonstrates the need for immediate, coordinated, and effective action against climate change.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: The Guardian

Bono Advocates Factivism in the Fight Against Global Poverty
During the 2013 TED Conference in Long Beach, CA, U2 lead singer and anti-poverty activist Bono spoke about successes in the fight against global poverty and made predictions for the future.

Bono, the founder of the anti-poverty organization One and long-time ally of the world’s poor, stated that he will temporarily retire from being a rock star to become a “factivist” – one who uses facts and evidence to support activist causes. The facts are, in this case, statistics on declining global poverty rates. Bono advocates factivism as just one way that we can all work to help end global poverty.

A few of the most encouraging statistics:

– 7,256 fewer children under the age of five are dying each day.

-The number of people living in extreme poverty (on less than $1.25 per day) has fallen from 43 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2010.

If poverty continues to decline at the same rate, extreme poverty will be eliminated by the year 2030. However, the smaller the number gets, the more difficult it will be to reach the target of zero people living in extreme poverty.

Bono’s factivism could not come at a better time, as the efforts of those who support anti-poverty organizations, legislation, and foreign aid are clearly paying off. Significant progress has been made in the fight against extreme poverty around the world.

However, as Bono stated, there is still work to do. The decline in global poverty rates does not mean that anti-poverty activism is, or should be, coming to an end. Rather, the successes that have been achieved over the last decade are a strong motivation to work even harder to end poverty for every person.

Bono listed three ways that we can work to make poverty rates continue to decline over the next decade. The first is to actively fight government efforts to cut funding to anti-poverty organizations. Second, we should continue to support technological advances that improve the quality of life for the poorest people. And lastly, Bono urges us to fight corruption using social media networking and demand transparency in action from those in power.

To learn more poverty statistics, check out Good News in the War on Poverty. To become a factivist for the world’s poor, find out How to Get Involved in the Cause. Bono advocates factivism, and so does the Borgen Project!

Kat Henrichs
Sources: Guardian, LA Times
Photo: Twitter