Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Livelihoods, Social Protection and Graduation, Perspectives from the Chars Livelihoods Programme

The third in the Graduation and Social Protection blog series

‘Graduation’ is a hot topic at the moment, not just within the Chars Livelihoods Programme (CLP), but in the development world generally. It is particularly in focus for social protection and livelihoods programmes; those programmes that aim to help participants ‘graduate’ out of extreme poverty.

There are, of course, many tensions between the ideas of livelihoods, social protection, graduation, poverty, not least of which is “how are these things defined?” Does a livelihoods programme like CLP ‘do’ social protection? Or vice versa? Are they fundamentally different things? Does graduation mean something different to them, and if it does, should it? And is the graduation door one-way?

CLP has been engaging with these issues for several years now, defining and refining what we mean by poverty, what we mean by graduation, and how we’re going to measure it. Initially, the discussion began as a way of measuring how the programme was doing, before moving on and taking a more participant-centric focus. Although it’s still a work in progress (and I would argue that it must remain a work in progress, given the shifting and context-dependent nature of the beast!), some answers to these questions are starting to emerge from the discussion.

For CLP, poverty is a complex and multi-dimensional concept. It is set within a context that includes many important aspects (institutions, relationships, laws, cultures) that the programme has either no (or very little) control or influence over. Therefore acknowledging this complexity and being clear about the results that the programme CAN deliver are critical. 

CLP, in common with other programmes in Bangladesh, has therefore defined its graduation criteria using 10 indicators that cover major aspects of the vulnerabilities, risks and weaknesses that it intends to address. These indicators have been a work in progress since at least 2008, and go far beyond simple measures of income or expenditure, embracing empowerment and environmental factors as well.

For CLP, graduation is a one-way door. We see graduation as being a line in the sand that reflects the outputs and short- (and maybe some medium-term) outcomes that the programme has worked with participants to achieve. For us, graduation is about where people’s journey has got to once their CLP assistance comes to an end. 

This does not, however, mean that we pretend all these people are permanently out of extreme poverty. People obviously suffer shocks and stressors that push them back below our graduation line in the sand, as shown in our recent research on asset values, and why some households do better than others. 

Thus we track a sample of participants long term, with some indicators that, although not part of the graduation criteria, show modifications in knowledge, aptitudes and practices, and how these change over time. From that perspective, CLP acknowledges the importance of both graduation AND sustainable improvements in livelihoods. These are two related but different aspects. So we can see that, for example, people’s participation in groups and meetings steadily declines over time (meaning fewer and fewer people would ‘graduate’ on that criteria), but that maintaining ash or soap close to latrines or water points stays consistently high back through the cohorts.

It may well be that the ‘attending groups or meetings’ indicator is not a particularly good one for looking at the sustainability of changes or programme impact. It is entirely possible that people make the rational and positive decision that they do not need to continue with such formal groups or meetings. Its importance as an indicator could easily decline once people felt themselves to be empowered or less vulnerable in other areas of their life, such as income, asset values or vulnerability to disaster. Nevertheless, it was selected as an indicator of graduation (i.e. short- or medium-term outcomes) because of its perceived importance in terms of social inclusion and empowerment, highlighting the difference between graduation and sustainability or resilience.

The CLP, despite being an avowedly livelihoods-oriented programme, nevertheless acknowledges that it does do social protection as well, at least in some ways. For example, an average of around 6% of our participants are either living with a disability or include in the household someone with a disability or long-term, chronic illness. These people have often faced greater struggles than non-disabled people, suffering greater depths of poverty, exclusion and intolerance. Nevertheless, we find them participating actively, and, in some cases, achieving better results than their non-disabled contemporaries. One lady I visited recently had been selected as a demonstration participant under CLP’s milk marketing project, despite her physical disability.  She was doing such an excellent job of looking after her cattle that it was delivering four or five times more milk than the control group.

But will all members of a social protection programme be able to graduate? Clearly, the answer is no, just as all members of a graduation-focused livelihoods programme will not graduate.

What can be done for those participants that do not graduate, or that fall back into poverty? For CLP, the programmatic answer is simple – we are not set up to provide additional assistance, or provide assistance more than once. This is a point that will have to be picked up by the policy makers and funders.

Nevertheless, we shouldn't imagine that falling back into poverty is a one-way street either. Our recent research into asset values interviewed Shahida, whose livelihood took a massive hit when the land that she had invested in was eroded. Although she was then in the low-asset category, nevertheless with her savings she had managed to invest in a fishing net and a share cattle. She was applying the skills that she learnt during the CLP’s assistance to rebuild her assets through looking after the cattle properly, showing that, even if her immediate circumstances had changed, at least she had reserves of knowledge and resilience to draw upon.

Hopefully in time she and her family will succeed in re-establishing their livelihood and maybe even ‘re-graduate’ – another concept to add to the overall graduation debate?

Mat Pritchard was recently appointed by Maxwell Stamp as the Team Leader for the Chars Livelihoods Programme.

Image credit: Boat in the chars/Source: CLP

This blog post is part of a series for the international conference on ‘Graduation and Social Protection’ which is co-hosted by the Government and Rwanda and the Centre for Social Protection from the UK Institute of Development Studies, with financial support from Irish Aid, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UNICEF. The content of this blog series reflects the opinions of each individual author, and not necessarily those of IDS, UNICEF, DFID, IRISHAID or the Government of Rwanda.

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