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Programming to end poverty: insights from a practitioner

by Sudarshan Neupane

In the last 10+ years, I had the privilege of working as a development worker in geographically remote communities in Nepal and Bangladesh. In these areas, more than 70% of the population lives below the national poverty, lags behind in several human development indicators and do not have access to essential services. Despite these challenges, I met families who were managing daily activities quite well and living an economically empowered life.

It is my strong realization that people living in extreme poverty can lead meaningful lives if we provide them with the support they need. Having been part of various interventions, here is what I learned:  

First, holistic support is not only essential but mandatory for success. 

It is no surprise that tackling deep-rooted problems like poverty requires considerable time and investment. Successful anti-poverty projects have holistic and integrated support that ensures access to skill development, income-generation and enterprise development, financial services, regular coaching, and linkages with other services in the communities. Experiences of organisations such as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) affirms that such approaches have positive impacts on livelihoods, women’s empowerment, nutrition, and inclusion of people with disabilities.

Second, multi-partner collaboration is essential for holistic support.

Most poor families make optimum use of their available resources and tap into every little opportunity that comes their way, even if they are provides through different initiatives. However, this could be made more efficient and effective.

Multiple anti-poverty programmes may be implemented by different organisations within the same communities, and often there is a gap in collaboration among these actors to provide holistic support to people in poverty. For instance, most NGOs focus on financial support to the poor and provide them with assets, but they fail to provide strong follow up and coaching support. The linkage with government and private sector is often problematic, especially in rural areas. Hence, government agencies and national and international NGOs and the private sector need to collaborate effectively to mobilise resources to benefit the poor in a way that covers all important needs. 

Third, people with disabilities can be powerful role models.

Working on an inclusive livelihoods project in Nepal that supported conflict-affected families and people with disabilities in their economic and social empowerment, I witnessed the massive impact of role models. I vividly remember disabled ex-combatants from far-western Nepal who were able to redirect themselves in the path of development by engaging in innovative local businesses and even giving employment to others. During my association with Handicap International, I met many people with disabilities leading a productive and meaningful life and inspiring others to follow their footsteps to attain an economically active life. Youth groups in particular related to these individuals as champions.

Fourth, community-based schemes have mixed success.

I learned that community-based schemes in Bangladesh – particularly those aiming at the community’s income generation and business promotion – were struggling due to lack of ownership, conflict in the sharing of profit/income, and various kinds of biases. That said, these schemes still had positive contributions in times of disaster by supporting individuals and families that required support in an efficient manner. For community schemes to work, they should be adapted to local context, consider viability of community businesses, and most importantly be based on the interest of individuals. 

Fifth, linkages with  government social protection schemes are vital for sustainable impact. 

When organising a seminar on anti-poverty programmes in Bangladesh in 2019 with various organisations working on poverty reduction, it became clear to me that it is very important to have strong linkages with the social protection schemes of the government to ensure effectiveness and long-term impact of these poverty alleviation efforts. Government schemes in Bangladesh, for example, include different types of cash transfers (regular allowances) and targeted assistance to extremely poor families living in vulnerable conditions. While it is generally agreed that poverty alleviation programmes are costly, it is now high-time to carefully consider the costs of excluding the ultra-poor families. It is highly significant for development agencies and donors to support governments to balance these costs and benefits to include ultra-poverty measures within social protection schemes.

Sudarshan Neupane is an international development expert with 10+ years of experience in program development, results-based management, strategy development and partnership in South and Southeast Asia. He has deep experience in designing, implementing, and evaluating projects in sectors such as inclusive livelihoods and education, poverty graduation, gender equality and social inclusion, disaster management, and anti-slavery interventions. He holds a master’s in development studies from the University of Melbourne and a BA in Economics from Tribhuwan University.

Photo credit: Bimal Ranabhat from Pexels

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