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Working with the ultra-poor: learning from BRAC experiences


  • Shantana R. Halder

    (BRAC, Dhaka, Bangladesh)

  • Paul Mosley

    (Sheffield University, Sheffield, UK)


This paper describes BRAC experiences of working with the ultra-poor over the last two decades. The ultra-poor is the poorest section among the population with a few or no asset base, highly vulnerable to any shocks and mainly depending on wage labour. The main causes of their poverty, especially in the rural areas, are poverty inheritance, loss of income earner and ill health. Although microfinance is targeted to the poor, the ultra-poor, lacking livelihood resources, are reluctant to borrow with the fear of being overburdened, and indeed have a fear of the cash economy. They need a critical push to uplift their initial endowment base, in as risk-free a manner as possible, to a certain level which is necessary for getting greater access to other resources and their productive utilization. The BRAC Income Generation for Vulnerable Group Development (IGVGD) scheme was devised in 1986, and arose from the coming together of three circumstances: (i) an awareness that 'leaving everything to the community' would not deal with the problem of marginalisation of the ultra-poor within the community; (ii) an offer in that year of food aid from the UN World Food Programme, which offered the potential of over coming the ultra-poor's 'fear of cash' and (iii) a decision by BRAC to use a combination of food aid, savings and training in activities with low capital requirements as a means of enabling the marginalized to climb the ladder out of ultra-poverty. IGVGD is an integrated package of food distribution, savings, micro-credit provision, social awareness-building and skill development training and essential health care interventions. Different study findings conducted within the country and outside indicate that IGVGD is very successful and also cost-effective in reaching the ultra-poor; and that females coming from male-headed households can participate more fully in the IGVGD programme activities; it is the men who use NGO credit, and husbands' incomes are the primary source of installment payments. However, there has been a tendency for some women to take advantage only of the consumption-related benefits of the IGVGD (principally food aid) and not to graduate up all the steps of the ladder into self-sustained businesses. In response to this, a new programme, Challenging the frontiers of poverty (CFPR) was devised in 2002, and is still in its pilot stages. This has more stringent targeting requirements than IGVGD and provides for more intensive mentoring of the ultra-poor, and provides more intensive subsidy in the area of maternal and child health, but adopts the same approach of supervised 'graduation' from minimal-risk to higher-risk activities. IGVGD as a model now been quite widely imitated and adapted, at least within Bangladesh, and at the latest count some 72 organizations had some provision for the ultra-poor. In a final section we review the implications of evaluation of these diverse activities for IA methodology. One interesting finding is that whereas, in the lower-middle reaches of financial markets at which microfinance typically operates, quantitative approaches yield more optimistic findings (for women borrowers' welfare) than qualitative, for the ultra-poor it is the other way around; many IGVGD borrowers, at least, experienced few changes in income, but important improvements in autonomy and social status. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Suggested Citation

  • Shantana R. Halder & Paul Mosley, 2004. "Working with the ultra-poor: learning from BRAC experiences," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(3), pages 387-406.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:jintdv:v:16:y:2004:i:3:p:387-406
    DOI: 10.1002/jid.1084

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Matin, Imran & Hulme, David, 2003. "Programs for the Poorest: Learning from the IGVGD Program in Bangladesh," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 647-665, March.
    2. repec:ris:badest:0388 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Munshi Sulaiman & Mehnaz Rabbani & Vivek A. Prakash, 2010. "Impact Assessment of CFPR/TUP: A Descriptive Analysis Based on 2002-2005 Panel Data," Working Papers id:2567, eSocialSciences.
    2. Lønborg, Jonas Helth & Rasmussen, Ole Dahl, 2014. "Can Microfinance Reach the Poorest: Evidence from a Community-Managed Microfinance Intervention," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 460-472.
    3. Ahmed, Syed Masud & Petzold, Max & Kabir, Zarina Nahar & Tomson, Göran, 2006. "Targeted intervention for the ultra poor in rural Bangladesh: Does it make any difference in their health-seeking behaviour?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(11), pages 2899-2911, December.
    4. repec:eee:wdevel:v:113:y:2019:i:c:p:320-329 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. repec:spr:empeco:v:57:y:2019:i:1:d:10.1007_s00181-018-1438-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Solava Ibrahim & David Hulme, 2010. "Has civil society helped the poor? - A review of the roles and contributions of civil society to poverty reduction?," Global Development Institute Working Paper Series 11410, GDI, The University of Manchester.
    7. Sabina Alkire and Suman Seth, 2016. "Identifying Destitution through Linked Subsets of Multidimensionally Poor: An Ordinal Approach," OPHI Working Papers ophiwp099.pdf, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.
    8. Rejaul K. Bakshi & Debdulal Mallick & Mehmet A. Ulubaşoğlu, 2019. "Social capital as a coping mechanism for seasonal deprivation: the case of the Monga in Bangladesh," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 57(1), pages 239-262, July.
    9. repec:eee:deveco:v:134:y:2018:i:c:p:443-466 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Imran Matin & Munshi Sulaiman & Mehnaz Rabbani, 2008. "Crafting a Graduation Pathway for the Ultra Poor," Working Papers id:1548, eSocialSciences.
    11. Syed Masud Ahmed & AKM Masud Rana, 2010. "Customized Development Interventions for the Ultra Poor: Preliminary Change Assessments of Health and Health-seeking Behaviour (CFPR/TUP 2002 to 2004)," Working Papers id:2575, eSocialSciences.
    12. McIntyre, Lynn & Rondeau, Krista & Kirkpatrick, Sharon & Hatfield, Jennifer & Islam, Khaled Shamsul & Huda, Syed Nazmul, 2011. "Food provisioning experiences of ultra poor female heads of household living in Bangladesh," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(6), pages 969-976, March.
    13. repec:eee:wdevel:v:104:y:2018:i:c:p:238-256 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Angela Hung & Joanne Yoong & Elizabeth Brown, 2012. "Empowering Women Through Financial Awareness and Education," OECD Working Papers on Finance, Insurance and Private Pensions 14, OECD Publishing.
    15. Dan Brockington & Nicola Banks, 2014. "Exploring the Success of BRAC Tanzania’s Microcredit Programme," Global Development Institute Working Paper Series 20214, GDI, The University of Manchester.
    16. Jonas Helth Lønborg & Ole Dahl Rasmussen, 2013. "Can Microfinance Reach the Poorest: Evidence from a Community-Managed Microfinance Intervention," Study Papers 55, Rockwool Foundation Research Unit.

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