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STEP UP's vision: 

To foster a significant increase in practitioners' capacities to assist large numbers of the ultra poor to move out of extreme poverty.


Strengthening The Economic Potential of the Ultra Poor (STEP UP) is a two-phase, four-year initiative to enhance opportunities for the ultra poor by organizing and sharing practical knowledge, piloting new ideas and scaling up proven approaches. STEP UP is a learning community of SEEP (www.seepnetwork.org), an association of over 130 national, regional and global organizations that believe in the power of enterprise to reduce global poverty. SEEP and its practitioner members seek to expand and improve opportunities for the poor to prosper with the help of appropriate financial services and improved access to markets. STEP UP emerged from work done over the last several years by SEEP’s Poverty Outreach Working Group (POWG), which supports microfinance and enterprise development practitioners in their quest to expand, share and apply effective economic strengthening practices for those living in extreme poverty.

The initiative aims to engage practitioners, researchers, policymakers, donors, and community leaders in dialogue and reflection across multiple areas of practice. The result will advance learning about how to work with the ultra poor and develop guidelines, tools, and training methodologies to be shared with the larger development community. STEP UP probes and refines graduation and livelihood approaches – already showing promise with ultra poor households – to improve their efficacy and replication in new contexts. The initiative also explores other emerging ultra poor approaches, such as income support (conditional cash transfers), integrated health services, microinsurance and savings programs to identify how they can best be structured to help the ultra poor accrue, consolidate and protect tangible and intangible assets. Ongoing discussions on existing and emerging topics identified by practitioners as being of crucial importance to ultra poor initiatives guide the agenda, though participation of donors, researchers, regulators, and others from multiple sectors are also a key feature of STEP UP activities. This multi-stakeholder, multi-sector approach differentiates STEP UP from other learning communities and knowledge management activities, which typically bring together individuals working within a single area of practice (e.g., microfinance or education) from a single perspective (e.g., research or program development).


Emerging Learning Agenda

Building on significant recent knowledge gains and needs and interests expressed by POWG/STEP UP members over the past three years, STEP UP’s learning agenda will pursue several overarching goals:

  1. To better use a range of household poverty/vulnerability profiling tools to design, sequence and evaluate products and interventions that match the diverse needs and circumstances of the ultra poor.
  2. To increase the flexibility, reliability and affordability of a full suite of financial services for the ultra poor, recognizing that they will initially have a greater need to use them to manage and reduce expenses than to increase incomes.
  3. To integrate human services such as health education, financial capability training and agricultural extension with the delivery of financial services and vice-versa.
  4. To implement a more systematic approach to addressing multiple poverty dimensions through active coordination of the efforts of an array of financial and non-financial (human) service providers, including government, the private sector and NGOs.
  5. To develop processes and principles (related to assessment, design, implementation, and evaluation) that can be applied and adapted by multiple development agents to different contexts and in response to specific household poverty conditions.
  6. To integrate academic research, monitoring, evaluation and learning across different approaches, in order to better understand their distinctive contributions to poverty alleviation.

It is important to note that successfully addressing each of these goals requires active coordination and partnerships among various stakeholder groups ̶a central tenet of STEP UP’s approach. For example, achieving the first goal– better understanding the needs of the ultra poor – requires improved practitioner approaches to assess needs and include those stated by the ultra poor themselves, an understanding of the policy environment that promotes or hinders meeting these needs, and research to find commonalities that will allow successful strategies to be replicated.

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