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Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

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USAID Calls for Practitioner Learning From Push/Pull and Inclusive Market Development

by on Feb 27, 2014  |  posted in Uncategorized  |  7 Comments
Through its Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) project, USAID is seeking brief project examples of engaging and benefiting the very poor through push/pull approaches to inclusive market development. Based on the definitions provided below, USAID is interested in examples of efforts (successful or not) to better integrate “push” and “pull” approaches. These may include examples focused on the design of a project (or a group of projects across implementers), models of interventions, and/or day-to-day operational or management structures that illustrate new ways of breaking down silos and working together. Projects with demonstrated outreach to the very poor, and significant levels of scale are of particular interest.

Project examples will be featured in upcoming reports and learning resources developed for use by USAID and practitioners on lessons learned in inclusive market development, with recommendations for future project design and implementation. In addition, project examples of particular interest may be developed into more comprehensive case studies, and resources will be made available for this. As trends or innovations emerge, LEO also expects to facilitate practitioner learning exchanges around these examples (e.g. SEEP working group discussions, e-consultations, etc).

Project examples (500 words or less) are requested by March 31, 2014. The LEO team expects engagement with practitioners to be an iterative process, with any final feedback and next steps (as relevant) communicated no later than April 25, 2014. Before you submit your examples, please read below for the background and guidelines for submission.

Click here  to submit your examples.


Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) is a three-year contract to support USAID programming that fosters inclusive growth through markets. LEO is contributing to learning in a number of interrelated technical areas (see text box), including the push/pull approach and its contribution to inclusive market development.

The term “push/pull” is being used in an increasing number of USAID solicitations, strategy papers across the Agency, and practitioner project design documents. This stems from a broadly shared recognition that pathways out of poverty and truly inclusive economic development require greater collaboration amongst those working across the socio-economic spectrum, and that a strategic approach is necessary to see the desired changes occur in a scalable and lasting manner.

And yet despite good efforts, there is often a disconnect between push and pull, with a significant gap between theory and practice, varying levels of understanding by donors and practitioners alike, few examples at scale to learn from, and core design flaws that often perpetuate silos of activity with little synergy among them.

USAID’s MPEP office, through its LEO project, is seeking to focus on the dynamic, on-the-ground interaction that must occur at the intersection of push and pull strategies.

Push/Pull Approach Defined
At the core of the push/pull approach is a recognition that the very poor[1] have unique characteristics – e.g., greater vulnerability to risk, limited resources to invest in upgrading, fewer relationships with people who are upwardly mobile, a ‘hidden’ presence in systems analyses – that often preclude them from being able to take advantage of opportunities that are traditionally created through market systems development efforts[2]. There are many good resources available (see footnote) that explore the nature of extreme poverty and pathways out of it. Many organizations are also actively learning from field-based implementation, particularly with a focus on push strategies.  USAID’s MPEP office, through the LEO project, is interested in collaboratively addressing a gap in knowledge and practice that exists in the critical area of strategic synergy and coordination, focusing on the how, when, where, and why of interactions between push and pull, at both the design and day-to-day operational levels.

While there are many variances on the definition of ‘push’ and ‘pull’, LEO has provided the following definitions as a base to launch its research and learning:
  • Push strategies are designed to help very poor individuals and households build up a minimum level of assets (e.g., human, financial, social, cultural) that increases their capability to engage more productively, creatively and proactively with other market actors (both public and private) and transition out of a cycle of extreme poverty.  Interventions may build household assets (e.g., through cash or in-kind transfers); improve linkages to social protection; build livelihood and ‘market readiness’ skills (e.g., through skills training, mentorship, or input vouchers); improve ‘soft’ skills such as confidence, negotiating, or relationship building (e.g., through coaching, group exchanges); address chronic or temporary deficiencies in consumption; or strengthen household capacity to manage risk (e.g., through development of informal savings groups, promotion of diversification strategies, or access to regular health and nutrition services).  Primarily temporary,[3]  interventions are often, though not always, heavily subsidized and not well-linked to commercial actors or terms of engagement.  Yet markets and commercial actors can also play valuable roles in achieving many push strategy goals.
  • Pull strategies leverage commercial incentives to facilitate the more gainful participation of the poor in economic opportunities so they can continue to improve their wellbeing beyond a project’s life through sustained engagement in market systems - be it as a producer, laborer, employee, business owner, etc. Interventions may create less risky entry points (e.g., through linkages with markets for low input or short-season crops), or lower barriers to market entry (e.g., through group purchasing and marketing schemes, development of agent networks or technology applications that expand the geographic footprint of affordable service or product delivery, or facilitated access to credit and savings).  While pull strategies do have a strategic focus on the very poor, they often include, and frequently require– the involvement of a spectrum of income groups.
In a project (or group of projects) using an integrated push/pull approach, there is considerable emphasis placed on the modalities around how, when, where and why ‘push’ and ‘pull’ interventions will interact, along with the right mix of ‘who’ among a variety of potential stakeholders (public, private, community-based, development projects) has the incentive and capacity to engage.  This push/pull approach embraces a systems approach to analysis and design, recognizing that an individual’s pathway out of poverty is inseparable from the complex networks and systems in which the individual lives – be it the household, the community or region, the marketplace, etc.

More than just a conceptual framework, this model depends on a strongly articulated vision and operationalized plan for transitions between activities, integrates sequencing and layering of activities, and is supported by robust causal logic and knowledge management systems[4].

The Push/Pull Disconnect
Operationalizing a harmonized approach to providing temporary support and commercial incentives to the very poor is proving problematic. There are many reasons for the disconnect:
  • The ‘push’ and ‘pull’ are often two streams of separate activities that come together and interact (and vaguely at that) only on the pages of a document or a graphical representation, with few incentives or resources allocated for synergy and integration at the implementation level.
  • Often different sets of incentives, behaviors and relationships are encouraged in actors as a result of push versus pull activities, complicating transitions and ‘graduation’. For example, beneficiaries may develop a distorted view of the cost of agricultural inputs if a subsidy is not carefully designed, resulting in the poor being unwilling to purchase inputs on more commercial terms, even when the inputs are critical to successful market participation.
  • It is tempting to view ‘push’ and ‘pull’ as a strictly linear, step-by-step, sequential process—first ‘push’ activities, and then, when the beneficiary has reached certain milestones, a switch to a ‘pull’ strategy. This falsely simplifies the complexity of addressing poverty at scale and perpetuates silos.
  • Insufficient attention is given to the importance of social and economic networks in driving and sustaining poverty-reducing change[5].  For example, some activities target interventions at the wrong network ‘node’ (e.g., assuming the poor are connected to financial service providers or extension agents, when they are not) or do not build the capacity of the very poor to use their existing networks to gain access to important market actors for sustained growth.
  • To date, ‘push’ and ‘pull’ activities have largely been either contracted via separate projects - often managed by different implementers and overseen by different donor representatives – or where the approach is being incorporated in one project, an implementer is only good at doing (or managing) either ‘push’ or ‘pull’, but not the integrations of the two. Without a clear, operationalized strategy for how ‘push’ and ‘pull’ will interact in practice, either within or between projects, they often don’t.
  • This type of approach is resource-intensive and takes time to show results. If there are many other competing (or higher) priorities such as increased yields or aggregated sales, a conflict of interest can arise between working with the very poor and meeting project targets. For example, targeting very poor producers is unlikely to make as significant a contribution to a project’s sales target as working with more commercially active, less poor producers. Implementers will naturally utilize resources and select implementation approaches that respond to the project’s primary responsibilities.
In the coming year USAID, through LEO, will investigate some of these challenges further, exploring emerging examples of integration and lessons learned by implementers in the field. From initial research, strategies to encourage greater synergy between push and pull may include:
  • Coordination on work plans between projects (or components within a project) reaching the very poor and more traditional market development programs.
  • Staff capacity building about best practices and implementation realities for those working on the opposite ‘end’ of the spectrum (e.g., on market incentives and systems for livelihoods and food security programs; and on capacity building on vulnerability and poverty for market development programs).
  • Better coordination on country-wide development strategies across donors, with national government-funded initiatives, and within donor sub-units (e.g., between USAID’s Bureau of Food Security and USDA’s Food for Peace office).
  • Stronger prioritization by the donor and more detailed integration into project design documents(for example at the Activity and Intermediate Result level). Clear articulation of activities (whether within the same project or across multiple projects) identified as connecting push and pull.
  • Designated responsibility within the project leadership team to oversee, plan, and learn from the push/pull approach efforts.
These challenges and emerging strategies – as well as those not stated here - are all potential areas of interest for project examples.

 Submission of Examples
Please include the following in project example submissions:
  • An overview of the overall project or projects (location, project name, donor, implementer(s), size, timeframe)
  • Approach: how a push/pull approach was applied – either to the project (or group of projects) as a whole, or to a component within a project - and what methodologies, design elements, operational management decisions, or tools were used which drove push/pull integration
  • Learning: What worked and what didn’t?  What can USAID and practitioners learn from this example?
  • Outcomes: how did integration of push and pull drive greater effectiveness or collaboration? What qualitative or quantitative evidence is there that households have transitioned to lower levels of poverty?
Click here to submit your example! Please keep submissions to 500 words or less.

Project examples should be submitted no later than March 31, 2014.

[1] Definitions, and the degree of nuances they incorporate, vary.  A basic definition is: “(a) those living in the bottom 50 percent below the poverty line established by the national government of the country in which those individuals live; or (b) living on less than the equivalent of $1 per day (as calculated using the purchasing power parity exchange rate method.
[2] For a more comprehensive discussion of the very poor in relation to sustained, poverty-reducing market engagement, see the following two Pathways out of Poverty resources: http://www.microlinks.org/library/pathways-out-poverty-applying-key-principles-value-chain-approach-reach-very-poor or http://www.microlinks.org/library/pushing-poverty-frontiers-inclusive-value-chain-development-briefing-paper).
Many large-scale, localized social protection programs and policies are designed to be systemic and long-term at a macro, enabling environment level, yet even these are still largely envisioned as addressing a time-bound need in vulnerable individuals or communities.
For more on the push/pull approach, especially as it relates to value chain development programs, see this briefing paper: http://www.microlinks.org/library/pushing-poverty-frontiers-inclusive-value-chain-development-briefing-paper
For more on network-driven change, see the Monitoring and Measuring Change in Market Systems - Rethinking the Current Paradigm. http://www.seepnetwork.org/monitoring-and-measuring-change-in-market-systems---rethinking-the-current-paradigm-resources-937.php


Jitesh Kumar Panda says:
Mar 03, 2014

I appreciate the view that there is need for integration of both push and pull strategy. However, it would be important relate the strategy (push, pull or both) with aspirations, needs and demands of poor families.

Kenneth Barigye says:
Mar 03, 2014

I am great full to the seeps network,I have been monitoring and evaluating government interventions in the war ravaged Uganda at a very senior level in intelligence of the state.
I have very many ideas and concepts through my line if work that are valuable to the LEO,500 words just won’t do it!!
I am a Deputy Director in charge if Economic Monitoring in the Presidents Office.

Rabindra Bhujel says:
Mar 03, 2014

This learning perspective makes me good business man.

Mamatha makkala mandira. says:
Mar 03, 2014

Dear sir

Greeting From Mamatha makkala mandira,Karnataka, Bangalore, India.

we have a Grass root Level NGO. we are working with poor and Needy peoples,
We want Help From your Side, Kindly Help us, Kindly visit web;-
Warm regards

Kenneth, please share your ideas in our discussion group for STEP UP using the link provided. Anna has started a conversation there to help collect these project examples.

Teshale Endalamaw says:
Mar 03, 2014

In my knowledge the push-pull strategic factors should be strengthened and the nexus among these two factors will help the poor to path out of poverty. I have a proven experience on these; so I feel happy when I receive the email from the LEO as it seeks to collect project examples. I have proven example when I was at CARE Ethiopia; So, hope I will share the observed experiences although it is too difficult to say more within 500 words.


rohan khanhi perry says:
Mar 03, 2014

This is the very ideal call i anticipated, and is the way to go. Keep it up USAID

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