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How Do You Measure Household Vulnerability for OVC Economic Strengthening Programs?

by on Sep 16, 2015  |  posted in Annual Conference, Vulnerable Populations  |  0 Comments


PEPFAR 3.0 is all about controlling the HIV epidemic, which requires targeting the most vulnerable. But what does that mean for economic strengthening (ES) programs? ES is a key component of PEPFAR’s OVC programming, based on the idea that children will be less vulnerable to the consequences of HIV if their households are economically stable. But these consequences, and the pathways through which they impact children, are complex. Similarly, household vulnerability to shocks is also affected by complex pathways.

Although the term is used frequently, there is no standardized definition or metric for household vulnerability. However, seeking to define and measure vulnerability at the household level – rather than at the individual child level - is instrumental for appropriate and effective ES programming. Here are a few things we know about vulnerability:

  • There is no standardized definition of vulnerability – and that’s okay: PEPFAR OVC programming takes a social-ecological approach to change, meaning that interventions seek to influence individuals, families, communities, and country contexts to benefit OVC wellbeing.  This involves interaction with host country governments and may involve targeting beneficiaries using referrals from government agencies and local NGOs based on existing definitions of vulnerability. Additionally, vulnerability should always be locally contextualized. Qualitative data collection and participatory exercises are useful to get a local perspective on who is vulnerable and why, rather than relying on external or pre-defined concepts.
  • A clear, delimited definition of vulnerability is important for program design: The first step of assessing vulnerability is to answer the question, “vulnerability to what?”  In the case of OVC, we know that the social effects of the HIV epidemic can result in lower educational attainment, higher risk of acquiring HIV, and greater risk for exploitation and abuse for children. To affect these outcomes, program design should consider the local context for the pathways through which they occur, including risks and protective factors. Because OVC programs are comprehensive in nature, ES vulnerability assessment should be just one component of a larger understanding of vulnerability. For ES components of the program, vulnerability assessments can be used to identify where households are situated on the ES pathway (see Figure 1) to identify which interventions are most appropriate for them. Depending on the objectives of the project, this can involve using rapid assessment tools, comprehensive livelihoods analyses, or multi-phase mixed-method approaches.
  • Consider strengths: Understanding vulnerability involves more than just assessing risk – it also involves understanding how households are resilient. This helps programs build on existing strengths and assets.

There is no blueprint for measuring vulnerability, but employing best practices to develop valid vulnerability assessments can have a major impact on the efficacy of ES intervention design and targeting for OVC programs. For more background on vulnerability assessment methods, check out ASPIRES’ literature review and technical brief on the topic.

Do you have something to say about vulnerability assessment? We want to engage in a conversation with you! Join ASPIRES at the SEEP 2015 Annual Conference for an UnConference discussion on “Vulnerability Assessments for Economic Strengthening” taking place on October 1st at 2:30pm.

Whitney Moret is a Technical Officer on the USAID-funded Accelerating Strategies for Practical Innovation & Research in Economic Strengthening (ASPIRES) project in the Economic Development and Livelihoods Department at FHI 360, where she supports research and technical assistance for economic strengthening programs for vulnerable populations.

Celebrating 30 years, the SEEP Network’s 2015 Annual Conference (Sept 30-Oct 1) is hosting for the first time an UnConference taking place on October 1st from 2:30 – 4:30pm. The UnConference is designed to promote engaging, interactive, and highly-participatory conversations amongst participants on the topics of their choice. These conversations will help provide new insights to drive research and practice forward.

This blog was produced under United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-LA-13-00001. The contents are the responsibility of FHI 360 and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

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