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Reporting from the Vulnerable Populations track – Part 2 – The workshops

by on Dec 2, 2011  |  posted in Vulnerable Populations  |  0 Comments
(This is the second part of a three-part blog on the Vulnerable Populations track. Read the first part here. The presentations referenced below are available in PDF form here under Track 4.)

Reaching Vulnerable Households through Value Chain Development

In this workshop we heard from three programs that work from two ends. On one end, these programs push vulnerable people up a pathway out of food insecurity, asset de-accumulation, and social marginalization. On the other, they seek to support effective and inclusive value chains that can reach down to envelop these people into sustainable livelihoods and expanding incomes. What I found most interesting were the experiences and lessons around the “push” end. [caption id="attachment_705" align="alignright" width="290" caption="Member of Cardno's Value Girls program in Kenya."][/caption] Jay Banjade at CARE Ethiopia flagged the importance of thinking carefully about the expected trajectory for their Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP PLUS) target groups, and then designing the sequence of interventions accordingly. Not thinking about the trajectory can lead to programs providing the right type of support at the wrong time, or even worse, the wrong type of support at the wrong time. Furthermore, Jay emphasized that graduation is not just about good sequencing. It is also about facilitating people to have the right motivations and aspirations. He recounted one example of a woman who hid her assets so she would not graduate, because she feared losing the support of the program. He also recounted a family graduating earlier than expected, propelled by their negative perceptions of themselves as the beneficiaries of aid. Jay wants to explore how to better build the capacity of his field staff to deliver the kind of mentoring that helps vulnerable people increase their confidence and change their attitudes. This type of facilitation and mentoring was also a central point in the other two presentations in the workshop. Jacqueline Bass (Cardno Emerging Markets) explained that in the Value Girls Program in Kenya, mentoring included entrepreneurship and business support. Jacqueline made it clear that the scale-up success of the program’s poultry microenterprises was due to extensive piloting of these educational and business support activities. Tom Roberts of World Vision focused half of his presentation on what he calls “internal drivers to help vulnerable households link to markets.” Developing these internal drivers involves helping target groups to overcome the stigma of poverty, improve their functional literacy and confidence in their abilities, and increase social cohesion around households. The approach of World Vision’s Promoting Agriculture, Governance and Environment (PAGE) project is to nurture these social drivers through savings groups. Interesting in its own right is PAGE’s attempt at leveraging new entrepreneurs’ sense of place in their societies to get micro and small businesses to contribute to community-based safety nets.

Savings-Linked Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America

This workshop had many themes in common with the previous one. Ultimately the panelists were taking on the gap between formal systems (this time financial systems rather than value chains) and vulnerable populations from both sides at the same time: “reaching down” and “pushing up.” [caption id="attachment_754" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image by Rufino Uribe"][/caption] Speaking on the first of those two methods, Carlos Manuel Parra of Citi Foundation and Fermin Vivanco of the Inter-American Development Bank presented the “last mile approach” of the Pro-Savings Program, in which the interventions focus on strengthening financial intermediaries’ ability and incentives to “bank” recipients of cash transfers. This process makes savings-linked conditional cash transfers more systemically effective and sustainable. Chris McHugh discussed the “pushing up” approach through the experiences of the World Council of Credit Unions’ financial education programs. Key conditions of success were identified as the need to be context-responsive and tailored to the needs of a particular target group, recognizing that not all the poor are the same; a direct linkage between the training program and the financial products available to maximize the effect of the training; and the sustainability of its delivery, including an appropriate level of resource allocation, considering that training programs are typically under-resourced.

Integrating Microfinance and Livelihoods: Plus Models that Make Business Sense

This session gave us a glimpse into how BASIX and BRAC, some of the largest microfinance and development organizations in the world, tackle the issue of financial inclusion. The messages from the panelists and moderator Malini Tolat of Grameen Foundation were loud and clear. First, reaching the vulnerable requires a multi-pronged approach informed by an understanding of the multiple vulnerabilities very poor people experience in their livelihoods. Second, helping the poor overcome these vulnerabilities sustainably requires change at the level of the value chains in which these people participate. (More on this in Part 3)

A Rising Tide Won’t Lift All Boats: From Differential Needs of the Extreme Poor to Market Participation

Jan Maes, co-facilitator of SEEP’s Poverty Outreach Working Group (POWG), brought Janet Heisey and I into this session to talk about two projects that each only focus on one side of “pushing up” and “reaching down.” Janet directs Trickle Up’s Asia program, and presented on Trickle Up’s CGAP-Ford Foundation graduation pilot, which actively targeted extremely poor and vulnerable women in West Bengal. Trickle Up and partner Jamgoria Sevabrata designed and delivered intensive, multi-dimensional support through savings groups, and were heavy on personal coaching for the women. [caption id="attachment_780" align="alignright" width="225" caption="A local para-vet runs a learning session with farmers as part of the business strategy he developed with Practical Action Bangladesh. | Image by Alexis Morcrette"][/caption] Trickle Up’s project highlighted a number of very important lessons. First of all, there is a lot of confusion about the extreme/ultra/very poor. The very poor are often very difficult to reach, and projects can easily miss them. The most marginalized typically have so little confidence and are so busy that getting them involved in projects is a big challenge, and self-selection is almost impossible. Don’t assume that you are reaching the extreme poor if you have not deliberately gone out to get them. Secondly, extreme poverty looks very different in different places, and requires highly context-specific, tailored approaches. Finally, as Janet described the intensive coaching that field workers carry out with the project’s participants, I drew a parallel with my field of market system facilitation: capacity. Good design is not even half the story of delivering the successful programs we promise. Capacity remains the biggest bottleneck to getting things right, and a limiting constraint to taking successful approaches to scale. I presented Practical Action’s Shomparko project in Bangladesh. Shomparko means relationships in Bangla, and the name captures well the systemic, participatory, and facilitative principles of the project. Shomparko’s objective was to transform the market systems of dependable food crops to enable food insecure, net food-buying households to better provide for themselves and generate reliable and reasonable incomes from their production. The approach was to facilitate better relational conditions between market actors, including marginalized food insecure producers, in order for them to lead a process addressing issues around input provision, extension, and high transaction costs of sales. In practice, the project worked with both vulnerable households and less poor households, leveraging the productive and negotiating capacities of better-off farmers to deliver new market arrangements that food insecure target groups could also access. (Read onto Part 3, "Questions for the future," here).

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