Graduation pilot in Kenya comes to a successful close

June 17, 2019 by Nazia Moqueet and Bobby Irven

There was a time when Agnes Munywoki did not smile, for she said she had nothing to smile about. But through the struggles, Agnes believed in herself and in a brighter future. Determined to improve her life and that of her husband and seven children, Agnes worked hard to take full advantage of the PROFIT Financial Graduation opportunity that she was offered to participate in and has since experienced a vast improvement in her quality of life. She now has become someone in the community that people look up to and come to for advice or help. Working at her hotel with her husband and eldest daughter, Agnes’ ambitious dreams are becoming a reality and as she continues to overcome the challenges of investing and growing her business, she does so with a smile on her face.

In 2014, BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI) designed a program via its technical advisory services to improve the resilience of 2,600 vulnerable women and youth in Samburu and Kitui counties of the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) of Kenya. These regions are fraught with challenges including recurring droughts, poor infrastructure, difficult terrain, heavy reliance on livestock as a primary livelihood, and Human Development Indicators that are significantly lower than the national average. Through piloting the Graduation approach there, the program aimed to reduce the vulnerability of households to climate shocks, improve food security, and enable households to build sustainable livelihoods. This pilot also aimed to inform national social protection in Kenya.

The program, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Kenya, was implemented by two local partners, The BOMA Project and CARE International Kenya, with the technical assistance provided by BRAC. As data and learning is a priority in Graduation programs, the NGO Expanding Opportunities is evaluating the impact of the program through a quasi-experimental study. The multi-partner initiative between government and local NGOs is a positive example of how a complex approach like Graduation can leverage the potential scale of a government program and the local outreach of NGOs. Through technical advisory services, BRAC is able to take advantage of its extensive experience in implementing the Graduation approach in countries including Bangladesh, South South, Uganda, and others to develop a program that incorporates the four core pillars of livelihoods promotion, social protection, financial inclusion, and social empowerment and is adapted to the local Kenyan context.

Anna selling her traditional beadwork in the town’s central market (©BRAC/BOMA 2018)

The result of this partnership was a robust Graduation program that included an asset transfer valued at $350 USD, technical training, a six month consumption stipend of $15 USD per month, participation in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) that meet on a bi-weekly basis, free enrollment in the NHIF (National Hospital Insurance Fund) for 18 months, social and health messaging, and individual and group mentorship to guide participants. What is unique about this program is that in Samburu, BOMA tested individual versus group livelihoods where three women pooled their resources to run and grow a business together. In Kitui, CARE tested livelihoods among a youth population that is more hesitant to try traditional livelihoods like livestock-rearing and agriculture. Across both areas, the program used the mobile money platform M-pesa to transfer monthly consumption stipends and provide participants greater financial autonomy. The threat of longer, recurring droughts was addressed through training on drought management and encouragement to diversify livelihoods beyond livestock early on.

With the program coming to a close, findings from the midline and endline evaluation (which included data collection and focus group discussions) show a positive impact on climate resilience and women’s empowerment. While the endline is still in progress, preliminary findings show that participants across both pilots now have more diverse income sources, greater food security, increased savings, reduced incidence of illness, and positive hygiene behavior. Women in Samburu and Kitui, who were too shy to participate in local committees, demonstrated a new level of confidence both formally through their participation, and informally often shown through smiles, laughter and occasionally songs that create bonding among the group. It is common to hear program participants say, “Now, we have a voice.” Improved gender equality at home and in the public sphere can also be attributed to increased income, access to social networks through VSLAs, and greater awareness of women’s rights through the life skills training.

Lois using her water pump to irrigate crops during drought (©BRAC/CARE 2018)

However the shift in gender dynamics did not come about without its challenges. With more women managing businesses and household finances, many men in the household felt threatened and were often hostile at the start. Coming to terms with these changes was a gradual process, and required BOMA and CARE mentors to continually engage the men of the household to discuss the benefits of women generating income and sharing in the household decision-making. With time, many spouses changed their views and proudly proclaimed that their wives were managing a business and earning an income for the household.

Agnes with her children in front of their hotel and produce shop (©Emily Coppel 2018)

With their newfound confidence and self-belief, the women involved in these programs are ready to continue their upward trajectory out of extreme poverty and take on new challenges and responsibilities. From budding dress-making businesses to participants owning their own land, the Graduation program in Kenya has shown the sheer power of determination and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of formidable adversity. The program has prepared both the participants and those around them well by establishing linkages with local financial institutions and county initiatives. BOMA and CARE helped formalize savings groups and open bank accounts to help foster savings. This formalized model enabled the groups to apply for funds for further business growth via channels such as the Women’s Enterprise Fund and the Biashara Fund.

When analyzing development programs for their impact and benefits, it is often easy to forget about the human and personal aspect that they encompass. Participation in global Graduation programs has allowed thousands of women to lift themselves out of poverty, but it is the interaction between participants and their families that also show us the great success they have had. When Agnes was asked to reflect on her changes, her response is one that is not easily forgotten: “Since the start of my involvement in this program, there is more love between my husband and I.” It is statements like these that show the true human impact of an effective and holistic development approach such as Graduation.

Learn more about Agnes and other Graduation participants from Kenya at our story microsite here.

Photos from Samburu