BRAC and the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative are dedicated to knowledge sharing and thought leadership. We believe the lessons learned from our programs and pilots on the ground have important implications and benefits to provide to our partners and those working in the poverty eradication space.

Graduation Overview

Focusing on assistance that includes improving health, teaching financial skills, and providing vocational support, BRAC invented the Graduation approach in 2002 to address hopelessness and help the world’s poorest escape extreme poverty. BRAC’s Graduation model offers a transition to greater self-sufficiency, autonomy and dignity.The Graduation approach was pioneered by BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) programme (formally known as the Targeting the Ultra-Poor (TUP) program) in Bangladesh, which began in 2002. Today, our approach, carried forward by BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI), has graduated more than 2 million households out of extreme poverty, with more than 95 percent of participants continuing to improve financially five years after the program ends.

Evolution of the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative

In 2002, BRAC pioneered the Graduation approach in Bangladesh through the Ultra-Poor Graduation program (UPG) (formerly knowns as Targeting the Ultra-Poor (TUP)). Through BRAC’s Graduation program in Bangladesh and pilots in Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Uganda, over 2 million households were placed on an upward trajectory out of extreme poverty. Increasing global interest in Graduation led to a high demand for BRAC’s technical assistance to adapt the approach to diverse contexts.

Graduation in Urban Contexts

Although traditionally developed for rural communities, the Graduation approach has been adapted to urban contexts to meet the growing challenges linked to urbanization and address the unique needs of urban slum populations. BRAC implemented Graduation pilots in urban Bangladesh and peri-urban areas in Uganda. In addition, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI), which aims to expand the reach and impact of Graduation through advocacy and technical assistance to governments, multilateral agencies, and NGOs, is currently providing technical assistance to governments in the Philippines and India on adapting Graduation to urban contexts. These pilots provide key lessons on designing Graduation to meet the multidimensional challenges of people living in urban poverty.

Climate Resilience

Extreme poverty and climate change are intrinsically linked: As climate change worsens, it compounds systemic inequalities and exacerbates issues of poverty, food insecurity, and injustice. BRAC UPGI works with governments and other partners to help lift people out of extreme poverty with climate resilient livelihoods and support. Climate change disproportionately impacts the Global South and disproportionately harms the poorest and most vulnerable populations around the world. A safe and just economic system requires a ceiling and a floor—guaranteed social protection that ensures people’s’ basic needs are met and respect for the boundaries of our planet.

Livelihoods Promotion in the Ultra-Poor Graduation Approach

Extreme poor households typically hold few productive assets, rely on irregular and low incomes, and have low risk tolerance for investing in new livelihoods. In addition, they often lack confidence due to experience of social stigma, exposure to repeated shocks, high levels of indebtedness, and the burden of an uncertain future. The Ultra-Poor Graduation approach is designed to respond to the diverse challenges faced by households living in extreme poverty, including barriers to engage in secure and sustainable livelihoods.

Targeting Methods in the Graduation Approach

Extreme poor populations face multidimensional social, economic, political, and cultural barriers, in addition to a low income. They are often chronically food insecure, geographically isolated and excluded from the community, vulnerable to health and natural shocks, disconnected from mainstream social protection services and traditional development programs, with low access to markets. In order to address these complex barriers, the targeting method in a Graduation program must involve a rigorous process that captures eligible households and minimizes errors by preventing households with greater means from being selected.

Building the Resilience of the Poor through Graduation in the Post-COVID-19 Global Context

The health shocks brought on by the spread of COVID-19, coupled with the economic crisis wrought by global lockdown measures, have had an immediate and severe impact on the state of extreme poverty. The scale of the crisis means widening numbers of people are experiencing vulnerability and financial insecurity, and risk falling further into the trap of extreme poverty.

Graduation and the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established a vision of a world free of poverty and inequality by 2030. Unfortunately, progress towards the SDGs is at great risk. The international community has struggled to reach the most pressing goals, including SDG 1, ending poverty in all its forms. As we enter the Decade of Action, the global community must commit to investments in proven solutions, policies, and systems that ensure the most marginalized populations are not left behind. Graduation approach is one such proven development intervention that is uniquely positioned to break the poverty trap long-term, with a holistic approach that catalyzes impact for multiple SDGs at once.

Coaching in the Ultra-Poor Graduation Approach 

In BRAC’s Graduation approach, coaching is an integral component that cuts across all four of its foundational pillars (livelihoods promotion, social protection, financial inclusion, and social empowerment) that collectively enable a household to build its resilience and uplift themselves out of extreme poverty.Coaching takes the form of regular touchpoints between participants and program staff and is critical in boosting their confidence, guiding on livelihood management, resolving challenges, adopting positive behavior, and monitoring household welfare.

Empowering Women through the Graduation Approach

Central to the Graduation approach is the understanding that extreme poverty encompasses a multidimensional set of challenges not limited to low incomes. While extreme poverty afflicts both women and men, women are particularly vulnerable because of barriers created by unequal gender dynamics.Women play a critical role in social and economic development by investing a higher proportion of their earnings in their families compared to men, thus improving outcomes for entire households.2 Based on this premise, BRAC’s Graduation approach aims to empower women as agents of change within a household and the broader community.

Graduation Pillars

BRAC’s flagship Ultra-Poor Graduation programme in Bangladesh (formerly known as Targeting the UltraPoor (TUP)), has evolved over more than 16 years. In this time, BRAC continued to adapt the Graduation approach to meet the changing needs of people living in ultra poverty and destitution around the world. Poverty is not homogeneous, and while Graduation continues to holistically address the social, economic, and financial barriers faced by the poorest people, each program must be tailored and refined to address challenges specific to diverse contexts and populations.As the organization iterated on its approach and refined the programme, it realized there are four core pillars that underlie these components. Designing Graduation in accordance with these pillars ensures practitioners can effectively adapt it in different contexts. 

Capacity Statement for Youth Economic & Social Inclusion 

Social and economic inclusion programs can act as a prime vessel to connect youth with economic opportunities. Skills development programs are particularly proven to put youth on a pathway out of poverty. In the Graduation Approach (one of the most rigorously tested and proven social and economic inclusion approaches), for example, skills development elements are incorporated in program design to train participants on how to profit from income generating assets and strategically save resulting income. In a recent youth-inclusive Graduation program in Kenya, for example, participants saw substantial increases in savings, skills, and general happiness resulting from program interventions, which included technical and business skills development through individual and group mentorship.

Breaking Out of the Poverty Trap 

The ultra-poor need to stop being invisible to policymakers. We need to pay closer attention to the poorest and the unique set of challenges they face, for without a better understanding of the lived reality of ultra-poverty, we will fail to live up to the promise of “leaving no one behind.” Without programs tailored for people in these circumstances, the extreme poverty rate will become increasingly hard to budge. We are already starting to see this reflected in global poverty data.