BRAC seeks to build awareness and demand for the Graduation approach among a critical mass of stakeholders through strategic outreach and advocacy centered around evidence-based results.

The State of Economic Inclusion Report 2021

This report sheds light on one of the most intractable challenges faced by development policy makers and practitioners: transforming the economic lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. It is a product of a unique collaboration within the World Bank’s Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice and produced under the Partnership for Economic Inclusion – a multi-stakeholder partnership focused on scale-up of economic inclusion and graduation programs.

World Bank – PEI (2021)

Mainstreaming Graduation into Social Protection in Asia

People in ultra-poverty make up over half of the estimated 797 million people living in extreme poverty around the world (Reed et al. 2017, 4). This group tends to be food insecure, typically excluded from mainstream services and programs, including formal market systems and financial services, and in some contexts live in isolated and hard-to-reach areas. This paper argues that the Graduation approach is one such approach that aims to equip this population with the tools, access to resources, livelihoods, and self-confidence to escape the poverty trap.

BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (2019)

Leave No One Behind: Time for Specifics on the Sustainable Development Goals (Chapter 3)

In the fall of 2019 we were honored to join with others committed to bringing the slogan “leave no one behind” to life in the new book Leave No One Behind: Time for Specifics on the Sustainable Development Goals, published this fall by the Japan International Cooperation Research Institute (JICA) and the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution. Our chapter, attached here, is about “Breaking Out of the Poverty Trap”.

The Brookings Institution (2019)

Human Development Report 2019

The 2019 Human Development Report is the latest in the series of global Human Development Reports published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 1990 as independent, analytically and empirically grounded discussions of major development issues, trends and policies.

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (2019)

2018 State of the Sector Report

The Partnership for Economic Inclusion presents their yearly report on the state of the Graduation sector around the globe. The synthesis report presents on the overall Graduation landscape, the major actors involved, how Graduation is changing development and program and design implementation topics.

Partner for Economic Inclusion (PEI) (2018)

Policy in Focus: Debating Graduation

The International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth presents a multitude of articles all focused on various aspects of the Graduation approach and programming, including a piece written by BRAC’s own members of the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative team entitled “What does the future hold for graduation?”

International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) (November 2017)

Graduation Pathways: Increasing Income and Resilience for the Extreme Poor

CGAP brief on the success of the Graduation approach in increasing incomes and resilience for people in extreme poverty. Given the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDG) global focus on eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, the graduation approach should form an integral component of national social protection and poverty reduction strategies, along with social transfers, guaranteed employment, social insurance, and labor market support.

Syed M. Hashemi and Aude de Montesquiou, with Katharine McKee (December 2016)

Ultra Poor Graduation: The Strongest Case so Far for Why Financial Services Must Be a Part of the Solution to Extreme Poverty

A review posted by the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion International, written by Shameran Abed, Director, BRAC Microfinance Program (June 2015).

Shameran Abed, June 2015

Key Findings

Proof-of-concept tested, and with increasing interest from various stakeholders and countries in adapting the approach, we are at a moment of tremendous opportunity for international scale and adaptation.

Case Study: Adapting BRAC’s Graduation Program to the Changing Poverty Context in Bangladesh 

This case study explores BRAC’s experience evolving the graduation approach over the last 20 years, paying special attention to the lessons for governments and NGOs alike that have emerged from the most recent periods of implementation. Specifically, this case study looks at how, since the program started in 2002, BRAC has sought to ensure high program quality and maximize sustainable impacts, at scale, in a changing poverty context.

Isabel Whisson; Rozina Haque; Julie Kedroske; Munshi Sulaiman; Imran Matin; Narayan Das; Syed Hashemi (2021)

Impact and Reach of BRAC’s Graduation Approach

In 2002, BRAC pioneered the Ultra-Poor Graduation (Graduation) approach in Bangladesh, the first holistic intervention to help people lift themselves from extreme poverty, after recognizing that existing poverty alleviation programs were not reaching the poorest people. Through the provision of livelihood assets, cash transfers, and continued mentoring and training, the Graduation approach addresses participants’ multidimensional needs within the local context and helps the world’s poorest people transit.

BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (2020)

Why Do People Stay Poor?

Clare Balboni, Oriana Bandiera, Robin Burgess, Maitreesh Ghatak and Anton Heil (March 2020)

There are two views as to why people stay poor. The equal opportunity view emphasizes that differences in individual traits like talent or motivation make poor people choose low productivity jobs. The poverty traps view emphasizes that access to opportunities depends on initial wealth and hence poor people have no choice but to work in low productivity jobs.

The Gender Transformative Potential of Graduation Programs – Policy Brief

Fundación Capital (December 2019)

Multifaceted social protection programs have been shown to significantly enhance the material well being of the poor and ultra-poor, globally. To what extent have these improvements meaningfully changed the lives of poor women in non-material ways?

Eliminating Extreme Poverty: Comparing the Cost-Effectiveness of Livelihood, Cash Transfer, and Graduation Approaches

Munshi Sulaiman, Nathanael Goldberg, Dean Karlan, Aude de Montesquiou (December 2016)

Targeted interventions that sustainably improve the lives of poor people will be a critical component in eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The poorest households tend to be physically and socially isolated and face disadvantages across multiple dimensions, which makes moving out of extreme poverty challenging and costly. This paper compares…

Impact and Spillover Effects of an Asset Transfer Programme on Malnutrition

Wameq A Raza, Ellen Van de Poel (April 2016)

Evidence shows that ultra-poor households are typically unable to participate in mainstream poverty alleviation programmes. In response, an international NGO called BRAC in Bangladesh implemented the Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction: Targeted Ultra-Poor (CFPR: TUP) programme that explicitly targets those living below…

Labor Markets and Poverty in Village Economies

Oriana Bandiera, Robin Burgess, Narayan Das, Selim Gulesci, Imran Rasul, Munshi Sulaimany (March 2016)

We study how women’s choices over labor activities in village economies correlate with poverty and whether enabling the poorest women to take on the activities of their richer counterparts can set them on a sustainable trajectory out of poverty…

Transforming the Economic Lives of the Ultra Poor

Clare Balboni, Oriana Bandiera, Robin Burgess, Upaasna Kaul (December 2015)

A livelihood programme providing productive assets and skills training to the poorest women in Bangladesh village economies helps them move into more stable self-employment and achieves significant reductions in poverty…

Building Stable Livelihoods for the Ultra-Poor

Alison Fahey (September 2015)

This bulletin summarizes the results from seven randomized evaluations of the Graduation approach, a multifaceted livelihood program
for ultra-poor people. This particular approach was designed by BRAC and has since been adapted in eight countries with support from
the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and the Ford Foundation…

A Multifaceted Program Causes Lasting Progress for the Very Poor: Evidence from Six Countries

Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Nathanael Goldberg, Dean Karlan, Robert Osei, William Parienté, Jeremy Shapiro, Bram Thuysbaert, Christopher Udry (May 2015)

From Extreme Poverty to Sustainable Livelihoods: A Technical Guide to the Graduation Approach

This Technical Guide distills lessons from the 10 CGAP-Ford Foundation graduation pilots implemented from 2008-2014. This Guide will be updated in 2016.

Aude de Montesquiou Tony Sheldon with Frank F. DeGiovanni and Syed M. Hashemi (September 2014)

Reaching the Poorest: Lessons from the Graduation Model

The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) cites the Graduation approach as a leading innovation for families beyond the reach of traditional development programs (March 2011).

Syed M. Hashemi and Aude de Montesquiou (March 2011)


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.

Country Briefs

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.


The Department of Labor and Employment in the Philippines in partnership with the Asian Development Bank and technical assistance of BRAC launched a Graduation pilot that targets 1,800 beneficiaries of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino in 29 barangays across five municipalities in Negros Occidental. The pilot provided participants with a comprehensive and sequenced set of interventions to place them on an upward trajectory into sustainable and resilient livelihoods.


The Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) programme in Bangladesh, formerly known as Targeting the Ultra-Poor (TUP) programme, is recognised worldwide as the pioneer of the Graduation approach and acclaimed for its innovative and holistic solution to ultra-poverty. To date it has impacted the lives of over 2 million households in Bangladesh.


In October 2016, the Government of the Republic of Kenya (GoK) with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) launched two Graduation pilots in rural Kenya to enable ultra-poor women and youth to build resilience and sustainable livelihoods. The pilots were part of the Programme for Rural Outreach of Financial Innovations and Technologies (PROFIT), an initiative that promoted economic development among the poor in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of Kenya.


In July 2018, BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI) launched its engagement with the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development (SFSD), Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Egyptian Human Development Association (EHDA), and Giving Without Limits Association (GWLA) to achieve their objective of reducing extreme poverty in Upper Egypt. This coalition hopes to demonstrate the impact of Graduation and inform the national poverty reduction strategy

Uganda (Youth)

From 2016-2019, BRAC Uganda partnered with the Cartier and Medicor Foundations to implement a Graduation pilot in the central districts of Luwero and Masindi to improve the livelihoods and welfare of poor and vulnerable households. The pilot targeted 1,650 youth between the ages of 18 – 35 years who were at the margins of poverty.


In November 2018, BRAC International, with funding from the Dutch Postcode, began the targeting process and launched the Liberia Graduation pilot in March 2019 to provide targeted support to 750 ultra-poor households across three Branch Office locations; Kakata and Gbarnga counties and Unification Town (250 households per branch).


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.

Event: Paris Peace Forum 2020 – UPGI Presentation

On November 13 the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative, as one of last year’s Scale-Up Projects, presented its approach and year’s achievements at the 2020 Paris Peace Forum.

Scaling a Proven Solution to End Extreme Poverty

In 2002 we pioneered the Graduation approach – a holistic sequence of interventions that helps people escape the poverty trap for good. When LSE researchers found 95 percent of participants in Bangladesh continued improving their living standards seven years after the intervention ended, we knew Graduation had the potential to transform lives.

Event: Driving Systems Change to End Extreme Poverty

In 2002 we pioneered the Graduation approach – a holistic sequence of interventions that helps people escape the poverty trap for good. When LSE researchers found 95 percent of participants in Bangladesh continued improving their living standards seven years after the intervention ended, we knew Graduation had the potential to transform lives.

TED Talk | Audacious Project – 4 Ways to End Extreme Poverty

Approximately 700 million people worldwide currently live in extreme poverty, a state of severe financial and social vulnerability that robs many of hope and dignity. BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, began a sustainable, multifaceted intervention called the Graduation approach in 2002. Since then, it has helped over nine million people escape extreme poverty. Now, Shameran Abed and BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI) have an audacious plan to partner with governments to bring this life-changing program to an additional 21 million people by 2026. (This ambitious plan is a part of the Audacious Project, TED’s initiative to inspire and fund global change.)

A Journey of Growth and Transformation: The DOLE Graduation Approach Project

Join Corazon, a participant of the DOLE’s Graduation Project in the Philippines, in partnership with the Asian Development Bank and technical assistance provided by BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative, as she tells her story of empowerment and transformation. This visual story takes us to Negros Occidental province in central Philippines, and showcases the various project components that have helped our participants lift themselves out of extreme poverty into sustainable and resilient livelihoods.

Strength in Numbers: PROFIT Financial Graduation

Join Sopina, Emily and Ntetekwa along with their community leader Seyian, as they share their story of group entrepreneurship, courage, and growth in the northern desert region of Samburu, Kenya.

Abdur Rahim (Graduation Coach) | #IamBRAC | Short Documentary

This is one of many stories that Abdur Rahim has stored up from the last 11 years with BRAC’s targeting the ultra poor programme. When asked about his work he says, “Bangladesh is becoming a middle-income country, and I feel as though I am a part of this change”.

Graduation Story: Kuntola

A single mother, a farmer, an entrepreneur. Meet Kuntola – a woman who has defied all odds. Kuntola is one of 2 million families supported by the BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation programme in Bangladesh.