What is Graduation?

About the Approach

BRAC’s Graduation programme is founded on over 15 years of experience designing and implementing programmes to eradicate poverty around the world.

Founded in Bangladesh in 1972, BRAC’s work touches the lives of an estimated 100 million people. With decades of successful programming at scale across microfinance, health, water and sanitation, education and livelihoods BRAC realized that its interventions often failed to reach ultra-poor people and address the worst forms of poverty. Traditional poverty eradication approaches often failed to reach the poorest people and sustain long-term gains.

In response, BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra-Poor Programme arose in 2002 out of a critical need to devise an approach that was targeted, time-bound, holistic, and sustainable.

Through the Graduation programme, BRAC supports people to build their own capacity and realise their potential, to move beyond extreme poverty, training them in the life and technical skills, knowledge and leadership needed to be self-reliant so they can meet their own basic needs, improve their communities, and build better futures for themselves and their children.

By supporting secure, sustainable, and resilient livelihoods, Graduation helps people put themselves on a pathway out of extreme poverty. Participants become the agents of their own development and make sustainable progress in overcoming extreme poverty.

From Safety Nets to Sustainable Livelihoods

Traditional social protection interventions, such as food aid, cash transfers, school feeding, public works programmes, and the like, aim to facilitate effective access to essential goods and services, to enable poor and vulnerable people to cope with the precarious circumstances of their lives.

These safety net programmes combine with appropriate labour policies, social insurance systems, and social sector policies in health, education and nutrition, among others, to create a composite social protection strategy that is a critical component of a government’s poverty alleviation efforts.

Though impactful, these benefits and services are often inadvertently out of reach for the poorest people. Where such instruments do reach ultra-poor populations, resource constraints often only allow for benefits to be delivered as long as the intervention lasts.

BRAC strongly believes that poor and vulnerable households can and must be equipped to do more than just cope. Interventions must be carefully planned to build their skill sets and asset base as well as their confidence and social capital (i.e. community inclusion, gender empowerment, etc.) so they can remain food secure, lead sustainable economic lives and ultimately become more resilient.

Many governments are moving towards implementing more integrated, comprehensive social protection systems, as per the global drive to introduce or expand Social Protection Floors, with complementary social and economic policies. One area of broad consensus is the realisation of a “twin-track” approach, with a social safety net put in place for poor and vulnerable people who cannot work, and graduation programmes designed only for a subset of impoverished people with the capacity for economic self-sufficiency. While Graduation is a particularly promising ladder from poverty, other approaches also provide necessary skills for gainful employment, access to finance and access to mainstream development programmes. Identifying the appropriate approach may require several tools for tackling poverty that are context-specific and needs dependent.

It is important to remember that Graduation programmes are not a “magic bullet” for addressing the fundamental drivers of poverty and vulnerability. Graduation is simply one promising ladder out of extreme poverty, and there are other approaches that also provide necessary skills for gainful employment, access to finance and access to national social protection services.

The Global Challenge

Today, 702 million people live on $1.90 a day or less. People living in extreme poverty are forced to make impossible choices daily between food, medicine, housing, or education.

But extreme poverty is more than just a number, or the lack of income and consumption – it is the denial of basic freedoms and human dignity. While much progress has been made, ending extreme poverty will be a much more difficult task than halving it has been in the last 30 years.

Extreme poverty is pervasive in today’s poorest countries, many of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. A significant number of vulnerable people also remain in Asia, and pockets of extreme poverty continue to exist in all regions, even in countries that have moved into middle-income status. There are also rising challenges due to conflict, climate change, and rapid urbanisation will pull millions of households below the poverty line.

Recognising the urgency of this issue, world leaders have been lifting every person out of extreme poverty by 2030 the number one priority as a part of Sustainable Development Goals. The poorest people must be equipped to do more than just cope, and should be able to survive and thrive. No one must be left behind.

Graduation Paves a Pathway

Watch our video on how Graduation paves a pathway out of extreme poverty.

What is Ultra-Poverty?

At BRAC, we recognise that ending extreme poverty must start with the poorest people, referred to as people living in ultra-poverty.  They are the lowest earning and most vulnerable subset of people in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90/day.

But extreme poverty is more than just the lack of income and consumption – it is the denial of basic freedoms and human dignity. People in ultra-poverty often suffer from interrelated, chronic deprivations, including hunger and malnutrition, poor health, limited education and marginalisation or exclusion. Women and girls in particular face distinct challenges. People in ultra-poverty often face discrimination, marginalization or exclusion, and typically lack the skills, tools and resources to cope with economic setbacks, natural disasters or illnesses.

Looking ahead, future projections suggest that people in ultra-poverty will be highly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in fragile and conflict-affected states. Additionally, the effects of climate change will pull millions of households below the poverty line. These challenges will continue to shape the profile of ultra-poverty and global efforts towards ending extreme poverty.

Overcoming Poverty

Watch our video on two ultra poor women and their story of courage in overcoming poverty.

Featured Stories

(For a full selection of stories from Bangladesh and Kenya, please click here.)

BRAC’s Graduation Approach

BRAC’s Graduation Approach is a comprehensive, time-bound and sequenced set of interventions that aim to enable extreme poor households to achieve key milestones towards sustainable livelihoods and resilience, in order to progress along a pathway out of extreme poverty. While adapted to meet local challenges and opportunities, all BRAC Graduation programmes globally have at their foundation the following core pillars:


  • Livelihoods promotion: An asset transfer, or cash transfer or loan with which to procure a market-viable asset, OR access to employment; plus technical training;
  • Social protection: Preventive, protective and promotive mechanisms to support basic income security such as consumption support and crisis relief, and access to health, education, and employment opportunities;
  • Financial inclusion: Direct access to convenient, formal or informal savings facilities, accompanied with financial literacy training;
  • Social empowerment: Regular check-ins and life-skills support that build confidence, promote social inclusion, build resilience at a household level, and promote positive behavioural change relevant to enabling self-sustainability, security and well-being;  

All four pillars are to be closely integrated, whereby elements of one pillar will complement those of another. Working together, these interdependent interventions lead to strong outcomes at the household level including increased or improved assets, food security, savings and financial inclusion, health outcomes, social integration and productive skills.

In addition to satisfying the four pillars of Graduation, BRAC applies the principles it used to develop the proven Graduation approach in Bangladesh and elsewhere, to adapt and support effective graduation in new contexts:


  • Adaptation to the local context
  • Targeting the poorest households or a specific vulnerable population
  • Time-bound interventions with systematic linkages to an ecosystem of support that enables participants to thrive after Graduation
  • Robust Graduation criteria adapted to the local poverty landscape and closely monitored
  • Close oversight and monitoring of participant progress

Graduation Criteria

Graduation occurs when households achieve economic and social advancement measured by several criteria over the course of 24 months. Criteria vary given the social and geographic context of the programme.

These are the core criteria for the Bangladesh programme:

  • At least 3 sources of income
  • Asset value doubled since initial transfer
  • Household consumes nutritional meals at least twice/day with protein (meat/fish/egg) at least once/week
  • Participant engaged in household decision-making (e.g. asset purchase)
  • Improvement in home condition (e.g. corrugated roofs )
  • Attends social or community events
  • Access to sanitary latrine and clean drinking water
  • Additional requirements where applicable:
  • School aged children attend school
  • No under-age marriages
  • Use of family planning

It is important to note that “Graduation” is not synonymous with a threshold past which households are suddenly resilient to the pressures of poverty. Participants of Graduation programmes are the most vulnerable people in poverty and can still backslide if persistent shocks inhibit their trajectory. The continued success of graduated households is greatly aided by the presence of support services which reinforce a household’s pathway out of poverty, including access to finance, mainstream development programmes and government-led social protection programmes.

In terms of impact at the household level, Graduation is signified by greater household income and productive asset value, greater consumption levels, increased savings and higher social integration, among other impact measures.