Crafting a Graduation Pathway for the Ultra Poor: Lessons and Evidence from a BRAC Programme in Bangladesh
The ultra poor are caught in a below-subsistence trap from which it is diffi cult to break free using available resources and mechanisms. More often than not, ultra poverty is chronic and intergenerational. Existing development approaches generally do not work for the ultra poor and they tend to be left out of poverty alleviation schemes. Rather, they largely rely on informal charity, which has its own rules of inclusion and exclusion based on complex systems of patronage. This informal support also tends at best to reproduce mere subsistence and does not provide a pathway out of ultra poverty. Social assistance programmes typically provide a period of relief through food and/or cash but these too focus less on graduation out of poverty than on immediate subsistence. In this chapter, we describe an innovative approach that the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (as it was formerly known) or BRAC has been experimenting with since 2002 to craft a graduation pathway for the ultra poor in Bangladesh. Based on experiences of implementing this approach and evaluation research, we draw a number of key lessons for broader thinking on tackling ultra poverty.