As the afternoon wound down in Kigali, lively discussion lit the conference area of our small hotel. Some spoke in French, some in Swahili, and some in Chewa; some talked among compatriots, while others bounced ideas off colleagues from other countries. Belying the seemingly casual nature of the gathering was the topic being discussed: how to enable the extreme poor to lift themselves out of poverty. These conversations carried the potential to have a tremendous impact on the lives of tens of millions of people currently living in ultra-poverty. It was the penultimate day of our Field Learning Program to Rwanda, and the delegates were working out how to turn the lessons and experiences from the past few days in the field into the Implementation Action Plans they would present to their peers the next day.
Organized by RESULTS, with the support of Uplift, Scaling for Impact: Lessons on Integrating Graduation into Social Protection, brought together government social protection officials to learn first-hand about the opportunity to dramatically scale up the impact their programs can have when integrated with the ultra-poor graduation approach. Thirteen delegates took part in the visit, including government representatives from Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, and Burkina Faso as well as two civil society representatives from Haiti. We had the honor of being hosted by Concern Worldwide and the Government of Rwanda, who for seven days shared their work, their views, and the achievements and challenges faced by Rwanda in its aim to eradicate extreme poverty through its Vision 2020 Umurenge program (VUP).
One of the medium term goals of VUP is to reduce the percentage of Rwandans living in extreme poverty to under 9 percent by 2020. These goals build on the country’s remarkable development successes over the last decade, with extreme poverty reduced from 40 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2011. To attain these goals, Rwanda placed the Millennium Development Goals (now the Sustainable Development Goals at the center of its policy framework and has developed a robust social protection system to serve as its central policy tool for reaching the poor and vulnerable. However, despite its significant achievements, the government knew that to reach its Vision 2020 goals, it needed to increase the effectiveness of its social protection programs to help the most destitute and vulnerable of its people move out of ultra-poverty and into sustainable livelihoods.
Enter Concern Worldwide, which had been implementing the Graduation program in Rwanda since 2011, drawing on lessons from BRAC’s original approach. Concern worked closely with the government, demonstrating the ample evidence available on the effectiveness of the approach both in Rwanda and elsewhere, which led to Government adoption of the approach. In 2016, the government began piloting the “Minimum Package for Graduation,” which aims to help rural households improve their food and nutrition security through public works, cash transfers, livestock asset transfers, and livelihood coaching over a period of two years.Through exposure visits to both programs, meetings, and debriefs led by sector experts Tatiana Rincon (Fundación Capital) and Larry Reed (RESULTS Educational Fund), delegates were able to understand how the graduation approach could help them accelerate the end of extreme poverty in their countries as well.
Here are five key takeaways from our Rwandan Field Learning Program:
1. Knowledge Sharing can lead to effective solutions to end extreme poverty
We know that knowledge sharing matters. It fosters cross country learning on effective policy-making and best practices from countries that have had success in reducing their rates of extreme poverty, such as Rwanda. It provides opportunities for others to replicate these successes and develop “best-fit” adaptations to tackle their own challenges.
To enhance the learning process, delegates had the opportunity to meet and interact with their Rwandan counterparts at both the central and local level. We were accompanied throughout our visit by Alfred Mahirwe, partnership and development expert from the Ministry of Local Government, which is currently implementing social protection programming in Rwanda. His detailed knowledge of the system allowed for a profound exchange of experiences and was an invaluable resource to delegates as they assimilated lessons from the Rwandan “Minimum Package”.
In meetings with the Local Administrative Entities Development Agency (LODA) and the Ministry of Finance and Planning delegates discussed the more technical aspects of implementation and financing. One of the most enduring lessons from these exchanges was the notion of political will. Diana Muyalah, senior official for social protection from Kenya put it best, “Interactions with government officials at national and field level were important, as I was able to see what good leadership, good governance, and accountability can do for a country.”
2. Field visits create opportunities to observe and discuss unique innovations
Because the graduation approach works best when adjusted for, and integrated into, local contexts, opportunities to directly observe and engage in discussions around local adaptations and innovations are an important part of the on-going learning process. Especially when these innovations can improve cost effectiveness thereby expanding the scale of program delivery given a certain national spending level.
In Rwanda, the government has found a way to lower the cost of one of the most expensive graduation components: coaching. Instead of staffing for front line workers to serve as coaches, communities nominate exemplary individuals to serve as volunteer community animators (CA). The program then offers community animators an incentive package to meet their coaching targets. Delegates were enthusiastic about the possibilities that this innovation offered for their own programs and had many questions in regards to its implementation. To answer these questions, we met with both policymakers and the community animators themselves. In the picture above, one community animator from Kigembe answers delegate questions as to why she has decided to take on the role of an animator in addition to her own livelihood responsibilities. She explained, “I am happy to help members of my community, we must all do our part to help further the development of Rwanda.” The meeting made a lasting impact, with Malawi and Tanzania currently considering their own version of the Rwandan coaching adaptation.
3. Listening to those who matter most
Invariably, delegate feedback mentioned beneficiary interaction as one of the most valuable and favored aspects of the field learning visit. Meeting with beneficiaries provides insights that are uniquely grounded in the day-to-day experiences of the very people for whom interventions such as the graduation approach are created for.
Throughout the visit, delegates met and conversed with beneficiaries at different stages of the intervention from both Concern’s Programming and the Governments “Minimum Package”. Most visits took place in the home of beneficiaries, giving delegates the opportunity to not only talk to beneficiaries about how the program is impacting their lives, but to see their improved living conditions and asset accumulation.
When asked about what aspects of the trip helped shape or change his perception of the graduation approach, Ladislaus Mwamanga, Executive Director of Tanzania’s Social Action Fund (TASAF) said that “It helped much when we met with the actual beneficiaries in the village as I was able to see how well they are managing their livelihood activities.”
4. Rwanda illustrates the importance of government-NGO partnerships
In Rwanda, the government is a key partner for non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). Concern and the government collaborate at every level. Beginning by aligning its programming to government poverty reduction strategies, Concern works closely with local and national government to coordinate targeting and service delivery, this prevents duplicate efforts and allows more people to be reached by an intervention. Concern also helps link graduated beneficiaries to existing social services, which could prevent beneficiaries from slipping through the cracks and back into poverty.
Concern is now an important stakeholder within Rwanda’s development agenda, serving as advisors to the government’s “Minimum Package” adaptation. By working with the Government from the onset of its graduation program, Concern has maximized gains and created more sustainable outcomes for beneficiaries, and has helped to motivate the government to expand the program throughout the country. This example prompted delegates to think about how they can unlock the potential of civil society and government partnership to enhance national implementation capacities in their countries.
5. Implementation action plans cultivate commitments for scaling up and increasing impact
The Implementation Action Plans the delegates were working on are a product we designed to encourage delegates to reflect on the lessons learned during the trip and define specific time-bound steps towards implementing those lessons within their national social protection programs. All five countries developed detailed plans. For some, this will mean implementing the graduation approach from square one, and for others this will mean layering graduation components into their existing cash transfer and/or public works programs.
In every case, the country delegates demonstrated a commitment to mapping out viable and practical strategies to expand the current reach of their programs to cover more beneficiaries. If plans are implemented as they currently stand, projected coverage by social safety nets could reach a combined additional 17 million people in the next decade, a significant portion of those would be directly reached by graduation type programming. Over the next year, RESULTS will provide ongoing learning and advocacy support to participant countries as they implement their action plans.
6. Never doubt what a group of committed policy makers can do
Later that evening, back at our hotel, I went back to collect some belongings from the conference room we had used, hardly expecting to see anyone. To my surprise, I found the two delegates from Burkina Faso still there, brows furrowed and hunched over a laptop, still working on their Action Plans. After five long, grueling days of field visits and debriefs, most people would have long been in bed, but just as I had witnessed throughout the visit, these policymakers seemed to be compelled by an increasing sense of urgency, and a burning need for purposeful actions to end extreme poverty in their countries. The engagement and commitment shown by all 13 delegates was nothing short of inspiring. Ending extreme poverty requires leadership and the engagement of actors at all levels, government policymakers are at the forefront of the fight against poverty and are a vital group to engage if we are to reach zero poverty by 2030.
The Field Learning Program is part of RESULT’S advocacy efforts to ensure an end to extreme poverty by 2030 through the promotion of nationally appropriate strategies to integrate comprehensive ultra-poor approaches, such as the gradation program, into national social protection interventions.
You can learn more about how the graduation approach is transforming lives in our blog series, here.