Graduation from poverty at scale in Kenya


Could a new initiative on graduation from poverty help eliminate extreme poverty in Kenya?

I’m heading out to Nairobi from London to help evolve how efforts to reduce poverty in Kenya are done. In the international development sector, and in the business world, improving the incentives for a large number of organisations to work together, and helping leaders in those organisations navigate a complex landscape that works better for the whole, can add genuine value.

I’m excited about this trip because I feel that it could be the start of something significant. Every initiative or partnership starts small and has to grow from somewhere. In my 20 years of work this feels like a moment to help accelerate positive work that is being done by others to make it great. Let me give a brief background to this…

Hundreds of thousands of people in Asia and Africa have ‘graduated’ from extreme poverty by successfully making use of a package of support provided by organisations that has usually been funded by international aid budgets. The package of support usually has a combination of:
a) seed capital or transfer of a productive asset like livestock or machinery;
b) access to friendly financial services;
c) business skills development and mentoring;
d) training in relevant skills areas.

The evidence shows that given the opportunity, extremely poor people can jump at the chance to improve their livelihoods and well-being. They typically invest new income in education, nutritious food and healthcare. Randomized controlled evaluations conducted by Innovations for Poverty Action and Jameel Poverty Action Lab on a series of graduation pilots implemented by CGAP and the Ford Foundation between 2006 and 2014 was published and showed increased household incomes and consumption at all but one graduation site (Banerjee, et al. 2015). The benefit-cost ratios were strongly positive and returns on investment ranged from 133 to 433 percent. All the rigorous impact evidence since then has been consistent with these rigorous findings (The Economist, 2015).

I suspect most taxpayers would agree this is worthy outcome for aid dollars/euros/pounds. It makes these ‘graduation packages’ an evidence-based means by which philanthropic resources from various kinds can help people and developing economies grow to realise the 1st Sustainable Development Goal.

The main drawback is that what has been achieved is a drop in the ocean. With more than 750m people living on less than $1.90 per day, the scale of the challenge becomes apparent. So necessarily governments and philanthropic leaders rightly ask: how can we achieve district and national scale in many of these countries? Put simply, my answer is: by working in an organised manner together using many sources of funding and guided by a county-wide framework, and not through single organisations trying providing their own large-scale solutions that results in parallel efforts.

My focus this coming week is how to make the most of Kenya’s hitherto sporadic efforts to scale-up mechanisms to graduate many more Kenyans from extreme poverty. There are specific examples within the last 10 years of fairly small-scale projects in Kenya graduating individuals and families from poverty. However, with the Kenyan Government’s ‘Big Four’ goals including one to secure food security country-wide, the Government is investing in a big programme to provide social protection (with funding from the World Bank) that includes a component on graduating families from poverty. This will operate in at least three counties (out of 47), testing new approaches and giving insight on how to work at a bigger scale than before. Other big funders of international development programmes (including the Gates Foundation, UK DFID, EU, USAID, MasterCard Foundation) are co-organisers or are attending, along with several Government Ministries and Country Government representatives as well as civil society organisations.

The aim of the Graduation Workshop is twofold: to ascertain whether a poverty graduation approach can help provide a useful glue for making the most of aid resources that are already planned to be spent in Kenya but are not yet designed; and to establish if an organised multi-stakeholder approach to achieve graduation from poverty at scale in Kenya should begin. With many variations of packages being tested for cost effectiveness, and a diverse set of stakeholders not currently engaging effectively together, the workshop will hopefully create new relationships and build a collective understanding of what is going on in the landscape; it will, I hope, help construct a shared vision among a new network of organisations and government entities. A website provides detail on the workshop:

So these are exciting times, and I have my fingers crossed that we can achieve something this week that sets a foundation for making the most of the resources already designated for poverty reduction in Kenya, drawing in financing from new sources, developing new collaborations and going on a guided and intentional ‘learning journey’ together over the coming months and years as Kenya accelerates efforts to realise its Vision 2030 to eliminate poverty. I’ll let you know how it goes in another blog…