Two Years On: Insights from a Qualitative Evaluation of SKS Ultra-Poor Program
Over Spring 2012, BRAC Development Institute (BDI) followed up with several participants of the SKS Ultra-Poor Program implemented by SKS NGO in Andhra Pradesh, India. The findings of the SKS follow-up research are the first of a series of BDI qualitative evaluations of various graduation pilots currently scaling up.
The Graduation Model pioneered by BRAC in Bangladesh has shown considerable potential as a means of setting the poorest of the poor on a path to self-sufficiency and dignity. The SKS Ultra-Poor Program was one of the first to test this methodology as part of the CGAP-Ford Foundation Graduation Program. Two years after completion of the pilot, BDI is interested in answering the questions: “How sustainable are the effects of the program? Is it a long-term, scalable solution for the ultra-poor?”
As part of this research, the BDI team spent four weeks conducting one-on-one interviews and focus group discussions with over 60 women, of whom around 35 had participated in the SKS pilot. Rather than rely entirely on participants’ own recollections and evaluation of program outcomes, we also followed up with households that were part of the control group for the Randomized Control Trial (RCT) impact assessment of the pilot. Our goal was to evaluate the extent to which, the SKS Ultra-Poor Program had addressed the material, social, and psychological vulnerabilities that contributed to the socioeconomic situation of extreme poor households in comparison to others, two years after its conclusion.
Our findings were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, we found clear evidence of greater levels of self-confidence and improved interpersonal relations among program participants. Through a combination of weekly group meetings and the reassurance and respect that come from owning productive assets, the SKS Ultra-Poor Program appears to have instilled among participants the confidence to articulate their concerns and to demand their share of the state’s largesse. On the other hand, even though the program appears to have had positive effects in the short-term, by the time we conducted our evaluation participants were indistinguishable from non-participants inasmuch as financial literacy, health-seeking behavior, and social development were concerned. Finally, in terms of asset accumulation, some participants had done extremely well, although in many of these cases these women started out in the program with significant pre-existing advantages, mainly in the form of family and/or other support systems. Where such support was absent, however, participants had fared considerably worse; in several cases, participants had lost their livestock assets due to illness (or they had sold them to cover expenses) and were indistinguishable from non-participants.
In general, we got the sense that the coaching participants received from SKS field officers may have been inadequate. SKS emphasized peer-to-peer learning over sustained one-on-one interactions between Ultra-Poor Program participants and field officers. Although program staff felt that creating dependency on a field officer might hamper participants’ abilities to sustain their progress beyond the program period, our study suggests that a certain level of ‘customized’, one–to–one handholding support may have been more appropriate for their ultra-poor participants.
The other part of the story has to do with the general political and policy context in which the program is implemented: the Andhra Pradesh state government has been particularly proactive in pursuing pro-poor development policies over the past few years. Increased political competition appears to have fostered better implementation of these policies along with greater awareness among their beneficiaries.
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