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A recap: the contents, and discontents, of Graduation

07/10/2013

Development Pathways

Development Pathways launched a blog series entitled The Contents – and Discontents – of Graduation in order to further debate the pros and cons of graduation strategies.  Over the last five weeks, we hosted a weekly blog from practitioners and academics; advocates and critics; government implementers and NGOs.

Our five-week blog series has presented some insightful perspectives on what Graduation means, how it is implemented, and evidence of what works and what doesn’t .  While impossible to summarise, I will use this opportunity to reflect upon the main points from our experts’ contributions:

Firstly, ‘graduation’ is used to mean a plethora of things,  and here lies the confusion.  As Janet Heisey pointed out, Trickle Up’s  programmes are instrumental in supporting the marginalised to gain the agency and resources they need to demand state entitlements – and graduating INTO social protection. Tatiana Rincon shared insights about Latin America’ s ‘government led’ initiative to graduate families from extreme poverty through national livelihood strategies – which does not imply that they will no longer receive social security benefits from the state.  In both these cases, these practitioners see ‘graduation’ programmes as entering, or bolstering, state support.

Others view graduation to mean definitively ‘exiting’ families from poverty, and thereby off of state support.  Naomi Hossain shared her concerns about governments’ zeal to graduate families out of poverty, by assuming that a careful, cost-saving formula can help families reach a ‘healthy equilibrium’, where they no longer need the support of the state. 

I’m not quite sure how this term came to be used, and why it stuck, but I agree with  Nick Freeland that ‘graduation’ is a peculiar word to use in this context, and confuses the conversation. As he aptly stated, people graduate from university, but not from poverty. And if people are building their resources and entitlements, why are we using the term ‘graduation’ to describe their gains? A well-respected colleague of mine – and graduation advocate – was shocked to hear that by graduation, I was referring to removing people off of social security systems. I was shocked to hear him referring to ‘graduation’ as being a part of a country’s national social protection strategy. We were using the same terminology, but speaking two different languages. 

It seems that what people are really talking about when they say ‘graduation’ is increasing incomes and reducing vulnerability.  There is no quick solution to this, and requires vulnerable families to be linked to markets; to have access to financial services; to effectively engage in labour strategies (not just self-employment, but skilled formal employment); and access to social protection. These four domains reinforce each other and enable families to pursue various income generation strategies, whilst being protected against shocks (through the build up of savings, as well as from the state).  Programmes that combine asset transfers, cash transfers, and coaching are underpinned by the same logic and provide support to families across these domains – but the agenda is conflated by time limitations, which are often donor imposed.  

In reality, crossing economic thresholds is a very slow dance, involving twists, turns and dips. And, forgive the cliché, but context matters.  In Bangladesh, poverty is on the decline, with household demographics changing (with more income earners and less dependents); industry and services sectors are increasing, thereby enhancing employment opportunities. Therefore families are transitioning from extreme to moderate poverty, from the ranks of the moderate to non-poor –by virtue of a dynamic state- whilst programmes like BRAC’s CFPR-TUP and CLP are absorbing those left out on the fringes. However, this is not the case everywhere.

So, in summation – this is what I took away from this riveting blog series. Let’s try to move away from the term ‘graduation’ and say what we really mean; lets not impose linearity and time constraints upon a slow, steady and circuitous process; and lets not expect to see the same results and dynamism across different contexts.

Thanks to everyone for their valuable contributions, and I have no doubt that we shall continue to engage and keep this discussion alive and kicking. 

This summary blog is written by Karishma Huda, a Senior Social Policy Specialist at Development Pathways, and former Research Manager for the CGAP-Ford Graduation programmes.

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