Research Article

A multifaceted program causes lasting progress for the very poor: Evidence from six countries

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Science  15 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6236, 1260799
DOI: 10.1126/science.1260799

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Attacking the problem of extreme poverty

A persistent concern about wellintentioned efforts to improve living standards for the 1.2 billion people who survive (if it can be called that) on less than $1.25 US per day is figuring out what works. A second concern is figuring out whether what works in one setting can be made to work in another. Banerjee et al. describe encouraging results from a set of pilot projects in Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan, and Peru encompassing 11,000 households. Each project provided short-term aid and longer-term support to help participants graduate to a sustainable level of existence.

Science, this issue 10.1126/science.1260799

Structured Abstract


Working in six countries with an international consortium, we investigate whether a multifaceted Graduation program can help the extreme poor establish sustainable self-employment activities and generate lasting improvements in their well-being. The program targets the poorest members in a village and provides a productive asset grant, training and support, life skills coaching, temporary cash consumption support, and typically access to savings accounts and health information or services. In each country, the program was adjusted to suit different contexts and cultures, while staying true to the same overall principles. This multipronged approach is relatively expensive, but the theory of change is that the combination of these activities is necessary and sufficient to obtain a persistent impact. We do not test whether each of the program dimensions is individually necessary. Instead, we examine the “sufficiency” claim: A year after the conclusion of the program, and 3 years after the asset transfer, are program participants earning more income and achieving stable improvements in their well-being?


We conducted six randomized trials in Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan, and Peru with a total of 10,495 participants. In each site, our implementing partners selected eligible villages based on being in geographies associated with extreme poverty, and then identified the poorest of the poor in these villages through a participatory wealth-ranking process. About half the eligible participants were assigned to treatment, and half to control. In three of the sites, to measure within village spillovers, we also randomized half of villages to treatment and half to control. We conducted a baseline survey on all eligible participants, as well as an endline at the end of the intervention (typically 24 months after the start of the intervention) and a second endline 1 year after the first endline. We measure impacts on consumption, food security, productive and household assets, financial inclusion, time use, income and revenues, physical health, mental health, political involvement, and women’s empowerment.


At the end of the intervention, we found statistically significant impacts on all 10 key outcomes or indices. One year after the end of the intervention, 36 months after the productive asset transfer, 8 out of 10 indices still showed statistically significant gains, and there was very little or no decline in the impact of the program on the key variables (consumption, household assets, and food security). Income and revenues were significantly higher in the treatment group in every country. Household consumption was significantly higher in every country except one (Honduras). In most countries, the (discounted) extra earnings exceeded the program cost.


The Graduation program’s primary goal, to substantially increase consumption of the very poor, is achieved by the conclusion of the program and maintained 1 year later. The estimated benefits are higher than the costs in five out of six sites. Although more can be learned about how to optimize the design and implementation of the program, we establish that a multifaceted approach to increasing income and well-being for the ultrapoor is sustainable and cost-effective.


We present results from six randomized control trials of an integrated approach to improve livelihoods among the very poor. The approach combines the transfer of a productive asset with consumption support, training, and coaching plus savings encouragement and health education and/or services. Results from the implementation of the same basic program, adapted to a wide variety of geographic and institutional contexts and with multiple implementing partners, show statistically significant cost-effective impacts on consumption (fueled mostly by increases in self-employment income) and psychosocial status of the targeted households. The impact on the poor households lasted at least a year after all implementation ended. It is possible to make sustainable improvements in the economic status of the poor with a relatively short-term intervention.

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