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The Last Leg

Reaching the world's extreme poor by 2030

by Lindsay Coates

With the successful unveiling of the World Bank’s 2019 World Development Report and the launch of the new Human Capital Index, there is a renewed focus on how the world can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) amidst a narrowing timeframe. All international development actors, and the World Bank as a leader, must address ultra-poverty if we are to deliver on the goal of reducing extreme poverty in the world by three percent ahead of 2030. Uplifting the poorest people will be paramount to country-led and comprehensive human development efforts.

People living in ultra-poverty are the lowest subset of the extreme poor — about 400 million people globally, they face a unique and complex set of challenges that limit their social and economic mobility. These are often women, people with disabilities, or youth who are victims of abuse, landless, unlisted on government registries and outcast by their communities. They lack both the health and income they need to overcome their circumstances. People living in ultra-poverty require complex, multi-dimensional, integrated services to accompany them as they walk the pathway out of poverty so they can engage in existing government protection programs.

A recent World Bank blog post by Michael Rutkowski highlights how the Graduation approach can be a key driver to ensuring economic and social inclusion of the most marginalized people. Developed by BRAC, Graduation is a time-bound approach that usually runs for two years. It incorporates nutrition, healthcare, a food stipend, livelihood training, financial literacy, an asset to start a business, mentorship, social empowerment and other services that together, enable the participant to start a productive business. To date BRAC, one of the largest international development organizations in the world, has scaled up the program in Bangladesh to graduate 6.8 million people, with 95 percent staying on a positive economic trajectory years after the program ends.

The current draft of World Development Report 2019 includes cash transfers and livelihood programs, both necessary but not sufficient to meet the needs of the most marginalized people. Traditional social protection programs are not effective at identifying people who are the worst off or supporting this population in ways that effectively addresses all of their needs. Innovative government programs like Graduation are required. Forward thinking governments, including Ethiopia, Peru, Paraguay and others are adopting Graduation to incorporate the approach into their national strategies, streamlining and improving the outcomes of their existing social protection systems. Incorporating multi-faceted poverty programs into the World Development Report 2019 will demonstrate with leadership of the World Bank in this agenda that other countries follow suit.

Graduation has the potential to strengthen and deepen a government’s social protection systems, ensure the visibility and inclusion of their poorest people, and drive forward social and economic inclusion globally. Overlooking the unique needs of the most destitute people — and proven solutions to support them — will mean that we leave them behind. And none of us want that world.

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