Historically, Opportunity has served the working poor—those living on $1 to $4 a day—who often rely upon microbusinesses to support their families. Today, we are focusing our efforts on those living in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 a day. And in some places, we are piloting programs for those living at the very lowest level of the economic pyramid on less than $1.25 a day—a situation known as ultra-poverty.
For those living in ultra-poverty, the most difficult form of poverty for families to overcome, even the most basic needs and services remain out of reach. Limited data exists for this segment of the population, which is often characterized as the "invisible poor," but many people living in ultra-poverty are rural women and children who grow up with little or no education. They spend most of their income on food, yet they still struggle with severe food insecurity. And they fall through the cracks of traditional poverty alleviation programs, including microfinance, leaving them without any form of safety net.
First developed by BRAC in 2002, the Graduation Model was designed to meet the needs of families living in the most destitute conditions. As part of the program, families receive an economic asset to help them build a source of income, as well as holistic training and coaching over time to help them build skills and confidence.
In 2015, a study published in Science found that the graduation approach "is cost-effective and leads to statistically significant and sustainable gains in economic and social outcomes for ultra-poor households across diverse contexts."
Opportunity International is piloting programs based on the Graduation Model to see if they can help people move from dependency to self-sufficiency.
Graduation Programs in Action
Opportunity International's partner in Haiti, Fonkoze, operates a Graduation Model program called CLM. This intensive 18-month program helps the most marginalized and vulnerable women in Haiti build sustainable livelihoods and confidence.
Women in the program receive productive assets like livestock or shop inventory, and they also receive supplies to build a small home. In partnership with Partners in Health, women in the CLM program receive free healthcare, and CLM case managers visit with all program participants every week to offer confidence-building, enterprise management, and life skills training.
Building on the success of the CLA program in Haiti, Opportunity International is beginning to test the Graduation Model in Malawi, too.