$1 a day can improve food security, resilience and welfare for the world's poorest

A worthwhile investment

22 June 2015
Author: Simon Starling

Conventional development wisdom says that it’s almost impossible to bring the very poorest in the world out of poverty. Not only do they have few, if any, assets to build on, but they often lack the skills and social networks to pull themselves out of grinding poverty. Research and analysis from Concern’s “graduation” programmes in Burundi, Rwanda, Haiti and Zambia are starting to challenge this received wisdom.

Concern Worldwide focuses its efforts on the extremely poor, addressing their lack of assets and obstacles such as inequality, risk and vulnerability that prevent them from escaping poverty. Based on models first developed in Bangladesh by BRAC, the graduation approach uses a mix of interventions such as cash transfers and micro-finance, skills training and business development services tailored to each individual.

Participant of Concern's 'graduation' programme

How it works

The first stage of the programme is identifying who the poorest people in the community are. This group are given a small cash payment to cover their loss of earnings from taking the time out to join the programme – without which they could not join in.

The next stage is skills training and regular coaching on improving health and hygiene practices, family planning, improving joint decision making within the household and managing risk. Participants also receive savings and microfinance advice  helping even the poorest to save builds financial discipline and familiarity with financial services so that they can better access financial support.

At the end of the programme, the participants receive an asset transfer to jump start them into sustainable economic activity. Often this is a small grant to set up a small business such as trading in livestock, bicycle or motorbike transport, or running a small shop.


The results are extremely impressive across a range of areas critical to the poorest people. In Burundi, mid-term results showed that the number of adults eating two or more meals a day jumped from 19% of participants to 87% after just one year.

The number of households able to put aside a little money through local savings committees rocketed from just 2% at the start of the programme to 96%, increasing their resilience to “shocks” or changes in circumstances (such as food price increases or drought).

In Haiti, there was a marked improvement in school attendance, with 43% of participants at the beginning of the programme reporting that none of their children attended school, but by the end of the programme 65% reported all or most of their children were in school.

But do these impressive results last? Yes, is the answer from Haiti. Over 96% of women who were part of the first group of graduation programme participants were better off four years after the programme ended. The numbers of children in school continued to increase. A challenge remains to ensure these benefits are maintained in the long-term without further interventions.

A good investment?

So is it a good investment? The costs of the “graduation” model vary considerably from country to country, from around $400 to $2000 per participant.

In Concern’s programme in Rwanda the cost was $950 per participant for a two-and-a-half year programme – approximately $1 a day. Compared to a more traditional development intervention that focuses on just one area – such as market access or social assistance programmes – that might appear a little expensive. But $1 a day to give some of the poorest people in the world a sure-fire improvement in their food security, resilience and welfare, and a strong of chance of maintaining it many years after the programme finishes sounds like a good investment to me. Particularly when you think about how many of the world’s poorest people you could lift out of poverty for the cost of a single London bankers’ bonus...

Concern will continue to research how to improve this exciting approach and engage with local and national government on how it can be taken up more widely. Find out more

About the author

Simon Starling

Simon is our director of policy, advocacy and research