Going the Last Mile: Lifting ultra-poor households out of extreme poverty

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The Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (known as JEEViKA), NGO Bandhan-Konnagar, and J-PAL South Asia launched the Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana: Ending Ultra Poverty at Scale, a playbook developed for government and civil society organizations working towards ending extreme poverty. The Government of Bihar adopted the Graduation Approach model to launch the Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana (SJY) in 2018 through JEEViKA, one of India’s largest State Rural Livelihoods Missions. SJY has reached 162,000 women-headed households in Bihar so far, making it one of the largest government-led scale-ups of the Graduation Approach to date.

The Niti Aayog’s Multidimensional Poverty Index Progress report 2023 found approximately 13.5 crore people in India moved out of multidimensional poverty between 2015-16 and 2019-21. It is doubtless a huge achievement but 19.5 crore Indians continue to live in extreme poverty despite the best efforts of state governments as well as the national government. These people need special support to break the poverty trap. The Government of Bihar’s Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana (SJY) is addressing extreme poverty at scale. 

SJY is based on the Graduation Approach, a multi-faceted and holistic livelihoods programme specifically designed for the poorest of the poor. Randomised evaluations in seven countries by researchers affiliated with J-PAL and Innovations for Poverty Action done over a period of 16 years found the programme found it is effective in lifting people out of extreme poverty. Developed by Bangladeshi NGO BRAC, the Graduation Approach has been adopted by governments and NGOs across 43 countries, reaching over 14 million people globally today.

Adapting the Graduation Approach 

The Graduation Approach gives a “big push” support to help people living in extreme poverty transition to more secure livelihoods. The model comprises six complementary and sequential components—a productive asset, training, coaching, access to savings, and consumption support—delivered over a period of 18–24 months. 

SJY, to the best of our understanding, is the largest government-led scale-up of the Graduation Approach in the world. The Government of Bihar launched SJY in 2018, setting aside 840 crore rupees to take the programme to 100,000 households headed by women. The programme has reached 155,000 women-headed households across the state today. The Government of Bihar has now set a goal of taking SJY to 200,000 households, reaching approximately 10 lakh people. 

The programme is implemented and led by JEEViKA and is run in close collaboration with NGO Bandhan-Konnagar as the technical advisor and J-PAL South Asia as the knowledge and learning partner.

This knowledge product—which can serve as a playbook—is based on qualitative and quantitative research coupled with triangulation of programme tracking data done over a period of five years. The insights gleaned from this extensive on-ground research has contributed significantly to developing, refining, and perfecting the innovative delivery of the Graduation Approach in Bihar. 

The Power of Community 

SJY is the result of JEEViKA’s continuous efforts to expand SHGs to reach the poorest of the poor households. Formed in 2007, JEEViKA is one of India’s largest State Rural Livelihoods Mission implementing community-based livelihoods programming. It has leveraged its network of self-help groups (SHGs) to work towards financial and economic inclusion of more than 130 lakh rural women. 

JEEViKA leverages existing community networks such as the Master Resource Persons (MRP) and Village Organisations (VO) to deliver SJY. JEEViKA’s block staff members and cluster-level federations support the VO’s operations, thus creating a sustainable structure within JEEViKA’s core programming. These community-based organisations have played a crucial role in the implementation of SJY at scale. 

It is recognised that the poorest of the poor households are often left out from the Government's social protection schemes. The Community Resource Persons (CRP), along with the VOs, play a critical role in identifying the eligible beneficiaries for SJY. JEEViKA’s staff also verifies the selected households to ensure their eligibility for SJY. These multi-pronged efforts are meant to minimise inclusion and exclusion errors. 

A cadre of about 5,000 MRPs has been established to work as “last mile agents'' for delivering the programme, with each MRP supporting up to 40 households. SJY participants acquire a productive asset with the help of VOs. The preferred assets are seen to be livestock or microenterprises such grocery stores and small snack shops. Participants receive training from the MRPs on turning these assets into a viable and a sustainable economic enterprise. MRPs also coach the participants on some of the practical aspects of running a business such as procurement, inventory management, and simple book-keeping. They are given access to services previously unavailable to them such as a savings account, the national Public Distribution System (PDS), Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) programme and the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY). And lastly, they receive monthly cash handouts as short-term financial support until they start getting a steady income from their assets. 

Training and Continuous Monitoring 

NGO Bandhan-Konnagar has supported JEEViKA in developing and adapting the processes to implement SJY in Bihar. These adaptations were regularly tracked through continuous surveys, field-research by J-PAL South Asia and data collection by programme staff to ensure effective implementation. 

NGO Bandhan-Konnagar has also designed the capacity building for SJY cadres to implement the programme in a seamless way. NGO Bandhan-Konnagar administered this using a Training of the Trainers (ToT) format leveraging over 250 resource persons at different levels. The rigorous capacity building is cascaded through several modules of training that follow the graduation journey of the participants. The ultimate goal is to transfer the knowledge so the local authorities can run the programme independently. 

A strong Management Information System (MIS) has enabled better data-driven decision-making, resulting in improved efficiency. SJY’s cutting-edge MIS dashboard is updated in real-time with the latest data from the field, thanks to the continuous feedback loop between the MRPs and JEEViKA’s block officials. This granular information further allows J-PAL South Asia to conduct timely and relevant process monitoring surveys to
improve the delivery of the programme. 

Surveys done over a period of five years found that around 99 percent of the participants were satisfied with the services of the MRPs. The average annual earnings more than doubled in less than two years for many participants. About 90 percent of the participants were also found to be confident of running their enterprises within one year of mentoring and coaching. These surveys also found that SJY protected the beneficiaries from the worst economic shocks of the pandemic. 

The SJY scale-up offers practical and actionable insights that can serve as an effective guide on creating sustainable pathways to scale up the Graduation Approach, especially by leveraging existing institutional mechanisms of the government. These can be especially useful for other State Rural Livelihood Missions (SRLMs) in India and for governments across the world working towards ending extreme poverty. 

A randomized evaluation of SJY is currently underway (endline scheduled for 2024) and will further unpack key themes such as the cost-effectiveness of the programme, impact over time, and scalable delivery modalities.

Watch: A "Big Push" To End Extreme Poverty

Interested in learning more? Contact:

Vijaylakshmi Iyer, Associate Director – Policy, J-PAL South Asia
[email protected]

Parikrama Chowdhry, Senior Policy Manager, J-PAL South Asia
[email protected]

Manzer, Policy Manager, J-PAL South Asia
[email protected]