Impact Research and the Role of Coaching In Poverty Reduction
The CGAP-Ford Foundation Graduation Program is a global effort to understand how safety nets, livelihoods and microfinance can be sequenced to create pathways for the poorest out of extreme poverty. The Program is working in partnership with local organizations to implement ten pilots in eight countries, with impact assessments, qualitative research, or both at all sites. Effective coaching–designed to impart basic financial education and livelihood skills, and to improve health practices and troubleshooting during crisis– is a critical ingredient of a successful program to move households out of extreme poverty. Field workers visit each participant on a weekly basis in most cases and implementing organizations agree that coaching is a vital element for success of the program.
But how can we more effectively train our coaches, and perhaps tailor the coaching, to address the differentiated needs of program participants--providing more support to struggling participants and less to stronger ones? This is where impact research plays a crucial role in filling in the knowledge gaps. Recently released impact assessment data indicates that the package of services, which includes coaching, has worked in these programs to help achieve desired outcomes of strengthened livelihoods, improved food security, financial health, and increased personal empowerment.
This was but one of the themes our Graduation panel discussed at European Microfinance Week 2012 in Luxembourg in mid-November. This year’s conference theme was Combining Strengths—Delivering Results, so the panel was not surprisingly asked to address not only what the research has revealed from the Graduation Program, but to describe how implementing organizations are using the information we’re gathering from our projects.
Bram Thuysbaert from Innovations for Poverty Action reported on research from Honduras, Pakistan and India (Bandhan and SKS). At Bandhan, research showed that coaching works and helped support the positive outcomes that that program achieved. One year after the project ended, women were earning more each month and consuming 10% more food than a control group. They were also skipping fewer meals. Financial support contributed to this change, but coaching was also critical. The pilot project implemented by Plan International in Honduras also showed that the coaching component was effective in supporting positive outcomes for participants. Similar results have been found in other programs where impact evaluations have yielded end-of-project results.
Photo Credit: Trickle Up
Trickle Up in India was one of the two pilot project sites where impact evaluations were not conducted. Instead we focused on qualitative research by Karishma Huda and Sandeep Kaur and on building a strong internal monitoring and evaluation system to help us understand the reasons behind the variation in the performance of different participants. Monitoring data enables us to track the progress of participants in savings and loan activity, livelihoods and health. It was clear that coaching was critical and that coaching performance varied between field workers, which was reflected in participant outcomes. To better prepare field workers for the challenging task of coaching, Trickle Up created training tools on livelihood planning that focus on poverty sensitization and facilitation skills, and that bolster market assessment skills to ensure appropriate facilitation when helping participants choose livelihood activities.
But as Tilman Ehrbeck of CGAP suggested, streamlining the coaching component is important if this model is to achieve scale. One goal is to get government programs involved to ensure we reach significant numbers of ultrapoor families. Governments are interested—indeed two are supporting pilot projects (in Ethiopia and Yemen) and others are paying close attention to the initiative. The coaching component should be more systematic for governments to be interested in replication on a broader scale.
Ann Miles from The MasterCard Foundation encouraged other donors in the room in Luxembourg to join forces with the Graduation Program: “The MasterCard Foundation funded qualitative research conducted by the BRAC Development Institute, which complements a series of randomized control trials also underway. We’ve seen that the graduation model has a strong positive effect on ultrapoor households. Now we invite other donors to join us in exploring how to bring this model to scale.”
The Graduation Program is moving from pilot phase to proof-of-concept phase as organizations begin to scale up. Further research will help us better understand how to ensure the model is efficient and effective thus enabling more ultrapoor families to be assisted.
----------Janet Heisey is Director for Technical & Strategic Alliances at Trickle Up.