The Graduation Approach Works: Now how do we Reach Scale?

Over half of 40 new Graduation projects are being implemented by governments, reflecting the growing interest for this carefully-sequenced multi-sector Approach as an integral part of their national social protection strategies.

However, implementing the Graduation Approach at scale is challenging, with the coaching element forming an especially pronounced hurdle. It is difficult to widely source and prepare staff to coach participants throughout the program. Governments are addressing this in different ways:

  • In Ethiopia, the government is layering the coaching component onto their preexisting social worker infrastructure.
  • In Burundi and Rwanda, CONCERN is testing less frequent coaching (it was weekly, during the pilot phase).
  • The government of Colombia and others are exploring the use of technology with videotaped coaching sessions delivered via tablets or coaching text messages sent on participants’ mobile phones.
  • The Peruvian government’s Haku Wiňay is not implementing the coaching component at all since they do not have the capacity to do so effectively—they are promoting the use of community resource people for technical assistance instead.

Despite the trend of finding alternatives to the coaching element of the program to save costs and scale faster, other programs are making adjustments in other areas. Outside of Peru, the vast majority of new projects follow the full Graduation package.

To achieve efficiency gains and cost savings, many programs are also providing digital cash transfers rather than in-kind consumption and assets. Of course, providing cash instead of in-kind assets carries the risk that transfers will be used for purposes other than those intended: the project’s capacity to implement and monitor the use of cash is therefore important. But this practice also has many advantages.

  • Participants often prefer cash to in-kind support because it allows them to choose how and when to spend the funds, such as which food or livestock to purchase at a particular time of year.
  • Cash transfers significantly ease the logistical demands on project implementers and remove the burden of sourcing and distribute physical goods.
  • Cash-based transfers present the opportunity to work with households on financial literacy as they consider how best to manage that cash—be it given to the participant directly or deposited electronically into their accounts
  • Digital transfers are being tested in 12 new projects and hold strong potential to make delivery more convenient for recipients, while reducing the costs for project implementers. Digitized transfers may become an entry point into the wider world of formal financial services, such as savings, insurance, and credit.

In a number of countries, government commitment to scaling up Graduation is coinciding with national initiatives to increase the availability and use of digital and non-digital financial services: a well implemented, digitized Graduation project may become the first step toward financial inclusion for the hardest-to-reach segment of the population in some countries.

We do not yet know how effective new programs will be as they adapt the Graduation Approach to their own purposes and constraints; the encouraging long-term impact results of the Graduation Approach were generated from implementation of to the full set of interventions.

Moving forward, CGAP sees the need to focus more attention on exploring:

  • How can access to quality financial services promote income-earning opportunities for the very poor and most vulnerable segments such as refugees, youth, and smallholder farmers, leading them to be meaningful financial inclusion?
  • How can digitization of transfers (and other financial services) work better for these segments and for the governments and financial service providers involved?

Answering these two questions will be critical to the graduation and financial inclusion communities of practice, and all those seeking to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.



A 2015 article in Science explains The Graduation Approach, a comprehensive method for improving the lives of the ultra-poor, boosts livelihoods, income, and health.


05 February 2016 Submitted by Christopher Williams (not verified)

I agree that the graduation structure is an ideal aspect for many support programs. I suggest that linking this with behavior-based incentive points, whether for financial rewards or solely for simple recognition, is a valuable aid for all. This is particularly relevant for the large number of refugees in camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon; the need is for them to fully understand (and respect) the differences in the West. The more can be done to encourage recognition of issues regarding women's rights in particular - plus hygiene, base level language skills etc - the greater the chance of getting better acceptance.
The ability to help many of the refugees to create their own livelihood, while they are in the host countries or planning for their potential move to EU destinations, is very important. The programs you mention are great examples of how this can happen. The first principle must be to show some positive examples of how there can be a way forward; these can bring hope to all in the camps - something they are often without.
As for linking incentive points, investment funds and financial services - this is something we should all work together on for a cohesive solution. The current mobile payments space, where Apple, Google and others are all offering competing solutions, is an example of what can occur in the support area - there is confusion and lack of volume in any one product.
Therefore how the agencies can work together on a combined incentive and finance flow is of great value and should be our joint priority.

06 February 2016 Submitted by Jose Linares fontela (not verified)

No wonder and this makes me very happy, I been following the graduation model and found its main strength on the fact that it is adjsuted to the user's needs, so motivation is easily obtain and, as a consequence, results also. The only way I find to make it massive is with a marketing effort:"It is easy to produce but the hard part is to have the people buy your ideas, services or products", this my quote that I use when I have to persuade colleagues in the projects, unfortunatelly in the financial sector this is not clearly understood.

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