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.

Trickle Up research in India focuses on monitoring and evaluation Trickle Up research in India focuses on monitoring and evaluation
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.


16 February 2013 Submitted by Dr .V.Rengarajan (not verified)

Graduation programs assume importance for the welfare of the poorest bottom and need to be emulated elsewhere
Some suggestions for enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of the coaching
1. Who are the participants? Imparting skill for graduation program involves two stages a) training to the coaches by experts here we need first stage Trainer experts and participants (prospective coaches ) b) 2nd stage the trained coaches and ultimate participants ( extreme poor) . Depending on the level of coaching and the capabilities of the respective participants(stronger, less to stronger) the ingredients for the coaching to be prepared
2. The ingredients- modalities for conduct of coaching need to take care of some aspects a) proper Place of coaching b) timing c)duration d) language/.accent/mannerism at the time of coaching e) interaction with local example /case studies
3. Ingredients – subject contents- since there are 4 different topics viz., Financial education , livelihood, improve health protection and trouble shooting, a better sequencing these inputs first with health protection ( dominant vulnerability in bottom poor HHs) is followed by livelihood, financial education and trouble shooting. The experts in the respective field and the government representative of the respective program could handle the session (CGAP- Tilman – reaching government program –safety nets). If necessary translators possessing adequate knowledge on the subject could be employed for communication among the coacher and the participants. If necessary and feasible exposure visit to successful cases could be arranged.
4. European investment fund focused on MF initiatives more for improving supply of safe and better quality of food distribution and not directly linked to helping the poorest. Even the award winner ASKI focuses on farm sector as a whole for infrastructure development which t it helps indirectly for farming community . But how the poorest are benefitted is not clear ?
5. Innovation poverty Action referred to the “ the end of the project result” as reported in the posting. The end result is just the output realized immediately when the project ends. But the impact research need to study the outcome and long term impact and its sustainability on the poor community
6. It is reported that graduation program is moving from pilot phase to proof –of –concept phase as organization begin to scale. While we are in pilot models experiments in limited places .regions on one hand and research for efficient and effective models is required , there is long way to claim for the next phase . Here scaling of the poorest assume important causal claims.
7. There is a need to integrate result based impact evaluation as a part of project component right from the beginning of the project planning rather than just undertaking for the sake of completion to the gratification of funding/donor/investing agencies. Further the knowledge gained from the impact research need to utilized for enhancing effectiveness and efficiency of the next implementation cycle of the project.
Dr Rengarajan

22 February 2013 Submitted by Janet Heisey (not verified)

Dr. Rengarajan,

I couldn't agree more that appropriate segmentation of households living in ulltrapoverty is critical to ensure that appropriate services are delivered to populations at differing levels of poverty (and that services reliant on active participation in economic activities are feasible--they are not suitable for all). I also appreciate your pointing out that the sequencing of these interventions is most important--with food security issues being addressed early on (through livelihood choices and a subsistence allowance at critical periods of hunger).

You're also correct to point out that many of the research results presented are from end-of-project, but note that Bandhan's results are from one year out. It is indeed critical to return to these ultrapoor families after one year (and for Trickle Up, we're committed to returning again after three) to determine whether the effects of the program continue.

Trickle Up will soon post on our website results from our end-of-project research for 1,100 participants (post-pilot) and we look forward to sharing data 3 years after project end. We look forward to your feedback!

27 February 2013 Submitted by Social Performa... (not verified)

It’s great to hear about institutions innovating to meet the diverse needs of clients. And, we would suggest, there’s another key question we should be asking ourselves here. Beyond examining how we can make coaching work better for clients, we should also be exploring how we can ensure that this staff-client interaction becomes a valuable resource for the institution itself.

The Universal Standards for Social Performance Management (USSPM) include a strong focus on designing products, services, and delivery channels that meet the needs and preferences of clients. In practice, this refers to a detailed understanding of how clients use our services, how they feel about our services, and even what motivates them to stop using our services. In doing so, the institution has an eye not only on whether its intervention is “doing no harm”, but also whether it is “doing good” by delivering real value to clients, and (crucially) how they can potentially do better.

Coaching is thus not only a means of imparting much-needed knowledge and skills to clients, but it is also a significant opportunity to source valuable insights from clients. By establishing an on-going dialogue, field agents have a direct and real-time window into the lives of their clients, and the challenges they face in their homes and businesses. When we understand the skill, resource, and agency gaps that present barriers to progress for clients, we can begin to understand where our role as providers lies, in terms of helping our clients to overcome those barriers (whether this be through the direct provision of specific financial and non-financial services, or by pairing our clients with external service providers). To do this well, institutions need a solid feedback mechanism, staff that are empowered and on board with their mandate, and space within the organisation to innovate (within appropriate parameters) with product design and delivery.

We appreciate that for many institutions, coaching (amongst other non-financial services) can be seen as an “add-on”. Indeed, we hear in the blog posting from Tilman Ehrbeck that the key to scale is streamlining — which we take to mean finding efficiency ensuring that we are delivering the right service to the right clients in the right way. However, we would also argue that once we are able to view coaching as an asset to be leveraged, rather than purely a cost – then, foreseeably, the calculus around providing this service will change.

- The Social Performance Task Force

01 March 2013 Submitted by Dr V.Rengarajan (not verified)

Dear Janet Helsey
Thank you for your repose with agreement on some vital points suggested. It is a pleasure to send my feed back as I am equally interested on the outcome of the project
with good wishes
Dr Rengarajan

08 April 2014 Submitted by Colin Risner (not verified)

Thanks for this useful piece on the contribution of coaching in the context of extreme poverty graduation programmes. We are working with 300,000 of the poorest households in Bangladesh through about 30 NGO implemented sub projects with the objective of helping these HH to graduate from extreme poverty. While, given the challenge fund nature of our programme, there is considerable diversity across our sub projects I have no doubt that the level of field worker engagement with households (simply the frequency of contact) whether through specific coaching (eg nutrition related) or informal mentoring type contact is an important contributor to success. This is not only to do with skills transference but simply the empowerment, , motivational, positive self and social status impact on people, who were previously virtually invisible in their communities, of being given recognition.

For monitoring we conduct a monthly real time snapshot with about 100,000HH and the results can be seen at

Colin Risner. CEO/shiree

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