Reaching our potential

Let’s give everyone a fair chance. NASHIRUL ISLAM



It’s not just about money

There is a common understanding that people who fall under extreme poverty cannot bring themselves out of it because they have no money in their pockets. Let’s take a deeper look into this problem:

Think about the house help who assists you with your household chores or the landless widow of your home village. You may have donated a good amount of money to them during festivals, but they still come back for more don’t they?

Donating money is an untenable solution for the extreme poor when they don’t even know how to make the best use of it. A father cannot invest money in a business or to acquire new skills when there are countless other financial holes he needs to plug within the family.

People remain trapped by a vicious cycle of extreme poverty not only because they don’t have enough income, but because life never gives them the scope to explore their inherited abilities for financial progress.

Amartya Sen once said: “Poverty is not just a lack of money — it is not having the capability to realise one’s full potential as a human being.”

No mind, no money

Poor health, inadequate education, insecurity, low self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, etc results in the loss of potential too. Therefore, simply donating money may provide short-term relief for an extreme-poor family, but as the family members never had the chance to nurture their human and intellectual capacities, they fail to utilise the money effectively to bring sustainable changes.

Consequently, the question becomes: How can we help the extreme poor so that they can uncover their latent skills or abilities and break the poverty cycle into sustainable socio-economic condition by themselves?

An effective social protection system could be invaluable in raising the potential of the extreme-poor population by ensuring access to education and health services, ensuring food security, skill trainings, and so on.

Unfortunately, traditional social protection interventions in Bangladesh aim to facilitate effective access to essential goods and services, to enable the recipient to cope with the unstable circumstances of his/her life only.

‘Poverty is not just a lack of money — it is not having the capability to realise one’s full potential as a human being’

The system does not have any effective mechanism to create an enabling environment where people can enhance their capacities for their socio-economic advancement.

The reason might be because these types of interventions are long-term, and require large amounts of resources that the government does not want to expend.

It’s about potential

But there is evidence that people do not need such long-term interventions to start nurturing their human and intellectual capacities.

In addition to financial support, what they actually need is proper guidance to gain confidence and start believing that they are poor, not only because of not having money, is also because they are unaware of their potential.

If they can start exploring their abilities, they can be the change-makers of their own lives.

Interestingly, this evidence was first generated in Bangladesh as the unique Graduation Approach that combined both providing financial support and creating grounds for the enhancement of extreme-poor people’s potentials was pioneered here. It was tested by BRAC in 2002 under its Targeting the Ultra Poor Graduation Program.

Graduation Approach addresses immediate needs of its participants — working-age members of extreme poor families, with longer-term investments by carefully building both skill sets and assets base.

The program starts with providing assets (livestock or small business) to the participants, and proceeds with intensive hands-on coaching to enhance participants’ technical skills and life skills.

A program worth watching

Eventually, the participants began to explore their own potential and started to act as a change-maker of their socio-economic condition. In Bangladesh, BRAC’s Graduation Program has reached 1.77 million extreme poor so far. The program has been replicated in more than 30 countries by other stake-holders.

The program is being implemented for the youth, disabled, socially-excluded, refugees, climate-affected, and many other types of working-age extreme poor, proving that every human being — no matter how physically or socially vulnerable they are, have the capacity to develop.

What they only need is small financial support and intensive guidance to explore their own capacity and learn how to make proper use of it.

In light of yesterday being International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, let’s raise our voices for a peaceful and inclusive society, where everyone gets equal chances to explore their dormant qualities.

If we can properly utilize the potential of the extreme poor, it will ultimately have great impacts on the overall economy of the country.




Upoma Mahbub

Manager, Global Advocacy Targeting the Ultra Poor Program, BRAC

October 18, 2017. Dhaka Tribune. Dhaka, Bangladesh