In 2010, Kriti Sustainable Livelihoods launched a program called the Vaaradhi pilot, one of the first programs in India to focus on urban ultra poor populations. Located in Hyderabad in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, its purpose was to provide a holistic array of services to help households achieve a sustainable change in their income levels and quality of life. While there are proven models for working with ultra poor populations in rural areas, very few organizations have attempted to target and work with this population in urban settings. This case study highlights some of the areas where adaptation of rural models to urban environments is vital in order to achieve optimal impact.
After thorough market research, Kriti determined it was essential for any ultra poor initiative to include program components addressing livelihoods and healthcare. These became the primary interventions of the Vaaradhi pilot, and were supplemented by additional interventions in financial literacy and supplemental education.
The Kriti team based their approach on traditional models of working with the rural ultra poor as well as thorough market research. They found that all program elements required some adjustment in order to have the desired impact in an urban environment. Some components needed more fine-tuning while others required less. Following is a high-level summary of the lessons learned from Kriti’s experience with the Vaaradhi pilot. A list of recommendations based on the lessons learned can be found in the conclusion.
LOCATION AND BENEFICIARY SELECTION
Kriti was based in Hyderabad and the project was set up in one of the surrounding slums. The team knew that they would be more likely to find ultra poor populations in a non-notified (illegal) slum, but these areas are under constant threat of eviction and have much more transient populations. Ultimately, the team chose to work in the notified (legal) slum of Film Nagar in order to ensure that beneficiaries would not leave in the middle of the program. It is important to note that Hyderabad has a comparatively high presence of nonprofit organizations and microfinance institutions (MFIs), even within the surrounding slums.
Summary Lessons Learned:
This decision to work in a notified slum outside of Hyderabad, with comparatively lower ultra poor populations, made the process of finding program participants tedious and time consuming—it took three months to find 220 beneficiaries. There is also some question as to whether the selected beneficiaries truly fit the ultra poor profile. Kriti chose to work with the entire slum population and thus the selection process served to identify the poorest populations relative to that particular slum. As a result, a large number of the beneficiaries were not truly ultra poor. This likely contributed to the difficulties Kriti experienced with other elements of the program, as it was designed specifically for ultra poor populations.
This component of the program intended to enhance the income of households by providing training in various activities that could supplement the primary occupation. Kriti designed livelihood programs that were:
- flexible and home-based
- low- skill (easy to learn)
- feasible in small spaces
- able to generate adequate income
All livelihood activities experienced problems with high attrition of participants. Contributing factors included: long training periods, lack of sufficient or timely income generation after the training period, difficulty attaining necessary skill level, and general lack of sustained interest from participants. An additional factor that may have led to the observed attrition is a lower number of ultra poor beneficiaries than expected in the selected group.
Summary Lessons Learned:
Livelihood training is one area that requires considerable tailoring not only to make it appropriate to an urban setting, but also to the specific target population. People living in urban areas have a wider range of options available to them, whereas rural areas have a more limited set of livelihoods. The bulk of rural ultra poor programs focus on livestock transfers, an option not suitable to an urban context. As Kriti experienced, identification of suitable livelihood activities that can provide sustainable income to a large number of urban households is a challenge.
One reason cited by women that did not continue with the livelihoods, was that the income generated from activities was not sufficient. It is important for any program to conduct market research in the target area and estimate a range of incomes its beneficiaries are likely earning in their current jobs. New livelihood activities must produce incomes above this range in order to be considered worthwhile.
The amount of time between training and income generation must also be kept to a minimum, as beneficiaries need to be able to see tangible benefits early on from the livelihood activities. Hence it is critical that market linkages for the activities should be established before the project begins so that there is no delay in generating income once the beneficiaries are trained. If training needs to be extended to allow for skill development, stipends need to be provided during the training period so that ultra poor households are able to participate in the program.
The lack of access to quality, affordable healthcare is a major problem in the slums. Therefore, the Kriti team identified healthcare and health awareness as integral parts of its overall intervention. The Vaaradhi program included a preventative healthcare education program along with a high quality primary healthcare facility located within Film Nagar that provided free and reduced-cost care to not only the selected beneficiaries, but also the larger slum population.
This is another area where the rural model of providing healthcare had to be altered to fit the needs and challenges of an urban population. In rural areas, problems stem from the long distances that must be travelled to arrive at clinics, as well as the loss of wages associated with the loss of a day’s work. Since Film Nagar was located near Hyderabad, the distance to doctors and clinics was not the biggest challenge. Instead, the challenge was to create a model where slum dwellers had affordable access to physicians and specialists in and around the area in which they lived.
Summary Lessons Learned:
Key take-aways were that services had to be high quality, accessible, and affordable. As long as there is a need for healthcare services and these criteria are met, Kriti’s experience is that the program will see positive results regardless of whether the population is urban or rural. Because of its proximity to other programs and services, Kriti was able to partner with government programs, local hospitals, and other treatment facilities to refer tertiary and critical cases. This was another key aspect of the program’s success.
Kriti sought to increase access to financial services and financial literacy. Each beneficiary was provided a savings account in a mainstream bank and financial literacy training. Unlike most rural ultra poor programs, savings was not a compulsory part of the Varaadhi program; beneficiaries were expected to save voluntarily using their new bank accounts.
This aspect of the Vaaradhi pilot was met with mixed results. Attendance at financial literacy training sessions was low and many of those who did attend were not particularly engaged. Many beneficiaries also seemed to focus on short-term needs and preferred to rely on microcredit loans or moneylenders for unexpected expenses as opposed to building their own savings.
Summary Lessons Learned:
Both of these observations could be attributed to the comparatively high presence of MFIs in Film Nagar. A significant difference between rural and urban populations is that in rural areas, the ultra poor are often much more isolated and therefore much less likely to have had prior exposure to formal financial services.
The area in and around Hyderabad had a relatively high concentration of MFIs so many of the program participants had access to microfinance services. Access to credit was so readily available that people in Film Nagar had developed a reliance on credit for unexpected expenses as opposed to savings. While financial literacy training helped to clarify some financial concepts for the beneficiaries, it was not sufficient to result in a behavioural change. Future endeavours may need to include saving as a compulsory element of the program, with the hope that it will become habit.
The Vaaradhi program also contained two components to address education. Two preschool centres were established to teach two- to five-year-olds basic skills and help prepare them to be successful in school while allowing their mothers time to leave the home to earn an income. Kriti also identified and worked with children who had dropped out of school for various reasons, and helped to re-enrol them in an appropriate school.
Summary Lessons Learned:
Preschool centres were successful because they were located close to beneficiary homes and run by women who were trusted and part of the community.
For the go-to-school project, Kriti had planned to work with residential bridge schools—residential schools that specialise in helping academically prepare out-of- school children for regular schools—to help children who had dropped out quickly catch up to their peers. However, few parents agreed to send their children to a bridge school, preferring that their children remain with them. Kriti then partnered with another organisation to set up remedial centres in the community. This was part of a two-pronged approach that involved working with families to ensure enrollment in schools, along with establishing remedial centres to help children keep up with their studies, which helped them stay in school.