The UPna sapna program focuses on establishing food security and enhancing livelihoods for the people of the Santhal Pargana region, through the teaching of improved agricultural techniques to increase crop production. Interspersed throughout the two-year program cycle are also interventions surrounding healthcare, child education, financial literacy and social empowerment. This program, part of the Ultra Poor Initiative, is administered by NEEDS, a nonprofit organization that works with communities in the Santhal Pargana region in the state of Jharkhand, India. The program is also supported by Unitus Labs, a global nonprofit that empowers the world’s working poor by advancing financial access and economic opportunity.
This paper reviews the most valuable learnings from implementation of the UPna sapna pilot. It is intended as an open exchange of information with fellow ecoomic development practitioners. Specifically, the paper focuses on the selection of ultra poor beneficiaries, as this can be one of the most critical and most challenging aspects of successful implementation of ultra poor programs.
The essence of these learnings can be broadly applied to selection, design, and execution of many ultra poor programs.
Unlike more mainstream development efforts, there is no proven model for working with the ultra poor. Lay building blocks in processes, information management, staff training, and overall organization before launching your program. With this stable foundation, an organization is better equipped to circumnavigate the inevitable complexities any intervention is certain to encounter post launch.
Appoint Experienced, Consistent Field Staff
Ultra poor program staff work within particularly sensitive markets and are required to carry out complex program activity. Select and train experienced and qualified field staff before program launch and focus on staff retention throughout.
Guide Field Staff with Structure and Accountability
Regular and frequent staff meetings are crucial to successful monitoring and data collection during selection. Additionally, it is important to provide staff with the support they need to execute effectively. Establish a regular face-to-face meeting time and contact staff directly throughout the week to check-in. Finally, provide structured materials for field staff, such as field guides, scripts, and templates. This will promote quality performance, consistency across the intervention, and streamlined data management.
Involve the Community
The community must be engaged and willing for the program to be effective. Seek the community’s aid to identify their greatest challenges and ways to overcome them. Discussing these issues helps foster teamwork, self-empowerment, and communal accountability to change and improve. Moreover, involving the community demonstrates respect and builds confidence in your organization and program.
Survey Households Individually
Accurate beneficiary assessments are the most critical aspect of selection. Avoid group assessments as they are likely to provide erroneous information. Lack of individual attention to each household yields a high risk for error. Moreover, individuals may be intimidated in a group setting and unwilling to divulge personal details regarding finances or well-being.
Build a Strong Management Information System (MIS)
Create a strong management information system (MIS) before beginning the selection process. Utilize sound data management practices to avoid confusion with names of households. Be certain to employ a smart mechanism for coding beneficiaries.
Consider Local Cultural Nuances
Unexpected cultural nuances particular to the target beneficiary group may foster challenges in program implementation. For example, the naming traditions of the Santhal people caused confusion in UPna sapna’s management information system. Had these cultural details been more thoroughly investigated in advance, the problem may have been mitigated. Consider the challenges particular to your target segment and plan accordingly.
Tailor Selection Criteria and Test for Effectiveness
Identify and select individuals who meet the program beneficiary criteria, and validate the legitimacy of the program to the external community. Fulfilling both requirements is likely to require multiple selection mechanisms or indices.
Consider employing an internationally recognized selection tool such as the Grameen Foundation’s Progress out of Poverty IndexTM (PPITM) to confirm the poverty levels of your beneficiaries to external parties. For more targeted selection, design criteria and methods tailored to the specific program and population. Test these mechanisms before piloting selection and recognize that lack of statistical backing means the criteria may need to be augmented based on early results of selection.
In Rural Areas, Consider Selecting Communities Instead of Individual Households
Excluding some households in tight-knit, homogenous villages may negatively impact the entire community. Instead of uniting and empowering the people, the program may inadvertently create divisions and disrupt the community dynamic.
Communicate openly with the community about selection decisions and follow up with individual household surveying to exclude those clearly above the poverty line or outside program criteria.