Research and experience have shown the effectiveness of providing women and girls living in extreme poverty with a productive asset, support to meet their basic needs, and long-term coaching and training. With a multifaceted approach, African policymakers can boost human capital and improve gender equality.

March 8, 2024 | Nairobi – What do poverty, climate change, and conflict have in common? They are among the biggest challenges confronting Africa, and they all disproportionately affect women living in poverty or on the margins of society. Both research and experience have demonstrated that these women have enormous potential to improve the well-being of their families and communities.

African countries seeking to drive sustainable development – and address the triple challenge of poverty, climate change, and conflict – must help women in poverty realize their potential. By investing in and scaling up evidence-backed interventions that increase women’s control over income, ownership of productive assets, and decision-making in the household, policymakers can boost human capital, improve gender equality, and expand inclusive economic opportunities.

One approach that has been working in several countries is to provide people living in extreme poverty with a productive asset (such as cows, goats, or supplies for small-scale trade like a sewing machine), support to meet their basic needs, and intensive coaching for a roughly two-year period. Often referred to as the Graduation approach, this set of interventions was developed by the Bangladesh-based NGO BRAC (of which I am Regional Director of Africa for its international arm) to give people the multifaceted “big push” they need to escape poverty and build long-term resilience.

Women, in particular, have benefited greatly from the Graduation approach. For starters, there is rigorous evidence that it can increase women’s productivity. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, Graduation interventions contributed to an increase in women’s off-farm enterprise employment and, thus, the labor supply. In Bangladesh, they significantly increased earnings from women-led income-generating activities. Research has also demonstrated that enabling women in extreme poverty to build sustainable livelihoods can encourage positive behavior changes that help households prepare for and cope with temporary shocks.