Microfinance programs provide access to credit for individuals and households who are excluded from formal finance institutions due to income or lack of a financial history. However, even microfinance programs fail to reach the poorest households, whose income is often too low or sporadic to consistently service even small microfinance loans. Programs that specifically target and tailor to these “ultra-poor” households are often incredibly expensive. NGOs seeking to reach the ultra-poor lack a proven, low-cost program design.
BRAC has implemented a “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” program in Bangladesh which provided livestock and training to the poorest households, and had some success in increasing household welfare. Now, BRAC seeks to identify the lowest-cost method for implementing a similar program in South Sudan.
The ultra-poor of South Sudan generally earn smaller average household incomes and face higher average local prices than in Bangladesh. Generally, the poorest households in South Sudan invest their time in low-return activities, earning their livelihood via subsistence agriculture or gathering, and aspiring to wage-based employment. They are typically underserved or ignored by institutional assistance, often isolated, and unable to participate in available microfinance institutions.
This study will take place in the Gumbo area of South Sudan, where NGO operations are low and there are more frequent clusters of poor households. To be eligible for the program, households must own less than 5 acres; have a female in the household selling labor, a male earner unable to work, working school-aged children, or no productive assets. Additionally, targeted households are regarded by others in the community as being among the poorest in that village.
Researchers will use a randomized evaluation to assess which components of a “targeting the ultra-poor” program are required to have impact greater than the value of an equivalent cash transfer. Ultra-poor households will be identified via a household census in thirty villages. A total of 625 households will be randomly assigned to four groups. Both treatment groups will receive a regular support packages that includes food stipends, livelihood skills training, financial training, and savings support. Both also receive an asset transfer, but households in T2 receive a transfer worth twice the value of the transfer in T1. One comparison group will receive the standard support package and a cash transfer equal to the value of the asset transfer in T1, and another comparison group will receive no treatment.
|Group||Treatment 1||Treatment 2||Control 1||Control 2|
|Treatment||Support Package + Assets||Support Package + Assets (X2)||Nothing||Cash Transfer|
By comparing pre and post-project surveys, researchers seek to identify what assets best serve the needs of the population, the impact of asset transfers to the ultra-poor compared to traditional consumption transfers and baseline, and the impact return to capital of asset transfers based on the value of assets distributed. Results of this study will provide insight as to the necessary costs of a successful asset-transfer program in improving the incomes and livelihoods of the ultra-poor.
Results and Policy Implications
Photo Credit: Oxfam. Children collect water for their families in the half-light of sunset. Minkaman, Awerial County, South Sudan