Hello. I work at shiree, a livelihoods programme that gives small packages of incoming-generating assets to extremely poor families in order to help them join the mainstream economy. I really love my work because I see the transformational difference these small packages make to the lives of those whom we help. Though this work is completely fulfilling, it is not entirely easy. To understand the kind of challenges we are up against, let us explore the reality of extreme poverty in Bangladesh.

Over 25 million people, or 6 million families, are extremely poor in Bangladesh. Though the global definition of extreme poverty is $1.25 a day, the daily average earnings of the extreme poor in Bangladesh is less than $0.50. Extreme poor families exhibit a high degree of chronic and severe deprivation. In most cases, their low income is linked to climatic vulnerability, as well as a lack of employment and secure shelter, low literacy, inaccessibility to basic services and low community involvement. The elderly, the disabled, female-headed households and minority groups are disproportionately high among the extreme poor.

Female-headed households are more common among the poorest because as the pressures of scarcity mount, oftentimes the more economically-able men of the families abandon their wives and infants, to eke out a living for themselves. The women are then left to feed their children (and usually their dependent, elderly parents) though they have no job or skills to sell. They are utterly marginalized and excluded. They are worse off than the poor, who are at the bottom of the economic ladder, because they are not on the ladder at all!

The good news is that with a tiny bit of support, these families can join the mainstream economy, and from there, they can slowly begin to climb to prosperity. On average a transfer of 20,000 bdt or $250 (cash/ asset or skills training) is enough to inject capacity into a family but this alone is not enough, as extremely poor people have multiple vulnerabilities. They often require additional support in the form of counseling, training, linkage with markets and linkage with public service providers. Furthermore, it has been found that unless the family creates at least two or more sources of income with this asset/capital injection, they remain too vulnerable to actually succeed. With these additional supports in place, within a year, an extremely poor family may make the transformational change out of extreme poverty. Not all families can do so in the first year. Some families need additional support as shocks such as ill health of a family member, natural disasters, theft, loss of asset, loss of job, etc, occur. We have supplementary funds to help these families

To ensure that ‘no one is left behind’, we need to monitor all our beneficiaries. Hence a traditional baseline survey of a sample of households followed by an annual progress survey is not sufficient to meet our needs. As such, with our tech partner, mPower, we have developed a ‘Change Monitoring System’ that allows digitally, and real-time, monitor the socio-economic progress of all our beneficiaries. This makes it possible to customize and target support when and where necessary. This also helps us identify trends, preempt troubles and manage efficiently the design of supplementary packages. This real-time information enhances our ability to make strategic decisions and it is only a fraction of the cost (in terms of money and time) required for traditional, paper-based survey systems.

The survey, which focuses on beneficiary self-assessment of change and voice recordings, will be administered by the field staff using software-equipped mobile phones that automatically transmit beneficiary data to shiree’s central program database which is online and available to all for monitoring and checking. Using this new platform, field staff can gather data more quickly, easily, and accurately. NGOs are better able to analyze the impact of projects. Beneficiaries receive immediate assistance. And we are able to put the resulting learning and insights to good use.

I was never particularly ‘techy’. In fact, maybe I’m even a closet technophobe. But this technology – what we call CMS 2 – is so user-friendly and so helpful, it has quickly won a deep place in my heart, not to mention, in the psyche of the entire development arena in Bangladesh. I believe this tool will be critical to the efficient eradication of extreme poverty in Bangladesh and in all other countries of the world, as we move forward!

Check it out at www.shiree.org

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Comments

What a good use of technology to assist vulnerable, marginalized populations-especially women. I am not a very 'techy' person either and I better understand how things work visually and through repeated use.

I am glad to learn of your program and how it helps NGO's to do their job better and be more accountable to the people they work with.

Good luck!

Amy @amyinstl

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