After a 5-hour car ride from Ranchi airport, crossing a small river on foot and hiking for about 30 minutes, my team and I finally reach Barita didi’s house. She is boiling corn to make corn stalk – the only meal that her family of 6 is going to have for the day.
I sit down under a tree near the house and wait for didi to come so that we can start discussing how she can ensure two full meals for her family everyday, send her children to school and start saving for a better future. This has been the everyday life of my team and me since the last few months.
Hi, I am John. I joined The/Nudge Foundation during its early days, after a brief stint in the corporate sector. I am responsible for researching, designing, piloting and launching programs to serve the poor. The/Nudge Foundation was founded to alleviate poverty, sustainably and scalably. Over the last four years, we have impacted the lives of more than a million Indians across the country, through our direct and indirect work in skilling, education, healthcare, etc. However, one in every four Indians still lives in poverty. About 20% of them live in extreme poverty, like Barita didi and her family, without the certainty of even two basic meals a day. However, the good news is that the rest of us—three out of four Indians—can help.
How it started
Last year, with a belief that together, we can end extreme poverty within our lifetime, we started a bold new initiative to nudge families out of extreme poverty. Since then, my team and I have traveled across India and Bangladesh, met with several organizations that serve in the remotest areas of these countries, and studied the impact that these organizations and their programs have had on lives of the poorest of the poor.
One program design, the globally acclaimed and well researched “graduation approach,” kept coming back into our discussions because the program has been proven to work in multiple contexts across the world in nearly 50 countries. It is an integrated micro-entrepreneurship program that supports the poor in achieving sustained income and moving out of extreme poverty within a period of 2-3 years.
Who do we serve
After identifying our approach, we traveled across Jharkhand, the state with the highest rate of poverty in India, for nearly six months to meet with and learn from local communities and organizations. To reach the right people, we had to cross rivers, hike for miles, overcome language barriers and build trust. In the process, we met the invisible—people living in extremely marginalized and vulnerable conditions. Their total income is considerably below the Indian poverty line (i.e. $1.25 per person per day). They are unable to secure two full meals a day, have little or no productive assets such as goats, pigs, etc. and no savings, as 80% of their income is spent on food alone. They usually have to rely upon unskilled and unpredictable wage labor. More often, left with no other choice, they end up taking expensive loans from local money-lenders to feed their families. They are then forced to migrate for 6-9 months to work under exploitative conditions to repay the debt. This endless cycle of debt becomes their life.
Despite several government schemes in operation in such areas, like ration cards, MNREGA, pension schemes, housing schemes, etc., these communities do not have access to them due to lack of proper documentation, illiteracy, etc. Almost all members of their family, including kids, suffer from chronic conditions (anaemia, malnutrition etc). They are socially and geographically isolated—their hamlets and houses are so difficult to reach that it is impossible to think of any trickle-down economics at work there. How do we work with such families and how do we help them grow out of poverty?
How the program works
One of the key elements of our program design is to build agency by working with the women in the family and organizing them in self-help groups (SHGs). Our program supports each woman to devise a customized income-generating livelihood plan. We help set it up by giving them a single big push in the form of a monetary grant or an asset transfer, i.e goats, cattle, poultry etc. Along with this economic intervention, we provide them training on how to grow their livelihood, life skills coaching on topics such as health, nutrition, financial literacy, gender equality etc. and intense hand-holding support to build collective action. When one livelihood is up and running, we help them add another to reduce risk of failure. Expected outcomes of the program include 100% increase in annual income, 100% food security, an increase in decision-making power of women, reduction in distress migration to exploitative conditions, etc, resulting in families coming out of poverty sustainably over a period of 2-3 years.
What motivates us to travel great distances to meet the didis is their remarkable resilience and grit to provide for and build a better life for their children. All they need is a nudge and hand-holding until such time that they are able to run their own livelihoods confidently and generate regular income to lead their families on the pathway out of extreme poverty.
We have just gotten started and yet are amongst the very few NGOs that work extensively for those living in extreme poverty. We have onboarded 400 families in Lohardaga and Latehar districts of Jharkhand this year.
We now invite you to join us in this initiative through our individual giving initiative – we/can. we/can is a call-out to every Indian to stand up against extreme poverty. Through we/can, any one of us can donate to poor families in Jharkhand and become a part of their journey out of extreme poverty for just USD $540 or USD $15 per month.
Let’s end extreme poverty, one family at a time. Together, we/can.
John Paul is Director and head of products at The/Nudge Foundation. Before The/Nudge, he was working with Amnesty International India. Prior to that, he has worked with organizations such as Frost & Sullivan, GBI Research and Reckitt Benckiser. He believes that everyone has the potential to innovate and to beat the odds if one remains curious and perseveres. He gets his energy and inspiration from football and comics. John holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Indian School of Business and a Bachelors in Pharmacy from BITS, Pilani. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or to get involved.