Graduation and cash plus interventions represent two relatively new types of programming that have seen rapid expansion in the last five to 10 years. Both types are based on the understanding that cash (and social protection) alone is generally not sufficient to promote people out of poverty and improve their lives in all its forms. They therefore integrate or link to other livelihoods interventions or services, thereby extending the scope beyond the provision of cash.
The graduation into sustainable livelihoods approach (hereafter referred to as ‘graduation’) and so-called ‘graduation programmes’ consist of a sequenced package of interventions aimed at tackling the multifaceted constraints faced by the poorest and most vulnerable households. This commonly includes cash or in-kind transfers, asset transfers, access to savings and credit, training and tailored coaching over 18–24 months. Initial graduation pilots were largely delivered to rural women (Arévalo et al., 2018: 29).
Pioneered by BRAC in Bangladesh in the early 2000s and further tested through a series of pilots conducted by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and the Ford Foundation, the graduation approach has increasingly been adapted and implemented in low-income and middle-income countries. Evidence from these pilots indicates that programmes improve household-level outcomes such as consumption, asset holdings and food security. Many of these impacts were sustained one year after the programme had come to an end. Evidence about their impacts on women’s empowerment and other social outcomes is relatively thin at present and inconclusive (Banerjee et al., 2015). Long-term evidence is still scarce but slowly emerging as more longitudinal data is available over time. Evidence of longer-term impact is already available for BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) programme, showing that women had diversified livelihoods and increased earnings seven years after programme participation (Bandiera et al., 2016). Graduation programmes are currently being implemented in 43 countries, 75% of which are ‘in fragile or conflict-affected countries, where extreme poverty is concentrated’ (Arévalo et al., 2018: 5). Graduation programmes have seen increased government involvement, with government-led schemes nearly doubling since 2016, and scaling achieved through adding onto existing government national safety nets (ibid.: 31).
Priority research questions identified by the Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI) are: how graduation programmes can serve new population groups (such as youth and refugees) in other contexts (urban areas, those affected by climate change); how to maintain quality while operating at scale; and how to integrate graduation programming with government social protection systems and other programmes (ibid.: 29). Other operational priorities are to unpack the role of the individual components in achieving impact for different target groups, improve targeting to identify those who would most benefit from the graduation package, and tailor programme design so that services and intensities of inputs are adjusted to meet needs (thereby also increasing cost-effectiveness) (ibid.: 14, 16).
Cash plus programmes are premised on the understanding and evidence that cash transfers alone are not sufficient to achieve higher order impacts, including human and social development as well as achieving more productive investments and behaviour. Cash transfers have had little impact on improving nutritional outcomes (Roelen et al., 2017), for example, and they tend to be invested in low-risk low-return activities (FAO, 2018). In contrast to graduation programmes, cash plus programmes focus on wider socioeconomic outcomes, are not premised on a pre-determined trajectory out of poverty and are usually not strictly time bound.
Programmes often evolve from existing cash-based programmes with additional components being added in a bid to reinforce and expand positive impacts. As such, cash plus interventions can take many forms. They tend to focus either on improving human development and human capital outcomes (e.g. nutrition, reproductive health, violence) or on productive inclusion (more sustainable livelihoods). The ‘plus’ element is provided either as integral elements of the cash transfer intervention or through offering linkages to services provided by other sectors. For human development-focused programmes, integral components include the provision of additional benefits or in-kind transfers, information or behaviour change communication, or psychosocial support, while linkages to services can be through direct support such as through provision of health insurance cards or facilitating linkages to services such as through referral mechanisms (Roelen et al., 2017: 9). For programmes with a productive focus, integral components include the provision of productive assets and inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and livestock, and training on agricultural or business skills (FAO, 2018). Sometimes these kinds of productive-focused comprehensive interventions are discussed as types of graduation programmes.
Many pilot interventions are currently being implemented to test the effectiveness of different models. Results from a programme in Bangladesh show that the provision of cash plus behaviour change communication significantly improves nutrition outcomes and reduces intimate partner violence compared to cash alone (see Ahmed et al., 2016 and Roy et al., 2018). In addition, impact evaluations of FAO cash plus pilots found that where cash transfers were combined with seeds and training in Lesotho, and poultry and small ruminants in Burkina Faso and Niger, the combined programmes had greater impact on household food production and food security than the single interventions (FAO, 2018: 16–17).
Arévalo, I., Kaffenberger, M., & de Montesquiou, A. (2018). 2018 State of the sector synthesis report. Partnership for Economic Inclusion, World Bank.
This report presents findings from an online survey in 2017 covering 118 graduation programmes, undertaken by the Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI) (previously CGAP Graduation Initiative). The report summarises the scale, scope and actors involved with graduation programmes, as well as findings on whether graduation drives change and implications for design and implementation.
FAO. (2018). FAO and Cash+. How to maximize the impacts of cash transfers. Rome: FAO.
This report summarises FAO’s position on Cash+, defined as ‘an intervention that combines cash transfers with productive assets, inputs, and/or technical training and activities to enhance the livelihoods and productive capacities of poor and vulnerable households’ (p. 6). It sets out how to design a Cash+ programme, the range of implementation modalities, and how to achieve policy coherence. It also provides information on impact evaluation and evidence generation for Cash+, finishing with a brief section on FAO’s experience with Cash+.
Sulaiman, M. (2018). Livelihood, cash transfer, and graduation approaches: How do they fare in cost, impact, and targeting? In Boosting growth to end hunger by 2025: The role of social protection (pp. 102–120). International Food Policy Research Institute.
This review, conducted during 2014–2016, identified 48 livelihood, graduation, and cash transfer initiatives with both impact evaluations and project-specific cost data. These cases are used to develop a distribution of cost-effectiveness to identify the best options for increasing the incomes of the extreme poor. Key findings are that ‘targeting the extreme poor is not a common feature of the livelihood and lump-sum cash transfer programs. Average delivery cost is the highest for graduation programs and the lowest for cash transfers, while livelihood programs have a large diversity in per beneficiary cost. In terms of impact, graduation programs are the most consistent in making significant positive impacts across sites and in the longer term, while livelihood programs and cash transfers generally lack evidence of sustainability of impact among the extreme poor’ (p. 119).
Roelen, K., Devereux, S., Abdulai, A-G., Martorano, B., Palermo, T., & P. L. Ragno (2017). How to make ‘cash plus’ work: Linking cash transfers to services and sectors (Innocenti Working Paper 2017-10). Florence: UNICEF Office of Research
This paper identifies key factors for successful implementation of cash plus programmes. It reviews the emerging evidence base of ‘cash plus’ interventions, and analyses three case studies – Chile Solidario in Chile, IN-SCT in Ethiopia, and LEAP in Ghana.
Bandiera, O., Burgess, R., Das, N., Gulesci, S., Rasul, I., & Sulaiman, M. (2017). Labor markets and poverty in village economies. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 132(2), 811–870.
de Montesquiou, A., & Hashemi, S. (2017). The graduation approach within social protection: Opportunities for going to scale. Policy in Focus, 14(2), 17–21. International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth.
Banerjee, A., Duflo, E., Goldberg, N., Karlan, D., Osei, R., Parienté, W., … & Udry, C. (2015). A multifaceted program causes lasting progress for the very poor: Evidence from six countries. Science, 348(6236).
Devereux, S., & Sabates-Wheeler, R. (Eds.). (2015). Graduating from social protection? IDS Bulletin, 46(2).
Conference/seminar/webinar: BRAC’s ultra-poor graduation approach: Evidence, innovations and intersection with social protection. (2017). Social Protection Employment Community (SPEC). (1hr:58)
Podcast: The evidence on ‘graduation’ programmes. (2016). Kidd, S. at the UNRISD Seminar on Graduation. (18m:41)
Podcast: The ultra poor graduation approach. (2016). Whitehead, L. at the UNRISD Seminar on Graduation. (21m:09)
Video: ‘Graduating from social protection’ – panel discussion. Convened by ODI to launch IDS Bulletin. (2015). (51m:58)
 No public link is available for this reference: Ahmed, A., Hoddinott, J., Roy, S., Sraboni, E., Quabili, W., & Margolies, A. (2016). Which kinds of social safety net transfers work best for the ultra poor in Bangladesh? Operation and impacts of the Transfer Modality Research Initiative. Dhaka: IFPRI & World Food Programme.