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Graduating Malawi’s poor households out of poverty

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A beneficiary Hawa Idi from Mangochi

The tale of one Christina Samson, 35 from Mangochi was until recently a story of difficulty and challenge. In her own words, she was stuck in poverty, doing casual labour to feed her children. With help from an international organisation, Concern Worldwide, Samson now faces the future with renewed hope.

“I have benefitted a lot, for instance, I have used the recent cash transfer to buy maize and other basic necessities for my family. I want to build a better house and see my children attaining education, get jobs and live independently,” she said. Concern Worldwide is implementing a programme called Graduation and Resilient Livelihoods in Nsanje and Mangochi.

The programme targets extreme poor and poor households in these districts and through a mix of consumption, business skills training, mentoring and assets or cash transfer. Samson is not the only beneficiary who is appreciative of how the initiative is helping to eradicate household poverty. Hawa Idi from Kwalipo in Mangochi is also one of the people who are reaping benefits of the programme in Mangochi.

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The 38 year–old Idi said in an interview that her household’s fortunes have tremendously improved since the programme was launched in 2017. “It is changing lives here in Mangochi. Previously, my household had no steady source of income as we had no business to run due to a lack of capital. But Concern Worldwide has provided us with a start-up capital with which I have managed to open a mini shop for assorted groceries. I hope to build a brick house with iron sheets in future,” Idi said. The programme is currently reaching out to 200 households in the two districts but the target is to reach out to a total of 2000 households.

The aim is to support the beneficiaries to sustainably graduate into higher wealth brackets and to be self-sufficient beyond the lifespan of the programme. It is funded by contributions from Irish Aid, United Nations Children Fund – Unicef and Accenture. Recently, Concern Worldwide organised a meeting in Lilongwe to share successes of the programme with key stakeholders from government, development partners, UN agencies and non-government organisations. Deputy Director (Poverty Reduction and Social Protection) in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and Development Dalitso Kalimba acknowledged how the initiative is contributing towards the aims of the Malawi National Social Support Programme II (MNSSPII).

“Government values the work that you are carrying out to eradicate poverty at households’ level and ensure households are able to rise out of grinding poverty in villages and rural areas” Kalimba said. Concern Worldwide Country Director, Caoimhe de Barra, emphasised that their aim is to develop a model that can be adopted more widely in Malawi, drawing on the extensive experiences of the entity from graduation programming in other countries. The firm’s Livelihoods and Resilience Coordinator Chris Mjima explained that the programme is designed to graduate people out of poverty by identifying the extreme poor and poor households.

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These are then provided with consumption support through cash transfer of K15,000 per month, accompanied by business skills and training, mentoring and larger cash or asset transfer they should use to start up their businesses to create sustainable sources of income. Aside from the 2000 households to graduate from extreme poverty, there is also hope that 6000 households will equally say goodbye to poverty under the enabling environment component of the initiative. The enabling environment component, according to Mjima, involves promoting a community–wide approach to addressing problems which affect all poor people in the community.

Reporting on the lessons learnt from the first year of implementing the project, Programme Manager for Concern Worldwide in Nsanje, Akunsitu Kananji, highlighted that community participation is key for project acceptance, while physical household verification helped to ensure targeted households met the criteria of being extreme poor or poor.

“Involvement of district government and community stakeholders is key to better targeting, and inclusive targeting has improved the participation of individuals with a disability in the programme” Kananji noted. Other stakeholders pointed out some of the challenges the initiative is likely to face, including the high level of poverty prevalence in the country which often leads to criteria being arbitrary, leaving eligible households excluded from programmes.

A representative of the Chief Social Welfare Officer for the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) under the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Chifundo Nanchunkwa pointed out that they are interested in the progress of the graduation programme and seeing the value it can bring for poor households.

She expressed hope for increased collaboration and engagement in the course of the programme. As the fortunes of Samson and Idi change for the better through the Graduation and Resilient Livelihoods programme, one can only hope for the continued progression of the programme so that it can benefit a lot of people.

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