Graduating the Ultra-Poor Out of Ultra-Poverty: HPC Fellow, Jake Konig, BRAC USA

Jake Konig is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow working with BRAC USA. At BRAC USA, Jake worked closely with the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative. Read on to learn about his placement as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow.

Tribal warfare in the Samburu region of Northern Kenya forced Anna Lobug and her family to flee their home in search for safety. Shortly after they arrived as refugees in their new village, Anna’s husband and the household’s sole breadwinner passed away, leaving Anna and her five children alone to fend for themselves.

With inconsistent access to food and the inability to send her children to school, Anna became a part of the 400 million people on earth who are considered to be the “ultra-poor.” According to research by BRAC, definitions of the “ultra-poor” include those who are living at less than half of the $1.25 per day poverty line, and those who eat below 80% of their energy requirements despite spending at least 80% of their income on food. It is important to note that ultra-poverty is not just a lack of financial resources, but also comes in the form of social isolation and ostracization. Like Anna’s situation, the majority of the ultra-poor tend to be landless rural women. Life for the ultra-poor is often lived day to day and meal to meal. For many, plans or hopes for the future is an impossible dream.

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative works every day to empower people like Anna so that a brighter future can become a reality. What is the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative, and how can it help people like Anna? The Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative utilizes the ‘Graduation Approach’ as it “graduates” people out of poverty. Pioneered by BRAC in Bangladesh, the Graduation Approach is a comprehensive, time-bound, integrated, and sequenced set of interventions that aim to enable ultra-poor households to achieve key milestones towards sustainable livelihoods and socioeconomic resilience in order to progress along a pathway out of ultra-poverty. These interventions include providing participants with food stipends, assets for livelihood production, training on how to best utilize those assets, group sessions on topics such as disaster management and health and communication skills as well as one-on-one coaching from a mentor along the way to provide encouragement and to maintain progress of the participants’ path to “graduation.” BRAC’s efforts have “graduated” over 2 million households out of ultra-poverty, with 75-98% of participants worldwide graduating out of ultra- poverty in 18-36 months.

Anna became a participant in a Kenyan Graduation program, and was provided a food stipend in addition to capital and technical training to help her launch a bead making business. As a part of the program, Anna was also provided government health insurance and was given guidance by a committed mentor along the way. Through the Graduation approach, Anna’s hard work and dedication has led to a thriving bead making business. She has replaced a leaking mud roof with a metal one. Instead of drinking dirty water from the stream that would make her and her children sick, she now drinks from a water tank that collects clean rainwater. Anna’s words show this transformation best- “before this program, I was very poor and had lots of problems. I could not afford food and did not have money to buy new clothes. [Now] all my kids are in school, both my sons and daughters. I now have everything.”

The Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative is also the team that I have been lucky enough to be a part of during my time as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, and joining the effort against ultra-poverty as a member of this team has been one of the greatest learning experiences and honors of my life. The energy that is generated from a group of people committed to working tirelessly towards a future of dignity, safety and belonging is difficult to put into words, but that energy is palpable at the BRAC office, and it is something that I will take with me for the entirety of my career. 

(Images courtesy of BRAC USA)

About the Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the  Fellows Program, the  Collaborative Models Program  and the  Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit, or Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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