Women that inspire

Stories of women who graduate from the worst forms of poverty into sustainable livelihoods.

Oct 15, 2017 · 9 min read

October 20: Meet Agnes from Kenya

Photo Credit: BRAC/Upoma Mahbub

Agnes Kalimi Munywoki lives with her husband, Daniel, and their seven children in a remote village in Kitui, Kenya. Their modest home barely fits the family of nine. They leave their belongings outside to take advantage of every inch.

Agnes has a temporary job as a cook in local restaurants and Daniel works as a day laborer, digging holes for latrines and fencing yards. With the ongoing drought in Kenya, both of them have not found as many day jobs.

Without a steady source of income, Agnes and her family live in extremely poor conditions. On a good day, they eat corn and beans for lunch and drink tea for dinner. Because of the drought, Agnes recently had to borrow from a local lender to pay for her children’s school fees.

In 2017, Agnes joined the PROFIT Financial Graduation Program, implemented by CARE International with technical guidance from BRAC. As part of the program, Agnes receives technical training, coaching, social and health awareness training, savings support and subsidized health insurance. To cover basic needs, like food, she also receives a $15 monthly stipend, delivered through M-pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer service. In addition, she will soon receive about $250 as start-up funds to open her own grocery store.

As a child, Agnes dreamed of becoming a doctor.

“With the money I make from my shop, I want all my children to receive higher education. Maybe some day, one of them will become the doctor that I could not be,” she says.

October 19: Meet Makoloti from Lesotho

“I tell my grandsons that meat and eggs are poison because I can’t afford them,” says Makoloti.

Makoloti Thibinyane lives in a rural village in Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho with her two grandsons. Retired, she relies on the Old Age Pension provided by the government to all senior citizens. But the $40 monthly stipend is barely enough to provide for her family.

Her youngest grandson is in primary school, which is free in Lesotho, but her older grandson had to drop out because Makoloti could not afford the school fees.

Photo Credit: BRAC/Isabel Whisson

Makoloti, who suspects her children died of HIV/AIDS, worries that if something happens to her, her two grandsons will be orphaned again; only this time, they will have no one to care for them.

Makoloti is one of the many grandparents in Lesotho caring for grandchildren who have lost their parents — typically to chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. According to USAID estimates, there are over 350,000 orphans in Lesotho, and more than half are due to the loss of a parent to HIV/AIDS.

To reach the most vulnerable in Lesotho, like Makoloti and those affected by HIV/AIDS and climate change, BRAC is working with the country’s Ministry of Social Development to design a national Graduation model. The model will help extreme poor families gain better access to jobs and self-employment opportunities that increase their quality of life over time — so that women like Makoloti never have to choose between feeding and educating their grandchildren again.

October 18: Today, Ruth from the Philippines shares her story.

Ruth and her husband, Mario, along with five children, used to live below the Philippines’ national poverty threshold, on just over $1 a day. The World Bank classifies anyone living below $1.90 a day as extreme poor.

Ruth joined two programs led by the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) that changed her life: the Ruth is a beneficiary of two programs led by the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD): the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a program that provides a monthly stipend to families, like Ruth’s, that live in extreme poverty with children under 18 and the Sustainable Livelihoods Program, which provides business management training as well as funding, to micro-entrepreneurs like Ruth.

With her family’s food and education needs supported by the government, Ruth was able to invest the starter money and open a small sari sari store (convenience store) in Talisay, a small city in the Philippines. Today, Ruth’s income from the store and Mario’s salary as an ambulance driver meet their family’s basic needs. They no longer struggle to get by.

Photo Credit: BRAC

But Ruth and Mario are not alone. Sadly, more than a quarter of the population of the Philippines falls below the country’s national poverty threshold.

To help these families, and offer holistic and comprehensive support to the extreme poor, DSWD, with the support of the Asian Development Bank and technical guidance from BRAC, is launching a Graduation pilot in early 2018.

The pilot will incorporate BRAC’s Graduation approach, complementing the country’s existing social protection programs to create opportunities for women like Ruth to do more than just get by. Long-term, the goal is to help families like Ruth’s graduate into sustainable livelihoods and become self-sufficient.

October 17: On International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Haimanti from Bangladesh shares her story.

“There was a time when my sister-in-law would dominate me. I had no power, no say in financial matters. My husband’s income was so low that we couldn’t buy new clothes for our children during the holidays,” Haimanti said.

When Haimanti came to BRAC’s workshop for the first time, she was extremely shy.

“She was inside of herself. She was scared,” another program participant recalled.

Photo Credit: BRAC/Emily Coppel

As a member of BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) program, Haimanti received one cow, one goat, and a $123 grant to cover the costs to start her own business. She also received technical training and one-on-one mentoring and support.

Through the TUP program, Haimanti learned modern livestock management care, how to manage her finances, and strategies to grow her business. In just two years, she has nearly doubled her assets — her cow is now pregnant, and she has three goats, 16 chickens, and ten pigeons.

With her own income and business, Haimanti now earns enough to financially support her family members, which brings her great joy. She is confident and unafraid to talk about her life and experience, even with strangers.

“I am glad that I earned this for myself. It is good for us to start with a small package from BRAC, and then slowly, we grow our assets. It means more this way,” she said. Now that I am in a better position, my sister-in-law no longer looks down on me,” she said.

“And my family is proud of how far I have come.”

October 16: On World Food Day, travel with us to South Sudan

Photo Credit: BRAC

From April 2013 to September 2015, BRAC designed and implemented a Graduation pilot in South Sudan to help people rebuild their lives after the armed conflict.

The pilot focused on 240 extremely poor homes in Yei county that were run by women. Many of the ultra poor women were refused basic rights, blocked from accessing health care and other government-provided resources, and denied the skills or tools needed to develop their own jobs or sources of income.

Most of the women were child mothers, HIV-positive, women with disabilities, or women caring for orphaned, disabled, or out-of-school children.

After joining the Graduation program, they had access to various “wrap-around services” that address basic human needs, like access to food, shelter, and health care. The program also provides an asset, like a goat or a duck, that the women can use to generate an income, and training on how to do so.

Photo Credit: BRAC

The women also received jackfruit and avocado saplings and learned how to grow and tend the trees. They sold the fruits and their seeds at market, increasing their families’ food consumption and nutritional intake.

This innovation was particularly important when conflict reemerged six months into the pilot. With hyperinflation and a lack of access to regular markets, money was virtually worthless, and instead the women were able to trade their own product for a variety of others at informal markets.

At the end of the pilot, children were 53 percent less likely to be underweight compared to those of women not in the program.

Even in such a fragile context, the Graduation program strengthened the livelihoods of ultra poor families, and increased their capacity to adapt to long-term shocks and stresses.

October 15: On International Day of Rural Women, meet Franca from Kenya

Photo Credit: BRAC/Upoma Mahbub

Franca Lelenguya (above, right) lives on a secluded hill in Samburu County, Kenya. Ever since they’ve been married, Franca and her husband Francis made spears in their one-bedroom house and sold them for a living. In a good month, they typically sold five spears and earned about $48, which was just enough to feed their four children.

In 2017, Franca joined PROFIT Financial Graduation, a program implemented by the BOMA Project with technical guidance from BRAC. As part of the program, she received seed capital to start a grocery shop and expand her spear business, technical training, coaching, social and health awareness training, savings support, subsidized health insurance, and monthly stipend of $15 delivered through M-pesa. The goal is to provide a holistic and comprehensive intervention.

Only two months into the Graduation program, Franca and her family are already feeling the effects. Since her neighborhood lacks food markets, her small grocery shop is thriving. She is able to be more strategic about when she sells spears in the market. With the additional income, Franca has built a larger house for her family. She also plans to build a pit latrine and start a poultry farm to diversify her income.

For the first time in their lives, feeding their children two meals a day and sending them to school are no longer unattainable goals for Franca and Francis.

Since 2002, BRAC’s Graduation approach has enabled thousands of rural women such as Franca, who are living in the worst forms of destitution, to graduate from ultra poverty into sustainable livelihoods while building resilience to chronic household shocks that block long-term progress. BRAC’s Ultra Poor Graduation Initiative now offers technical assistance and advisory services to various development actors, including governments, to adapt and scale the Graduation approach worldwide.

Creating Opportunity

The latest from BRAC’s work to design and implement cost-effective, evidence-based programs that assist the most marginalized people in extremely poor, conflict-prone, and post-disaster settings.


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World’s largest non-profit organisation, dedicated to empowering people living in poverty around the world.

Creating Opportunity

The latest from BRAC’s work to design and implement cost-effective, evidence-based programs that assist the most marginalized people in extremely poor, conflict-prone, and post-disaster settings.

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