Trickle Up works hard to include people with disabilities in our programs. Given that we focus on working with people living with ultrapoverty, this commitment makes sense. People with disabilities are over-represented among the poorest in the world, and under-represented among development projects worldwide (AusAID estimates that only 3-4% receive any kind of assistance from International Development organizations).
We are proud of our commitment to inclusion and, in 2012, 13% of the households we served had at least one family member with a disability. Our participants include people with disabilities who pursue livelihood activities with TU support and women who support a family member with a disability.
While all TU programming is now inclusive, last year we completed a project in Guatemala to enable 320 people with disabilities to develop livelihood activities, save actively in a group, and learn planning and business skills for the future. We worked together with four community-based NGOs and one municipal government to extend services to people with disabilities in this USAID-funded project. In November, in Guatemala City we held a workshop for partner staff, USAID staff, other funders, government representatives, and disability-focused organizations. TU participants from rural northern villages were invited to attend and share their own experiences of the project with others. One commented, raising his hands, “my life has changed and look how far I’ve come! I never thought I would be here talking to you all!”
We’re pleased to share the lessons from that project in a new publication called Disability, Poverty and Livelihoods, a guide to lessons learned during the project and suggestions for effectively incorporating people with disabilities in livelihood development programs. This is available in English and Spanish. We’ve shared this with economic development practitioners and the disability community.
Next week, on March 3rd, Trickle Up will host No Limits: An Expert Panel on Global Poverty and Disability in New York featuring Judith Heumann, Special Advisor for Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State, Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Coordinator for Disability and Inclusive Development at USAID and Jo Sanson, Trickle Up’s Director of Monitoring, Evaluation and Research. We hope to encourage more economic development and humanitarian organizations to ensure people with disabilities are a part of their work. We hope you’ll join the conversation on Twitter 3/3 from 6:45 to 7:45EST following @TrickleUpNYC and using #nolimits.
UPDATE: Due to severe weather conditions in Washington DC, it is impossible for two of our panelists—Judith Heumann and Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo—to be with us in person for No Limits: An Expert Panel on Global Poverty & Disability, originally scheduled for this evening (3/3) from 6-8 PM. We are postponing the event to May and will be in touch soon with the new date. We hope you will join us then, please stay tuned for details.
Saturday, October 23, 2010: Pete Seeger was playing a benefit at a small church in Greenwich Village, a five-minute walk from my apartment, and it was a thrill to be able see him in such an intimate setting. Frail at age 91, he did a few songs, then turned over the stage to Theodore Bikel for about a half hour. When Pete returned, he introduced a new song by a friend Lorre Wyatt entitled “God’s Counting on Me, God’s Counting on You.”
It was a classic Seeger ballad…and then, about a minute into the song, came this verse:
“It’s time to turn things around
Trickle up, not trickle down
God’s counting on me
God’s counting on you.”
Needless to say, I was elated. As the concert ended, I hoped to have the opportunity to introduce myself and Trickle Up to Pete, a great personal hero of mine. Knowing of his willingness to sing for so many important causes over the years, I had the wild idea that I could persuade him to sing at the next Trickle Up gala.
But he was exhausted by the end of the concert and left immediately. I went home and wrote him a letter, Googled my way to his mailing address in Beacon, New York, and then mailed him my pitch. Weeks passed with no reply. Recalling that he’d performed a few times at the summer camp where my children had gone, I called the camp director and got Pete’s phone number.
Not expecting him to answer the phone, I was startled into near-incoherence when that unmistakable voice came on the line. I introduced myself, burbled on about what an honor it was to talk to him (just the wrong thing to say to a man who defined humility and modesty), and asked if he’s received my letter. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I just wrote to you. Sorry it has taken me so long,” he said. “You have my permission to use the song any way you want, just get Lorre’s permission too, since he wrote it.”
Would it be possible for him to perform at Trickle Up’s gala? He laughed and said his age prevented him from doing many concerts. He wished me luck and, politely but efficiently, hung up.
You can see a video of that October concert at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8Uy8wqov4I. But, if you want to hear a clearer rendition, try this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNKnYnmOTTg. Or this one, with lovely video of Pete: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvnsB_kVNYI
Trickle Up lost a good friend on January 18. Margaret Klein, a board member since 2005, passed away after a long struggle with cancer.
When people ask me in the future what the job of a board member is, I will tell them about Margaret. She cared deeply about our mission. She was always eager to learn about our work and the nature of the poverty we address. She read everything we sent her closely. She asked questions, lots of them. She shared her opinions, lots of them. She encouraged me, sometimes with tough love, always constructive, often giving me a different way to look at a topic or situation. She took the job of being a board member seriously: she attended every board meeting she could and served on three committees (Program, Finance and Executive). She was generous with her own support and always willing to be our champion with friends and colleagues. Once I asked Margaret how she’d define a good board meeting and she replied, “when I leave inspired to go raise money from the next person I meet.”
Most of all, what I appreciated about Margaret was her eagerness to travel to the field to see our work first-hand. I went to India with her three years ago and she also made trips to see Trickle Up programs in Mali and Uganda. Things that seem so logical when you are sitting in a conference room in Manhattan always look different when you’re sitting on the ground in the center of a rural village thousands of miles from home.
Margaret’s spent 20 years, most of her career, as a banker at The Chase Manhattan Bank. Her specialty was helping fix companies whose loans were going bad. She was smart and tough enough to step into those complicated, tense situations and helped save a lot of companies, a lot of jobs, a lot of shareholders’ investments (and, of course, Chase’s loans). She travelled the world for Chase, including a posting in South Africa at the dramatic era when apartheid was ending. She loved to travel and, after our India trip, she continued out to Bhutan. Why Bhutan? “Any country that measures itself by Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product is a place I want to see.”
Margaret graduated from Wellesley College with a BA in Art History. Some of her other non-profit affiliations were The American Museum of Natural History (Advisory Council), Planned Parenthood of New York City (International committee), The Rensselaerville Institute (Trustee & Chair of the Finance Committee) , The Nature Conservancy (International Committee), and Wildlife Conservation Society (Living Institutions and Education Council). She was a passionate reader, always with an interesting book in her bag, and I’ve happily followed many of her book recommendations.
Her encouragement and friendship will be missed by the board and staff of Trickle Up – and the many thousands of women we’ve helped take the first steps out of poverty.
Lant Pritchett, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, recently criticized the United Nations and World Bank goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 for being “too extreme.” Of course, Dr. Pritchett doesn’t oppose eradicating poverty, but rather dislikes the focus on ending extreme poverty because it excludes the poor living on more than a $1.25 per day. As he correctly notes, there is nothing magical about this $1.25 figure, and surely the five billion people who live under $10 per day also deserve the world’s attention. While I agree that there is nothing magical about the $1.25 per day line, I see value in focusing on the poorest of the very poor. And, taking things one step further, there is a particularly vulnerable subgroup within this population that warrants more attention.
What’s more extreme than extreme poverty?
There is a subset of people living in extreme poverty who face social barriers in addition to their econo
mic poverty. These social barriers result in their systematic exclusion and neglect from government services, market opportunities, and foreign assistance. Common causes for this exclusion include gender, ethnicity, social status, and disability, all traits associated with poverty and lack of political voice. Trickle Up refers to this condition as “ultrapoverty”.
Certainly, the international community should focus more explicitly on this intersection of poverty and marginalization rather than an arbitrary dollar-per-day figure. In addition to the systematic opportunity loss described above, the combination of economic need and social barriers creates a challenge that proves resistant to assistance designed for people that face only economic or social barriers. The nature of ultrapoverty carries with it significant implications for program design.
Still, the goal of eradicating extreme poverty is likely better for people living in ultrapoverty than a less “extreme” goal for several reasons. First, the reality that a dollar-per-day metric isn’t a reliable indicator for quality of life doesn’t mean it has no value as an indicator of economic poverty. NGO and government programs often fail to engage the poorest and assist instead those who are less poor. Without proactive targeting, poorer populations will remain underserved. Second, a growing number of NGOs and microfinance institutions have realized that many of their traditional programs are not capable of meeting the needs of the poorest. The goal of eradicating extreme poverty at least prompts the international community to take seriously the targeting and design of programs for the poorest and most marginalized.
Finally, the reality that the dollar-per-day metric isn’t a reliable indicator for quality of life doesn’t mean it has no value as a proxy for social barriers and constraints. Vulnerable populations, such as some scheduled castes in India and people with disabilities everywhere, are overrepresented amongst the poor, and there is some evidence that the deeper the economic poverty, the greater the overrepresentation. Further, evidence and experience suggests that not only are such groups overrepresented amongst the poor, but also left behind by the non-profit and public sectors. The experience of indigenous women in Latin America and people with disabilities everywhere speaks to this exclusion.
Failing to Reach the Poorest and most Vulnerable
This makes sense. People living in ultrapoverty typically live in more remote rural areas and may lack the time, self-confidence, risk tolerance, or trust to show up for community meetings and engage visiting NGO or government workers. In the numbers game of global development, higher per-person costs and specialized interventions are bad business. Taken all together, the evidence and experience at hand suggests that people identified as living on less than a $1.25 per day are more likely to face significant social barriers and to be underserved by development programs. If you want to help the most marginalized and excluded, identifying the poorest is a good way to start.
In a perfect world, I, like Dr. Pritchett, would prefer a goal less focused on the dollar-per-day figure, and more focused on the populations that are traditionally marginalized and excluded. My primary concern is that people living in ultrapoverty not again be left off the agenda. Sadly, we have little reason to believe development programs will make the extra effort without some impetus.
In summary, yes the $1.25 target is arbitrary and an imperfect proxy for economic need and social barriers. Still the eradication of extreme poverty requires the international community to engage populations it has often neglected. If we are to follow Dr. Pritchett’s lead and instead shift our attention upward to higher living standards, I fear that once again the poorest and most vulnerable will be left behind.
 I would note that this subject would benefit from greater academic attention. Trickle Up is actually in the midst of a consultation process in the areas where we work to better understand the relationship of poverty and social constraints and we look forward to sharing our findings.
 Of course, it is not perfect. Measuring the economic poverty of people with disabilities, for example, can be difficult and contentious.
Trickle Up lost a good friend this week. Peter Workman, a generous donor since 2004, died of brain cancer at the age of 74.
We often tell the stories of Trickle Up participants but rarely share the stories of those who make our work possible. So I want to take a moment to tell you about Peter, whom I first met in 2001 when his company published my wife’s book about philanthropy, “Rambam’s Ladder.” When I joined Trickle Up, I was delighted to see that Peter had become a supporter via an introduction from our board member Alan Patricof.
Peter was an entrepreneur who founded the highly successful Workman Publishing Co. Chances are that you may have read at least one of their books, such as “What To Expect When You are Expecting,” “Brain Quest,” a Sandra Boynton children’s book, “Water for Elephants” or one of their dozens or calendars or cookbooks. It was always a treat to visit Peter at his office, both for the genuine interest he took in Trickle Up and his invitation to take as many books as I’d like.
Peter also was a man who cared deeply about justice and expanding opportunity for those who weren’t born into it. Among the causes he supported were Goddard-Riverside Community Center, Prep for Prep, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU. The cause that was closest to his heart was David Workman Grant Program at his alma mater Deerfield Academy. In memory of his younger brother, Peter established the program to help students fund and implement their own humanitarian projects.
In October 2007, Peter invited me to come with him to Deerfield to meet with the students, talk about Trickle Up and perhaps inspire one or more to make service an important part of their lives. It was a three-hour drive each way. Peter sometimes came off as a bit of absent-minded professor, and I was a bit nervous about spending that much time with someone who had been only a casual acquaintance. The ride turned out to be a most memorable day, which he extended towards the end of the trip as we approached City Island. Unexpectedly, he pulled toward the exit lane and asked, “Want to stop for a lobster and a beer?” Even after hearing my presentation to his students and a lot of conversation during the ride to and from Deerfield, he spent most of our meal asking about Trickle Up and talking about public service.
You can read about Peter’s life at: http://www.workman.com/blog/2013/04/peter-workman-10191938-472013/
Trickle Up is fortunate to have people like Peter join us in our work.
“We’ve started using the river’s water for agriculture. The river has been there forever but we didn’t use it for our fields. Our Field Worker didn’t give us the river, but he did give us the knowledge to use it for cultivation.”
For women like Saro Mandi, who lives in Purulia District of West Bengal in India, change comes in small but meaningful increments. Her tiny plot of land once provided paddy for the family for 3 months; now with better irrigation she also grows a vegetable crop to sell for cash. A cash crop means she can invest in livestock to grow her asset base and save weekly. Weekly savings meetings bring her together with friends from her Self-Help Group–Cholagora Licher Sarna–ultrapoor women like Saro who are now making big changes in their community.
Incremental and meaningful change is the key to success in Trickle Up’s program. However, not everyone is successful, and variation in performance occurs both at the individual level and between self-help groups. Understanding the reasons for variations in performance is critical to improving program design and implementation.
While individual circumstance and luck play a role, the quality of livelihood planning processes, relationships with field workers, and group dynamics all appear to be at least as important. A combination of factors are required to foster the virtuous cycles necessary for people in ultra-poverty to confront the multiple barriers they face in building sustainable livelihoods. These barriers include limited financial and productive assets along with weak social capital and limited technical skills. They also include the social and psychological legacy of livelihood strategies that are largely oriented to meeting survival needs, resulting in a low capacity to absorb risk and envisage a viable trajectory out of poverty.
When virtuous cycles are triggered participants, their fellow group members, and field workers are rewarded, building motivation and fostering close, supportive relationships and more positive outcomes. However, the opposite can also occur, and a lack of initial success can undermine motivation and de-incentivize engagement, particularly if livelihood planning processes fail to result in a full sense of ownership over activities.
“When a Single Path Diverges: Learning from Trickle Up’s Livelihood Program,” by Jo Sanson and Jui Gupta and published by ACCESS Development Services for the Sitaram Rao Livelihoods India Case Study Compendium 2012, explores lessons from Trickle Up’s experience in Purulia through the experiences of two different groups of women: one that performed well and one that performed poorly.
Read the full case study: When a Single Path Diverges: Learning from Trickle Up’s Livelihood Program
Women receive weekly coaching support from Field Workers who help them think to the future, find new strategies for earning money and facilitate their progress out of poverty. Read this CGAP – Consultative Group to Assist the Poor blogpost by Janet Heisey for how we’re learning more about effective coaching.