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Trickle Up featured on!

June 19, 2014


Today,  Trickle Up is featured in the homepage’s Make a Difference section! visitors are invited to read the story of Trickle Up participant Sushila Phulbargia, mother of three daughters and a son in Orissa, India. Through Sushila’s story, visitors learned how moms living in extreme poverty can build bright new futures for themselves and their families through Trickle Up’s unique development program. is an internationally viewed website attracting millions of engaged daily visitors. The Make a Difference section is part of‘s commitment to raise awareness for non-profit organizations and empower users to learn, share and connect with causes. Trickle Up is featured on the site the entire day, reaching AOL’s users and raising awareness about extreme poverty among women living on less than $1.25 a day in Central America, West Africa, India and the Middle East.


Thirty-fifth Anniversary Gala Honors CGAP, Raises Over $800K

April 18, 2014
Cipriani Wall Street

Click photo to launch Flickr photo album

Trickle Up hosted more than 300 guests and raised more than $800,000 at its thirty-fifth anniversary Gala on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at Cipriani Wall Street. The gala honored the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), recipient of Trickle Up’s 2014 Leet Humanitarian Award, accepted by CGAP CEO Tilman Ehrbeck.

Since it was founded in 1979, Trickle Up has been a pioneer in global poverty alleviation, helping people living in extreme poverty to build sustainable livelihoods. By providing a seed capital grant, training and savings support, Trickle Up helps participants develop the skills and confidence they need to take their first transformative steps out of poverty by building sustainable livelihood that improve quality of life for them and their families.

In presenting the award, Trickle Up board member Reshmi Paul noted, “CGAP established an ambitious and innovative strategy to help bring programs like ours to scale so that we can share our knowledge and experience widely around the globe. That is why we salute CGAP and its CEO Tilman Ehrbeck here tonight.”

In accepting the Leet Award, Mr. Ehrbeck said, “The Graduation Program is built around the same underlying philosophy – when given the opportunity, the poorest take destiny into their own hands and can build pathways out of extreme poverty.”

The Leet Humanitarian Award is named for Glen and Mildred Robbins Leet who founded Trickle Up in 1979. It is presented annually to those who’ve made exemplary contributions to the achievement of Trickle Up’s mission to eradicate poverty in its most extreme form by reaching the poorest and most vulnerable people living in extreme poverty. Past recipients of the award have included venture capitalist and former Trickle Up board member Alan J. Patricof, corporate partner Newton Running and the Lee family, and Trickle Up board member Wendy Gordon Rockefeller.

CGAP’s mission is to improve the lives of poor people by spurring innovations and advancing knowledge and solutions that promote responsible, sustainable, inclusive financial markets. CGAP is a global partnership of 34 leading organizations that seeks to advance financial inclusion. Housed at the World Bank, CGAP combines a pragmatic approach to responsible market development with an evidence-based advocacy platform to increase access to the financial services the poor need to improve their lives. Trickle Up’s work has been supported by the CGAP-Ford Foundation Graduation Program.

The Leet Humanitarian Award is named for Glen and Mildred Robbins Leet who founded Trickle Up in 1979. It is presented annually to those who’ve made exemplary contributions to the achievement of Trickle Up’s mission to eradicate poverty in its most extreme form by reaching the poorest and most vulnerable people living in extreme poverty. Past recipients of the award have included venture capitalist and former Trickle Up board member Alan J. Patricof, corporate partner Newton Running and the Lee family, and Trickle Up board member Wendy Gordon Rockefeller.

Fighting Poverty through Partnership: Our new Alliance with UNHCR

March 27, 2014

As part of Trickle Up’s ongoing work to support people living in ultrapoverty to lead full and productive lives, Trickle Up is now helping other organizations to include marginalized and vulnerable populations in their programs and use the tools of economic strengthening to help better their lives.

UNHCR Graduation Pilots Newsletter

Click to read the first newsletter

We are delighted to join with Dr. Syed Hashemi of BRAC University to offer technical assistance to a variety of organizations and to share with them the lessons from the CGAP-Ford Foundation Graduation Program ( Dr. Hashemi co-initiated the Graduation Program, which is a global effort to understand how safety nets, livelihoods, and microfinance can be sequenced to create pathways for the poorest to graduate out of extreme poverty, adapting a methodology used by BRAC in Bangladesh.

In 2013, we entered into partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which seeks to modify the Graduation Approach to suit the unique needs of the refugee and asylum seeker population it serves. With support from Trickle Up, UNHCR has launched projects in Cairo, Egypt and San José, Costa Rica  and will soon start a third in Ecuador.

UNHCR has published the first newsletter to launch this exciting new initiative.


Ending Poverty for Everyone: Disability Inclusion in Development

February 27, 2014
A group of participants with disability outside Rabinal in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, hold a Village Savings and Lending group meeting. Julia, in the foreground, hosts meetings because paths in her village are difficult to traverse in a wheelchair.

A group of participants with disability outside Rabinal in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, hold a Village Savings and Lending group meeting. Julia, in the foreground, hosts meetings because paths in her village are difficult to traverse in a wheelchair.

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!”

Click to read the full manual

Click to read the full manual

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.


The Day Pete Seeger Sang About Trickle Up

January 28, 2014

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:  But, if you want to hear a clearer rendition, try this one:  Or this one, with lovely video of Pete:

Remembering Margaret Klein

January 28, 2014

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.”

Margaret Klein

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.

Why Extreme Poverty isn’t Extreme Enough

November 5, 2013

DSC01942Lant 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.[1] 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

  • In India, barely half of the poorest households had the Below Poverty Line card needed for government services, while 18% of the richest quintile had one.
  • A study in Bangladesh revealed NGO programs primarily provided services to moderately poor households, and failed to serve nearly 75 percent of the poorest people in their communities.
  • AusAID estimates development programs reach a mere 3 to 4% of people living with disability. People with disabilities make up 15-20% of the poor.
  • A World Bank study found significant variation in quality of targeting for poverty alleviation programs. 25% of poverty alleviation programs provided even fewer benefits to the poor than the non-poor.
  • The same World Bank study also notes the lack of peer-reviewed studies on down reach: research often fails to even consider whether benefits reach the poorest and most vulnerable, instead treating the poor as a homogeneous group.

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.[2]

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.

[1] 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.

[2] Of course, it is not perfect.  Measuring the economic poverty of people with disabilities, for example, can be difficult and contentious.


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