The Challenge

Even with a job, 8% of the world’s workforce still live in extreme poverty. For many families working towards economic stability, a health scare or a poor harvest may leave them unable to cope. The same is true for whole communities when faced with a natural disaster or political instability. Many in this situation will cycle back below the poverty line and lack the education, training, and capital to weather the shock. This can make any efforts to raise their standard of living a zero-sum game. 

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The Graduation Approach

The Graduation model was developed in 2002 by the Bangladeshi NGO, Building Resources Across Communities (now known as BRAC). Developed as a “targeted, time-bound, holistic, and sustainable” approach to breaking the cycle of poverty, Graduation takes a multi-pronged approach to giving families the education, training, and funding they need to achieve financial independence. 

In other words, the program helps participants to “graduate” out of extreme poverty — once and for all.  

The Graduation program offers an integrated and intensive package of support over a period between 18 months and three years. This support is usually sequenced, beginning with finding the right families to participate in each region and village where we work. (Even in a community where everyone is living at or below the poverty line, there are still families with less who are often marginalized and excluded from resources and opportunities as a result.)

Graduation participant Olipa Ningabiye reviews her notebook where she recorded her revenue-generating activities with her mentor. Commune Mugina, Burundi (Photo: Irene Nduwayezu)

How it Works

First, Concern provides participating families with regular cash grants to help cover their basic needs and to build financial resilience as they move through the program. Next, we work with participants to develop basic business skills, including managing home finances. Our goal is to help them plan out their livelihoods and find a vocation based on their skills and passions. We then enhance that plan with technical and entrepreneurial skills trainings. 

When they have the knowledge they need for the work they’re keen to do, we work with them to develop a business plan. They are then eligible for capital grants, low-interest loans, or fixed assets. 

Finally, one of the key factors in the success of the Graduation model is regular mentorship and monitoring. Concern teams working with Graduation participants spend much of their time listening, advising, and encouraging as families move from having a safety net to having a sustainable livelihood. 

Mother and daughter at home in Malawi

Graduation participant Stawa James of Malawi increased her harvest yields after gaining conservation agriculture skills through the program. Her daughter Laisa (left) has been able to go to school thanks to the now-steady income, and hopes to become a doctor. (Photo: Kieran McConville)

An Integrated Approach

Concern’s multidimensional Graduation approach has tackled some of the relevant issues in communities, including gender discrimination. In January 2017, we began a tailored 5-year program that fosters a community-wide approach to addressing problems that affect all poor people in a community, transforming thousands of lives and creating opportunities for Malawi’s next generation of young men and women.

In Ethiopia, our integrated livelihoods program, which uses a Graduation approach to building both financial and food security, reached over 51,000 people in South Wollo and Wolayita in just the last year. A survey conducted in 2019 showed that participants were in a much more secure position since the start of the program in 2017. The amount of livestock households owned grew from an average of 1.7 animals to 11.5 animals, and 97% of households reported being able to save cash regularly. 

Ethiopan couple

Workitt Kassaw Ali, who, along with her husband, Ketamaw, joined Concern’s ReGrade program, based on the graduation model, in 2017. The couple now have a flock of 11 sheep and an ox, and plan to build a new home with their savings though the local Savings and Credit Coop (SACCO).

Graduation by the Numbers

Between 2017 and 2021 alone, Concern has seen success with the Graduation model in the following countries: 


22,400 people reached in the Cibitoke, Bubanza, and Kirundo provinces

Democratic Republic of Congo

6,000 people reached in Tanganyika Province


28,170 people reached in South Wollo, Amhara Region, and Wolayta


7,000 people reached in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince


14,680 people reached in the Nsanje and Mangochi Districts


9,800 people reached in Gisagara District, Southern Province

And that’s in just five years. Your tax-deductible gift to Concern allows us to reach more families with programs like Graduation, which give them the tools and guidance they need to change their lives — for good. 

Research from the Graduation Model

Impact Evaluations

Graduation research in Rwanda was designed to assess changes in key indicators over time and the sustainability of these changes. Research in Burundi was designed to look at whether certain aspect so the program are more effective than others — especially the coaching component, which is often seen as the X-factor that makes the difference between success and failure.

Qualitative Research: Rwanda

Following impact evaluations in Rwanda and Burundi (2012-2016), several topics were identified for further investigation. These reports were designed to build on initial evaluations.

Qualitative Research: Burundi

Following impact evaluations in Rwanda and Burundi (2012-2016), several topics were identified for further investigation. These reports were designed to build on initial evaluations.

Journal Articles & Reports