Why is social empowerment crucial for poverty alleviation?

Published on Mon, 05 Sep, 2022


Several programs working on poverty alleviation focus purely on economic interventions to support the ultra-poor households in building a sustainable income. Yet, these interventions were often insufficient to help these households move out of extreme poverty, while other critical psychosocial components for the success of a sustainable escape from poverty, were neglected.

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One of the most evidential and impactful programs targeting extremely poor households, as assessed through multidimensional poverty indicators (MPI) and interventions, is Bab Amal (BA). BA targets 2,267 ultra-poor households, reaching families in Assiut and Sohag (Upper Egypt); where 95% of the participants are female, 66% of participants are illiterate, 8% have no latrine (or another sanitation system), 7% have no access to a water connection and 19% live in inadequate housing conditions. 

BA is the adaptation of the internationally recognized Graduation Approach initiated in 2002 and developed by BRAC organization that Targets the Ultra-poor (TUP). This integrated development approach is founded on multidimensional support, with four pillars of intervention: Social protection, livelihood promotion, financial inclusion, and social empowerment. In this blog, we focus on social empowerment components and how crucial they are to successful and sustainable graduation out of extreme poverty. Watch this video about Adapting the Graduation Approach in Upper Egypt.

Social empowerment

Targeted households face different barriers that include lack of skills and livelihood options, lack of nutritional security, poor health-seeking behavior, poor hygiene and sanitation habits, limited means to access government support, restrictive gender norms in the community and within the family, and fatalistic mindsets with high dependency on cash transfers. 

One of BAs’ program objectives is equipping households with a confident mindset to gain consciousness of their own situation, acquire information, and gain access to public services and benefits of economic growth. Equally as important is BA’s promotion of community inclusion and positive behavioral change especially focusing on women for supporting them to .progressively gain knowledge, skills, money, and participate in decision making 

Life Skills

Life skills as defined by WHO are “abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life ...… a group of psychosocial competencies and interpersonal skills that help people make informed decisions, solve problems, think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, build healthy relationships, empathize with others, and cope with and manage their lives in a healthy and productive manner”. 

Training helps bridge knowledge gaps among households, and develop abilities, moving beyond providing information to promoting mutual communal learning, and interactive participation that allows peer-to-peer experiences exchanges. Participants of the Bab Amal program appreciated being able to engage with other participants in the group sessions, and found life skills topics informative and eye-opening;

 "It gives us an opportunity to go outdoor, meet people, learn new information, participate in the discussion, speak our minds and share experiences, which we have never had" (Said by women beneficiaries of Bab Amal program interventions in Sohag)

Watch this video for more stories from Bab Amal Beneficiaries.

A recent research published in April 2022, provides insights on the results of a Randomized Control Trial (RCT) conducted to test relaxing capital and psychosocial constraints in alleviating extreme poverty among females in Niger. A ‘Psychosocial’ arm adds life-skills training and weaves community sensitization upon aspirations and social norms. The research reveals that psychosocial interventions targeting beliefs, behaviors, skills, and peer relations have shown promising effects on economic behavior and business outcomes. It shows that the group receiving psychosocial interventions was the most cost-effective, highlighting the value of including well-designed psychosocial components in multi-faceted interventions for the extreme poor.


On another hand, coaching sessions process psychological factors such as self-confidence, self-efficacy, and help households build a positive mindset and increase their resilience. Through visiting participants at their houses every two weeks, for 30-40 minutes, to check on their progress, the facilitator helps resolve challenges, observes the uptake of life skills training, provides mentorship, guides on the overall welfare of the family, build trust, and provide tailored support. 

Coaching addresses fatalistic attitudes, and low self-esteem that could be common among the ultra-poor. Moreover, coaching supports learning and behavioral change through encouragement, discipline learning, problem-solving, self-assessment, and leads to building the confidence of ultra-poor families in their ability to change their own circumstances and have a vision for the future.  Best captured in the words of BRAC founder Sir Fazle Hasan:

 “People often don’t realize their own activities can change their lives. Once they understand that, it’s like a light gets turned on.” 

Village Solidary Committee

The Village Solidary Committee (VSC) also plays a key role in engaging and empowering ultra-poor households who often do not have a voice in the community. VSCs also mobilize resources for additional support and helps beneficiaries sustain their social and economic outcomes beyond the end of the program. Beneficiaries meet bi-monthly with the committee to talk about the challenges they face and the committee helps in resolving them. The relationship established between beneficiaries and committee members gives the ultra-poor a platform to be heard and identifies community members able to assist.  


Life skills combined with coaching, work on cognitive and personal abilities. It helps the development of psychosocial skills for dealing with the challenges of everyday life and equipping families with a confident mindset that leads to their success in climbing out of the entrapment of extreme poverty. 

The various aspects of these empowerment activities lead to a sense of internal strength, helping women battle social limitations, providing them with confidence in their right to make choices, and the power to self-determine their own lives.



Thaira Shalan

Thaira, holding Ph.D., is an experienced professional with 20 years of experience in socio-economic research, strategic planning, poverty alleviation programs, and Human/child Rights for programming. Works in SFSD since 2016, and she is the Bab Amal Program Manager for ultra-poor graduation. Before joining SFSD, Thaira was program director for the Arab Council for Childhood & Development, and before that the head of Child Protection at UNICEF. Contact Thaira at: tshalan@sawirisfoundation.org