Friday, August 31, 2012

Happiness up, poverty down as project targets poorest

There was plenty of encouraging information shared at the recent “Reaching the Poorest 2012” meeting, convened by CGAP and the Ford Foundation. Together with my fellow researchers, I was among the panelists who presented the findings of well over five years worth of randomized control trials evaluating the impact of the Graduation Model. 
The projects that were evaluated in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Honduras and India showed an impact on the livelihoods of the poorest that were targeted. The results were mostly heartening – they showed that Graduation Program participants typically improved their food security, stabilized and diversified income, and increased their assets.
The benefits we’re seeing in the lives of the poorest are big and important. The results are strong evidence that the Graduation Model can work. (We’ll know even more in a couple years when we have full results from seven pilots, with more sites and longer term results to see if results sustain themselves.) 
One of the most intriguing, and I believe important, results is the simplest: happiness went up in the two sites where “happiness” was measured (Honduras and West Bengal).  As part of the surveys to measure the impact of the program on their livelihoods, participants were also asked a series of questions on their general level of happiness and mental health. Often we talk about consumption and income as a measure of wellbeing.
But sometimes the story is more complicated: income may go up, but leisure activity down. Consumption may go up now, but at the expense of future consumption (e.g., through borrowing). This makes it more complicated to assess welfare, without simply assuming that individuals choose what is best for them, so a change is by definition good as long as the prior choice was still available to the participant.
“Happiness” gets at the issue more directly, albeit in a less tangible way (e.g. we show people five simple drawings of faces, from very sad to very happy, and ask them to identify which one corresponds to their overall personal satisfaction, and we also ask more specific yet still quite broad questions, such as whether they never, sometimes, or often cry or feel sad).
But the program did not always work. Not everything came out roses. Some programs (Pakistan and West Bengal) had more impact than others (Honduras) and some had little to impact (Andhra Pradesh), compared to their respective control groups. But there is no such thing as a failed pilot, unless one chooses to ignore the results rather than draw learning from them.
Read more here.

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