March 15

Anton Simanowitz

Graduating Out of Extreme Poverty in Haiti … Permanently

A few years ago I led the evaluation of a pilot programme in Haiti designed to move women and their families out of extreme poverty. Permanently. One experience has lived with me. A woman participant showed me her newborn baby, just a few days old. When I admired the baby the woman asked, “Do you want to take it?” Assuming she meant, “Do you want to hold the baby?,” I put out my hands, but the translator quickly stopped me, explaining that she wanted me to take – and keep – the child. There is a well-known term in Haiti, “restavek.” This describes an estimated 300,000 children who live in servitude, given up because their parents can’t feed them. Given this context, the option of life with a rich foreigner is a welcome opportunity.

The return of these children to their families is one indicator in measuring the long-term impacts of Fonkoze’s programme Chemin Lavi Mio (CLM) – translated as the pathway to a better life. Fonkoze is Haiti’s largest microfinance institution, offering a full range of financial and development services to Haiti’s rural poor. This specific program targets women from the bottom 50 percent of families within the 37 percent of people classified as living in extreme poverty. CLM provides support over the course of 18 months through a carefully tailored package of asset transfers, improved housing and sanitation, water filters and, importantly, weekly visits that provide mentoring and guidance. It is one of a number of programmes using the so-called “graduation” model that are causing great excitement in the development community. This growing enthusiasm is in no small part due to rigorous research in showing successful outcomes for the model when applied in six countries.

Last month I returned to Haiti, six years after the end of the pilot. CLM is now a successful programme that has graduated over 5,000 women and their families out of extreme poverty. The pilot succeeded in graduating 97 percent of the participants – a rate that has been maintained. The intervening years have seen a consolidation of the approach, and my impression was of faster and more solid progress. The transformation of the women (and their families) in 18 months is stunning – more so in their attitude to life, confidence and belief in a positive future than just in the material changes. The approach is documented in this video commissioned by the donor consortium CGAP.



After six years of success, Fonkoze seeks to scale the model, finding ways to make the programme more cost-effective and to demonstrate its long-term value. Two questions lie at the core of this ambition: What does it mean to graduate out of extreme poverty?  And what pathways work? A research partnership between IDS (Sussex University) and University of Quisqueya (Haiti) is looking at what works, for whom, when and, most importantly, how sustainable are the positive changes in the lives of the supported women and their families? Can they cope with the multiple health, environmental and other shocks so prevalent in Haiti while maintaining a livelihood that leads to an intergenerational change in poverty?

These are big, ambitious and challenging questions to research. But such technical questions became more simple as we began our conversations. “How many children do you have?” is such an innocuous and unremarkable question. But the manner in which this was answered is both striking and sadly common: “I have given birth to four or five or six children; two or three or four survive.”

Death is a fact of life in Haiti; the meaning behind a simple metric is brought into focus.


Anton Simanowitz


Impact Assessment
poverty alleviation