Operationalising SDC’s Poverty Focus in Bangladesh


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Operationalising SDC’s Poverty Focus in Bangladesh

December 2017 / Jane Stevens, Communications Officer, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

'Poverty' and its alleviation lie at the core of SDC's mandate and therefore is the key objective of SDC's engagement in Bangladesh. Since late 2013, SDC Bangladesh has been working to raise awareness among staff and partners about poverty (and related concerns, such as inclusion), and to assess how it monitors its interventions. Since 2014, when SDC Bangladesh started to report annually on how many people living with poverty were addressed through its interventions, it became clear that partners needed additional guidance to identify, target, monitor and measure the effects of their activities in relation to poor and disadvantaged people. In 2016, an exercise was therefore undertaken by SDC Bangladesh and its partners with the following objectives:

  • To arrive at a common meaning of poverty, so that SDC staff and partners all refer to the same issues when they talk about poverty and related concepts of marginalisation and disadvantage
  • To ensure strategies for tackling poverty are hardwired into the SDC and partners' theory of change
  • To strengthen the capacity of SDC partners to monitor their interventions and set specific targets to reach the poor and disadvantaged ensuring that reflection and adjustment on whether this is happening is built into the process



Collaboration with IDS

The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) facilitated this process in order to meet SDC's aims. This was organised through the SDC Quality Assurance and Poverty Reduction Section's collaboration with IDS on Poverty, Politics and Participatory Methodologies (click here for more information). Naomi Hossain, a fellow at IDS, worked with a Bangladeshi consultant and the SDC Bangladesh team. She:

  • reviewed key documents and met SDC staff in local government, skills development, market development domains
  • met with partners implementing eight projects, including management and M&E teams, to discuss
  1. how they understood poverty, who they worked with, why and how, and
  2. how they track and measure their impacts across the results chain


  • undertook a brief field visit to see two projects in Rajshahi, including discussions with local government officials, project beneficiaries, stakeholders and project field staff
  • conducted a short exercise to explore how partners were using the SDC Bangladesh poverty concept, its advantages, shortcomings and suggestions for amendments.



The study concluded that the concept of poverty being used in SDC Bangladesh successfully operationalises both a common meaning of poverty and a theory of change. Understandably however, not all partners had an equally strong or common grasp of poverty as a multidimensional and dynamic concept rooted in power relations. This collaborative study and the ensuing report helped improve the common understanding of what poverty is and how it fits into theories of change.  The study's concept of poverty has three parts:

  1. The SDC works to improve the wellbeing of people who experience material (or economic) poverty from low incomes and low assets, but also gender and other forms of discrimination, social and political exclusion, a lack of voice & recognition, exploitation in markets, or lack of protection against the kinds of shocks and disasters that people in particular parts of Bangladesh frequently face. The chronically disadvantaged are thus the economically poor who are also women; people living in remote/climate change-affected areas;- members of ethnic, religious or social groups who are excluded or politically powerless; people excluded from rights & services because of disability, health status, sexual orientation or gender identity.
  2. These multiple disadvantages often interlock in the form of social and spatial marginalisation, to keep people poor or push them into poverty even under conditions of broad-based growth and progress on human development.
  3. The rationale for working with these chronically disadvantaged people is to change market, social and political relations (or conditions) to be more inclusive and pro-poor; if these relations (or conditions) do not change, these people risk being pulled further into poverty or stuck in poverty.


The work also highlighted how gendered disadvantage is present in each and every social, political and economic relationship: essentially embedded in the fabric of Bangladeshi society. This means that women or gender relations cannot be 'targeted' for programming in quite the same way that minority ethnic or climate change-affected groups can be. This requires somewhat deeper and wider gender analysis to be mainstreamed throughout the conceptualisation of poverty and how gender influences the theory of change.



How did this accompaniment help the SDC in strengthening its poverty focus in Bangladesh?


How useful was the accompaniment for the elaboration of the new Bangladesh CS?


What was the most difficult challenge you faced and how did you overcome this challenge?


What is the key message of the Briefing Note you wrote?


The  Briefing Note is based on the study and provides information on how SDC Bangladesh conceptualises, targets, monitors and measures poverty. 


What was the added value of IDS?

SDC Bangladesh lead for this work, Melina Papageorgiou, described the collaboration as 'very valuable and useful'.  The SDC Bangladesh team had already undertaken internal reflection and had drafted a first concept of poverty which was seen as an important step before the work with IDS got underway. 

The IDS consultant, Naomi Hossain, who was matched to this accompaniment, has a long experience of living and working in Bangladesh and understood the context and complexities of SDC's work. She was hence able to slot into the study easily and efficiently. Her expertise was particularly useful in the 'conceptualisation' process where the team and partner's understanding of poverty was reviewed in depth and adjustments to the original design were made as a result.  

Naomi was also able to challenge the idea that large, quantitative research processes are always necessary. She demonstrated to SDC staff and partners how small, inclusive participatory methodologies can be just as, if not more, effective and useful. This encouraged and supported a shift in approaches that was valued by the SDC team and its partners.

Looking to the future, Naomi felt that SDC's conceptualisation of the different kinds of poverty and marginalisation experienced by Bangladeshi people has the potential to be extended. She suggested that operationalising the poverty focus for the SDC and its partners could include learning workshops for new programmes and staff, possibly at the domain level. These could involve collaborative efforts to strengthen conceptualisation and understanding of the issues of poverty and exclusion being addressed through SDC programming, and share good practice with respect to targeting, monitoring and measurement.


Further Information

The offer of this sort of IDS accompaniment is open to all SDC county offices and more general information about what is available is can be found here.  If you are struggling with a concept, exploring new territory, or would simply like the presence of an expert to help you navigate a particular task, please get in touch with Stephanie Guha to discuss your needs: she will be pleased to talk to you and to match you up with someone to accompany you.   



Briefing Note 'Operationalising the poverty focus for Swiss Development Cooperation - Bangladesh'       

 Guidance Note

Briefing Note N° 9 (February 2019)