Trickle Up: Effective Altruism

Trickle Up: Effective Altruism

October 8, 2022 | Author: Annie Chapin, Business Development Officer/Grant Writer, Trickle Up

The trend towards effective altruism argues for a high level of monitoring and evaluation, and backing
charitable dollars with hard data analytics that conveys high impact. This approach, however, fails to
account for the nuance of less-measurable outcomes and the time frame in which impact unfolds.
Does prevalent use of short-term interventions curtail long-term investment in sustainable solutions?
Teaching a person to fish, to use a common analogy, is more expensive, takes longer, and is tougher to
measure than simply giving them a fish would be. Few, however, would argue that giving away fish is the better solution.


The economic disruptions of lockdowns and market closures of the COVID-19 pandemic have had
severe effects on poor populations over the last two-plus years, particularly in low-income countries
where the economic impact on livelihoods has compounded the human toll. While there has been an
overall decline in poverty over the past 20 years, an estimated 97 million more people fell into extreme
poverty due to the pandemic, which is double the expected amount from a business-as-usual scenario.

The war in Ukraine has augmented the economic disruptions of the pandemic, with food insecurity
being driven up by the rising international fuel and food prices, and world hunger levels being on the
verge of crisis. Progress towards the U.N. Sustainable Gains Development Goal 1, “end poverty in all
its forms everywhere” has ebbed, leaving communities fighting to regain lost ground.

In 1979, when Trickle Up’s founders, Millie and Glen Robbins Leet, looked for solutions for the world’s
“poorest of the poor,” they started by providing women with cash transfers of $100 so that they could
invest in their future, effectively ‘giving them fish.’ As argued in our Devex opinion piece, “The case for
teaching women to fish,” while capital is important, Trickle Up and other organizations realized that to
create sustainable change, women needed more than cash. They needed a portfolio of services
including training, coaching, and participation in savings groups. The women that Robbins Leet met
essentially needed to learn how to fish and also how to manage a fishing business. This is the basis of
the Graduation Approach and the focus for organizations such as Trickle Up.

This approach has seen significant success in India, particularly in communities in the Sundargarh
region of Odisha and in the state of Jharkhand, where Trickle Up is currently in its third phase and 7th year of the project titled ‘Mobile Connections to Promote Women’s Economic Development’ (M-Powered),
supported by Tata Communications. M-Powered has succeeded in achieving social inclusion, financial
inclusion, and livelihood creation for 2,800 women and is in the process of scaling to reach an
additional 7,000 participants. By providing smartphones with livelihood training, seed grants, and
access to government schemes, external evaluations have shown that women in the most marginalized and vulnerable groups have been able to successfully graduate from extreme poverty, and the change in their social standing and influence is considerable.

In our Ultra-Poor Market Access (UPMA) project in Balangir District in Odisha, Trickle Up is currently supporting 1,000 women to become “market ready” and gain access to other support provided by government, development agencies, and private service providers to achieve higher and more sustained returns to their livelihoods and to ultimately build resilience to the frequent economic shocks that they experience. This intervention builds on and extends the Graduation approach to deliberately support participants’ skills, knowledge and aspirations.

Throughout our work in India, we have observed that Graduation programs result in fundamental
personal transformation. Many women in our programs speak about their isolation, fears, and
apprehensions prior to participating in a graduation project, and within a few years, they gain confidence and agency, feel solidarity from being part of a group, and have bold goals. There can be no
doubt that these women are transforming their lives and the future of their families and communities.
When women have access to coaching and services, they start to believe in themselves and their
future. They begin to build the resilience and decision-making skills that enable them to effectively
invest in their lives, which can have a sustained impact on intergenerational poverty. In essence,
these women become inspiring fisherwomen who mentor others and help feed their villages.

At Trickle Up, we believe that women are agents of their own transformation. We recognize that capital,
training, and peer group mentoring are critical to sustained impact. Hard data and rigorous monitoring
and evaluation of the cost of inputs might satisfy a more immediate picture of impact, but true and
complete gains are more difficult to quantify. Examples of these are more financial and personal confidence, kids with consistent access to school and food security, and confident women who are proud of their own accomplishments and willing to share with their communities what they know about how to fish.


Annie Chapin is an experienced grant writer and project manager, having worked in both the private and non-profit sectors. She most recently worked as a director at The Development Collective where she designed fund development strategy for non-profits addressing issues including women’s health, education, and food security.