Using technology to pick out the poorest of the poor

Using technology to pick out the poorest of the poor

Hyderabad: The central and state governments spend thousands of crores of rupees on social security programmes every year, but much of it fails to reach the intended beneficiaries—the poorest of the poor.

To address this challenge, the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (Serp), an agency backed by the Andhra Pradesh government that oversees one million women self-help groups (SHGs), is executing a programme it calls the Poorest of the Poor (PoP) strategy.

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The PoP strategy aims to improve the economic status of the extremely poor among scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) and enable them to generate an additional annual income of at least Rs60,000 over three years.

To achieve this goal, the PoP strategy, launched in March 2010, is using the help of the extensive SHG network in the southern state and information and communication technologies (ICTs).

“We discovered in 2007-08 that a large number of SCs and STs have been left out of this whole process for many reasons. One of the most important reason is that the entry into the SHG itself is sometimes a discriminating factor for these families," said B. Rajsekhar, chief executive of Serp. “Therefore, as a last-mile strategy to ensure that each and every household within the state of Andhra Pradesh is in the mainstream of all the interventions, the PoP strategy was designed."

The use of ICTs is critical given the complexity and magnitude of the project. The government enlisted software services provider Infosys Ltd to build a database and mobile applications.

The technology is Web-enabled and developed in Telugu, the local language.

Serp fed the technology with baseline information collected from 620,000 households by its SHG groups in 22 districts.

The baseline data contained information about PoP family members, including their assets, liabilities and vulnerabilities, along with various government entitlements the family has accessed.

The technology shortlists PoP households and assigns scores to them using predefined criteria. The higher the possession of assets or credit accessed, the better the scores awarded.

Households having land, livestock, vehicles, employment and credit linkages get higher scores and are excluded from the PoP strategy.

To monitor and update information, a dedicated community activist (CA) is assigned for every 100 PoP families. The CA is selected from among the 100 families, paid a monthly Rs1,500-2,000 and provided a mobile phone.

The government has created a PoP Fund to which it has allocated 142 crore to assist beneficiaries.

“To ensure there is no misutilisation, we don’t give cash to them; rather we understand their capabilities and track record and take suggestions from the concerned field-level SHG and CA," Rajsekhar said.

“For example, if a poor ST family is struggling to make ends meet, the SHG may suggest that a buffalo would improve its livelihood. We provide Rs10,000 as credit, but the buffalo may cost Rs20,000; so we scan through various welfare schemes available to STs and figure out from which scheme they can get the balance Rs10,000.

“The concerned SHG will be given the responsibility to hand over the buffalo and the SHG and the CA will do a periodic check on how the asset is utilized," he said.

The government plans to extend the PoP strategy from 620,000 households to three million in a span of four years, including other communities as well.