Cause for celebration! How Kenya’s first ever County Poverty Graduation Policy was born…
BY ALEX REES
West Pokot endures the fourth highest level of extreme poverty in Kenya. In January 2020, representatives from the County Government met with Wasafiri advisors and poverty graduation specialists Village Enterprise (VE) to discuss new approaches to tackle the problem. Just nine months later the County Governor, H.E Prof. John Krop Lonyangapuo, officially signed Kenya’s first ever County Poverty Graduation Policy. This remarkable example of collective action is a significant boost in the effort to enable Kenya’s poorest to transition out of poverty. And it begs some questions worthy of deeper examination;
Why is this so important?
How was this achieved so quickly – despite devastating local flooding AND a global pandemic?
What happens next?
Four reasons Kenya’s first poverty graduation policy is so important
First, it demonstrates collective leadership in tackling extreme poverty at scale in Kenya. It is the country’s first formal endorsement of an approach that has been proven to work in number of countries. Approaches such as these are especially important when such a high percentage of the population live in extreme poverty.
In cases such as West Pokot, where the proportion is an extraordinarily high 26%, an opportunity exists for lasting change at genuine scale. The key to this approach lies in improving how the many social and economic inclusion programmes operated by the county government work in concert to deliver a package of assistance to extremely poor households. It is this coordinated layering and concentration of support that makes the poverty graduation approach so successful.
The policy is also important because it makes explicit for the first time the County’s legislative priorities to realize the results sought by the policy. The new laws will commit the government to sufficient planning, resourcing and reporting – all vital measures to increase accountability for delivery and for enabling implementation. The legislation has also adopted widely accepted best practices for working with poor populations by increasing the visibility and voice of the county’s most vulnerable.
Third, the policy offers new ways for government and development partners to meaningfully collaborate, particularly in accessing and distributing the financial resources required to apply these approaches at scale for hitherto underserved and marginalised populations. We anticipate West Pokot to be a successful test case, a model of locally-owned partnership demonstrating new opportunities for replication beyond the county.
Fourth, it is the first ever county policy in Kenya to tackle the issue of extreme poverty. As such, it establishes an important model for other county governments to emulate. Till now, poverty graduation assistance has traditionally been provided by aid agencies funded by international donors. As such, this policy represents a breakthrough in terms of local governance and sustainable funding derived from county and/or national revenue streams.
Progress has been remarkable – why?
To conceive and approve the policy in nine months is all the more remarkable given the context: widespread flooding, landslides, the massive disruption of Coronavirus and very little institutional familiarity with poverty graduation policy or programming.
Among such turbulence, a vital ingredient of success was a systems-based approach; Systemcraft. Systemcraft is Wasafiri’s framework for helping organisations drive change at scale. It draws from our experience tackling problems such as conflict, inclusive growth and climate change, and builds from a wide body of systems-thinking. It’s designed to unlock new ideas and approaches, and to help leaders answer: ‘So what do I do next?’ when faced with messy, complex problems such as extreme poverty.
What we did next, at least initially, was a lot of listening to deeply understand the landscape, the political economy, the nature of the problem and the system that drove it. Our early interventions focussed on establishing collective understanding, direction, capacity and will among county officials. But the real ‘secret sauce’ of our approach lay in how we nurtured the relationships vital for genuine collaboration, for instance by;
- Engaging officials early in the design of the concept;
- Ensuring a diverse set of perspectives were heard; politicians, technocrats, community; and by building a common understanding of the problem and possible responses;
- Building on a deep understanding of the devolved government system and its ways of working to create a locally-owned workplanning process;
- Maintaining senior sponsorship throughout by ensuring the views of the Governor and his office were regularly sought;
- Building real government ownership by facilitating a visit to present the plans to counterparts at the Kakamega County Government.
(Things are never straightforward however; an unexpected county cabinet re-shuffle at a critical juncture threatened the development of the policy, however the foundations that had been laid over the preceding months proved vital for derailing the exercise).
What happens next?
It’s critical the momentum is capitalised upon. Now that the Poverty Graduation Policy for West Pokot County is in place, the priority is to ensure the policy has the support and resourcing it needs to be implemented at scale. These efforts will include:
- Increasing awareness and support for the policy. We will be supporting the County Government to engage widely to broaden support for the approach – with civil society, faith-based groups, local business and community representatives. A sessional paper will be drafted and put forward to the County Assembly to potentially unlock financing for the coming year, and to widen political support.
- Strengthening management information systems. We will be helping improve the County Government’s capability to analyse the context as it evolves, target, track and monitor its efforts to support extremely poor families as implementation takes effect.
- Showcasing the policy and supporting its replication nationwide. Lessons will be harvested from the process and shared among government and organisations advancing poverty graduation nationwide. These will include those involved in Kenya’s Social and Economic Inclusion Programme (KSEIP) which tackles extreme poverty in five of Kenya’s poorest counties.
Beyond these steps however, we’ll be remaining agile and prepared to adapt to a context that continues to change quickly and unpredictably. Throughout this process we’ve been inspired by the vision and commitment of West Pokot’s County Government, and stand ready to support other Counties that see the potential for themselves and their people. Onwards!
Written by Alex Rees, George Ndungu and Clare Gardner
We are most grateful to the leadership of the West Pokot County Government, the partnership of Village Enterprise and the financial support of the Open Society Funding’s Economic Justice Programme. Together, we have helped achieve a critical milestone in what we hope is the first on a journey for Kenya to eradicate extreme poverty and achieve its Vision 2030.