An Early Evaluation of BRAC’s New Poor Programme

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, the global economy has been going through a tumultuous period. Bangladesh is no exception. A joint study by the Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) found that 22.9% of the population became “new poor” after the first lockdown. Many of these new poor lived in urban areas and worked in construction, driving, and factory work. In this context, BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) programme initiated the New Poor programme under BRAC’s Economic Recovery Strategy (2021–2022), as a part of a rapid crisis response. BIGD conducted a mixed-method study, a combination of a quantitative quasi-experiment—difference-in-differences (DiD)—and a qualitative focused ethnography. The study reveals that the pandemic’s economic damage influenced programme design and implementation, leading to the use of loans instead of grants. Key learnings include UPG staff’s expertise in targeting the ultra-poor and the importance of trust in risk management. 

Researchers: Dr Imran Matin; Dr Narayan Das; Nusrat Jahan; Mohima Gomes; Nabila Tahsin; Tanvir Shatil 

Partners: BRAC UPG

Timeline: 2022

Status: Completed

Contact: Mohima Gomes;



Due to Covid-19, many vulnerable non-poor in Bangladesh—those whose income was above the national poverty line but below the median income before the pandemic—descended below the poverty line, causing an estimated 22.9% of the country’s population to become ‘new poor’ after the first lockdown in June (Rahman et. al, 2020). Helping the new poor to get back on their feet thus required urgent, focused intervention. In this context, BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) programme initiated the New Poor programme under BRAC’s Economic Recovery Strategy (2021–2022), as a part of a rapid crisis response. The programme’s key objective was to provide timely, targeted economic recovery support through business planning support and loans to the new poor. 


BIGD collaborated with BRAC UPG to conduct a mixed-method study. The key objective of the study was to evaluate the impact of the programme and document its learnings. Under the overarching objective, the study investigated the targeting effectiveness, impact, and integration process of the new poor with BRAC Microfinance (BRAC MF).

This study is relevant to SDG 1 (no poverty), and more specifically, extreme poverty reductions.


This research employed a mixed-method approach. The programme selected 120,134 households in the 2021 cohort—of whom 81,344 (68%) participated in the programme—and disbursed about BDT 35.9 crore in loan support to the participating households in 227 branches across 35 districts (where UPG was already active) within six months. The study combined a quantitative quasi-experiment with a focused ethnography. The main objective of the quantitative method was to capture the impact and evaluate the targeting effectiveness of the programme. The qualitative method was used to explore the rationale of the programme strategies, document the implementation processes, and develop a nuanced understanding of the impact. The findings of the qualitative and quantitative methods have been blended to develop a richer understanding of the intervention and identify the key learnings.

Findings and Recommendations  

The study finds that the context—the nature of the economic damage caused by the pandemic—was well-aligned with the programmatic assumptions and had clearly influenced the programme design and some implementation action plans. It provided loans instead of grants, focusing on livelihood diversification, women’s involvement in income-generating activities, and integration with microfinance to enhance resilience. Findings show that targeting was effective, as the programme successfully identified households with 40% or a greater income or asset loss, and using FGDs improved participant selection rates.

While the programme had a positive impact on key economic outcomes, such as increased per capita income and productive asset values, there was a 32% non-take-up rate, possibly due to factors like loan conditions. About 58% of participants continued to take loans from BRAC MF after the programme, with some participants expressing disinterest in future financing from BRAC MF.

Qualitative findings showed positive experiences among programme staff and participants. UPG staff’s experience and empathy played a crucial role. Key learnings included the importance of staff skill sets in targeting and coaching, building trust, and maintaining a high loan repayment rate of 96%.