More than three dozen village agents from seven different communities were gathered at a training hall in Dakrong district in Quang Tri, Vietnam when I arrived there in February. Along with four project officers, the group would spend three days learning about the Progress Out of Poverty Index™ (PPI™).
This training was a first in many ways. Plan Vietnam was launching the PPI with the first Village Savings and Loan Program (VSLP) to use the tool in Vietnam. Started in 2009, Plan Vietnam’s Village Savings and Loan Program was providing financial services to more than 1,100 households in 36 villages after just seven months. Plan was keen to know the poverty levels of the program members and to track changes in these levels before expanding the program to other districts.
Another first: the program is managed by the Women’s Association of Vietnam, an quasi-governmental institution rather than an MFI. And the village agents are residents of the villages where the program operates, rather than loan officers traveling from an institution’s headquarters. For these village agents, the idea of tracking changes in poverty levels was a new concept. The challenge of the training was to help the agents, mostly women with little education and literacy, to understand and use the PPI.
I was doubtful if the agents could understand how to use the PPI to calculate poverty rates, or the number of members below a given poverty line. After having some conversation with the group, I quickly realized that I needed to make the whole training simpler. Tam Le Hoi, the VSLP project leader, and I decided to put more emphasis on hands-on exercises. The simplicity of the PPI itself, and its credible origins, did the rest.
For example, once they learned that the PPI was constructed from the 2006 Vietnamese Household Living Standards Survey done the Government of Vietnam and not something made by Plan International or Grameen Foundation, the participants became confident in the tool. The PPI’s ten simple, non-financial questions and easy-to-calculate score were obvious, and the participants quickly understood them. The specific lookup table on how to calculate poverty likelihood also proved successful as participants were able to calculate the poverty likelihoods and soon after analyze results.
I am confident that the PPI can be successfully implemented through these village agents in Plan Vietnam in Dangkrong and potentially in new districts because of its simplicity and country-specific nature. Plan will also advocate that the Women’s Association use the PPI for other programs, such as their Safety Net Program. As part of a Safety Net Program, a government or another institution provides direct support such as livestock or rice in a poverty-stricken area; the PPI could be used to pinpoint the poorest households in the targeted community – this would be another first
Muhammad Awais is a guest blogger on the Progress Out of Poverty blog. As the Regional Microfinance Advisor for Plan International in Asia, Awais focuses on helping integrate social performance metrics into Plan International’s work. He brings a great perspective from the MFI practitioner as well as from the network level of how to integrate SPM tools like the PPI into operations. He is based in Bangkok.