Truelift’s Progress and Future in Pursuit of Transparency and Accountability in Poverty Alleviation Efforts

> Posted by the Steering Committee of Truelift

Institutions built upon a promise of poverty alleviation must be motivated and supported to make good on that promise. This continues to be the goal and promise of Truelift, even as we depend more than ever on volunteer leadership and support for Truelift’s journey toward greater transparency and accountability in pro-poor development. Before looking to the future, let’s review where we’ve been.

Among the diverse, and mostly complementary, objectives sought by financial inclusion and social enterprise efforts, poverty alleviation has been by far the most important and the most widely adopted objective, whether in the minds of practitioners, supporters, or the general public. Yet this objective challenges our collective ability to be clear about our intended destination and to show that we are on the right path toward it. It is even more difficult to show how far along this path we have come and how far we have yet to go. How do we motivate and support transparency and accountability for practitioners who claim to pursue poverty alleviation and for those who support them?

Responding to a 2010 call to action by the Microcredit Summit Campaign, we came together to meet the challenge of demonstrating what we now call pro-poor performance – social performance focused on poverty alleviation. Originally called the Seal of Excellence for Poverty Outreach and Transformation, we are now Truelift, a name that reflects both truth in advertising and performance to help lift people from poverty.

Our challenge is to know pro-poor performance when we see it. This requires clear definition and tools for applying the definition to diverse institutions in diverse regions of the world. We regard our major achievement so far to be the definition of pro-poor performance in terms of three practical Pro-Poor Principles applied to “people living in conditions of poverty” (with poverty levels specifically defined for different countries):

  1. Purposeful outreach to these people
  2. Design and delivery of services to meet their specific needs
  3. Tracking their progress toward meeting these needs

Each of these Pro-Poor Principles is further defined by four categories or dimensions:

  • Intent and Strategy – Does the institution have clear, realistic goals and a plan to achieve them?
  • Measurement, Data Quality, and Analysis – Does the institution use systematic data collection to monitor achievement?
  • Results Achieved – Does the data show that the institution is achieving its goals?
  • Use of Findings – Does the institution react to information it collects and adapt to do better?

These three principles, each with four dimensions, have been applied at the operational level by our very able Technical Review Committee, who have identified a reasonable number of observable indicators of pro-poor performance in action. And they have developed the Truelift Indicators Tool, which can be used by Truelift-licensed assessors in an external assessment or by institutions themselves for self-assessment. Practitioners are finding this assessment tool valuable for educating themselves about their areas of strength and weakness in their progress toward full pro-poor performance. Use of the tool also gives them the opportunity to be formally recognized for their progress, on the Truelift and MIX Market websites and at public recognition events (such as the global meetings of the Microcredit Summit Campaign).

To date, we have received 201 requests for the tool from 75 countries. So far, 18 institutions have been recognized formally on our website. Moreover, there are 348 members of the Truelift community of practice devoted to learning more from fellow practitioners.

Clearly, there is growing momentum of interest in what Truelift offers. It is a very difficult time, however, for funding social performance initiatives and, more generally, the infrastructure to enhance transparency and accountability in our “industry.” Our shoestring budget has been supported by a handful of grants, as well as the administrative support of the RESULTS Educational Fund, the same non-profit entity that houses the Microcredit Summit Campaign.

For Truelift now, our resources have diminished to the point where we must depend on volunteer staff and committee members to maintain access to the Truelift information, tool and services. The Microcredit Summit Campaign is committed to helping us maintain what Truelift has already built, and they are helping us seek new funding to regain momentum.

In the meantime, practitioners and others can continue to access the Truelift information and tool through our website and to receive responses to questions/queries about use of the tool and interpretation of results. Self-assessments as well as external assessments by rating agencies remain viable options.

Truelift is not about rewarding only the very few institutions that seem most advanced in pro-poor performance; we are about recognizing the many who are making good progress along the pro-poor pathway. Some are farther along than others and thereby provide inspiration and examples to guide others just setting out on the pathway. Pro-poor performance is a client-centered journey. Truelift’s approach focuses on supporting practitioners on that journey. This important service to practitioners and to those living in conditions of poverty must continue.

Have you read?

The Microfinance Industry Needs an Infrastructure Fix

To End Extreme Poverty? Focus on Integrated Services

On the Pathway to Responsible Microfinance: An Update on the Microfinance CEO Working Group’s Progress