SKS Chairperson and Founder, Vikram Akula, recognized by Time Magazine as one of today's 100 most influential people 


What is the SKS Ultra Poor Program?

The SKS Ultra Poor Program, modeled after the highly successful BRAC program in Bangladesh, attacks the challenge of extreme poverty on three levels: economic, social and health, and aims to graduate clients into being able to run a sustainable income-generating enterprise—and to access formal financial services Upon graduation, many members may choose to join microfinance organizations to sustain existing businesses or diversify income by starting new businesses. In Bangladesh, since 2002, the program has successfully graduated 75% members of its 50,000 members. SKS scientifically targets the Bottom of the Pyramid extreme poor, (<1 US $ a day) employing participatory identification tools. The intervention targets extreme poor households reconnecting them to lost opportunities in livelihoods and quality lives.

Swayam Krishi Sangam and SKS Microfinance Partnership

SKS Microfinance Limited (SKSMPL) is partnering with SKS NGO that is currently running a pilot phase of the Ultra Poor program. The program, was launched in April 2007, is being supported in-kind by SKSMPL yet is an autonomous entity that incorporates the necessary social, health, training and savings components into the program.
Phase I of the pilot program is working with 426 members in 100 villages in Narayankhed Mandal of Medak district, Andhra Pradesh. Phase II will expand its reach to 1200 members in Orissa by October 2009.


Ultra Poor Program is the flagship program of the NGO which is involved in operations, strategy and expansion of the program through technology, innovation, and research and implementation from the field.
SKS is one of the three organizations which has been chosen to introduce the Ultra Poor Project in India. Through field experience, research and understanding, SKS is working on a reformed Ultra Poor model which will use research, innovation and technology to create a standard Ultra Poor Model which can be nationally replicated by many other organizations.

Why the need for an Ultra Poor Program?

Microfinance, the provision of loans and insurance to the poor, has contributed much to India’s economic advancement, and has focused its efforts on the 700 million rural poor around the nation. Today, microfinance has been recognized as a proven poverty-alleviation mechanism in developing nations around the world, and SKS Microfinance has been a leader in bringing microfinance into the mainstream, providing financial services to hundreds of thousands of poor across the country.

Despite this success, microfinance has not been able to reach the ultra poor, the bottom 5% of the poor whose lives are characterized by chronic hunger, persistent poor health, and illiteracy. The ultra poor lack a stable income and often do not have the means to feed their families more than once a day; they include widows with a large number of children, the elderly, the disabled, and other severely marginalized groups. The ultra poor lack the ability and confidence to join mainstream microfinance, and require economic, health and social development inputs to create sustainable change in their lives.

What does the program entail?

The SKS Ultra Poor Program is a holistic program that meets the needs of ultra poor on multiple levels: economic, health and social.

Component I: Economic Development

Economic Development involves savings, livelihoods selection and 3-6 days of skills training. Savings inculcates a sense of financial discipline in members and provides cushioning during crisis events.

Members choose from a basket of options:

Asset Basket

1. Buffalo
2. Buffalo + Chickens
3. Goats
4. Chickens
5. Sheep
6. Non-Farm Package 1: Telephone + Small Goods Shop
7. Non-Farm Package 2: Telephone + Food Products
8. Non-Farm Package 3: Telephone + Tea Shop
9. Vegetable-vending
10. Horticulture Nursery

Component II: Health Development

The extreme poor are the least healthy group in society. SKS will tackle the incidence of sickness through a combination of preventive techniques and on-the-spot coverage. The health program is divided into: monthly visits, information sessions, screenings & camps, and health training for talented ultra poor members.

Monthly Visits
A Health Field Assistant (HFA) visits each member on a monthly basis to provide basic care or referrals as needed. Special attention will be given to pregnant members.

Information Sessions
The Health FA delivers monthly presentations on numerous health topics including: family-planning, pregnancy-related care, women’s health, safe water, sanitation, anemia, immunization and tuberculosis.

Health Screenings & Camps
SKS will link with existing providers – government doctors and health-focused NGOs—to host screenings and information awareness camps. Screenings will allow medical practitioners to determine the number of those afflicted, and provide appropriate treatment. Awareness camps will provide a forum for local doctors to discuss a variety of health-related issues.

Training of Ultra Poor Member
SKS will utilize the expertise of a doctor to train 1-2 ultra-poor members in each village on basic health services. These members will be equipped with the knowledge and basic medicines (provided free-of-cost by government) to serve as the touch-point for other members and their families who face health challenges such as dysentery, dehydration, gastrointestinal disorders, fever, de-worming, vitamin B deficiency, anemia and skin diseases.


Component III: Social Development

The extreme poor often exist in the margins of society. They have less confidence than other poor, which is one reason they avoid mainstream microfinance. Consequently, an important part of the Ultra-Poor program involves giving members the confidence to become active wage-earners in their families.

The four components of the Social Development component are:
a. Group Solidarity
b. Increasing Social Awareness
c. Family Development and Children upbringing
d. Back-Up Support

Group Solidarity will be encouraged through weekly group meetings. Ultra-poor members in each village will use this time to discuss concerns and develop methods to problem-solve. The FA, through feedback from members, will also discuss relevant social development topics for group discussion.

SKS staff will also foster linkages with governmental and non-governmental bodies, to both raise awareness and receive information from external stakeholders.

Program Overview

Area and Member Selection
a. Village Survey
b. Participatory Rural Appraisal
c. Interview & household survey
d. Creation of final selection list
Livelihoods Selection
Livelihoods Development Training

Asset Transfer
Group Meetings

a. Savings collection
b. Group discussion on social & health topics
Individual Meetings
a. Asset-check
b. Status of member and household
Health Inputs
Social Development Inputs
Asset Generates Income
Graduation after 18 months


Component IV

Financial Education:
Financial Education is strategic intervention for SKS Ultra Poor Programme with the following training inputs.

Cash Flow Analysis:
The session introduces to cash flow analysis leading them to map income and expenditure.

Helps in step by step budgeting at household level and imparts importance of savings as coping mechanism against unforeseen expenditures.

Goal setting:
Helps in setting financial goals by using cash flow analysis and budgeting. It also helps them distinguish productive expenses from infectious expenses.


If interested in learning more, please contact SKS Ultra Poor Program, Vice President (Programs), R. Divakar at [email protected]; CEO, Teresa Khanna: [email protected]


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