This paper is an independent analysis of Pakistan's flagship poverty alleviation programme, including reporting on progress to date, integration of data and technology to improve delivery and transparency, and how the team quickly pivoted to successfully respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
The wide-ranging and ambitious Ehsaas Programme comes at a crucial time. Its aim is to address systemic poverty through a multi-sectoral approach at the federal and provincial levels of government. This need was only underscored when COVID-19 hit vulnerable households hard.
When Dr. Sania Nishtar set out to distribute emergency cash to over 15 million Pakistanis living below the poverty line, she faced questions and skepticism from her colleagues in government, the opposition party, and residents themselves. She needed to inspire trust both at the outset and over time.
Dr. Nishtar made technology central to the programme from the start, not only ensuring implementation at a large scale, but also protecting the process from human bias and error. This is a fundamental shift towards greater transparency, bolstered by Dr. Nishtar's commitment to regular, forthright communication with citizens and government officials from both parties. Despite early misgivings on the part of opposition leaders and prominent journalists, Dr. Nishtar was able to deliver tremendous outcomes through digital tools, clear communication, and an unwavering focus on the end result—getting cash to families in need.
Then, she invited us to do a third-party assessment of the programme: we mapped the delivery chain from start to finish, and gathered research from multiple groups to place the delivery chain in the context of real-world outcomes. This work gave leadership a clear view of where operations were very effective, and where there were opportunities for even greater efficiency and impact. More importantly, the commissioning of an independent review underscores Dr. Nishtar's commitment to transparency and trust, putting the politics of performance over the politics of patronage.
The Ehsaas Emergency Cash transfer programme shows what is possible when all tiers of government unite behind a strong leader to get the job done.
An independent delivery analysis can be a strong method for understanding how programmes are working on the ground, mining insights for continuous improvement, and demonstrating a commitment to measurable, apolitical results.
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