Issue 44 - Article 4

DEEP: a new approach to poverty reduction

October 6, 2009
Rafeek El-madhoun, Ibrahim Sourani, Vanessa Farr, Hanna Nakhleh and Dania Darwish, UNDP

Promoting development in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of an ongoing conflict that affects every aspect of Palestinian social and economic life. The prolonged political crisis has contributed to the destruction of the social fabric and has worsened the economic prospects of all Palestinians, plunging many into ever-deeper poverty. The 1948 war, the regional wars of 1967 and 1973, the 1987 and 2000 uprisings and the 2008–2009 Israeli incursion into Gaza have caused repeated displacement and turned many into long-term refugees. In recent years, the territory has been fragmented following the internal Palestinian conflict, which led to the creation of two largely separate entities, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Economic and living conditions in the oPt are poor, with an estimated 43% of the Palestinian population living below the poverty line of $2.30 a day, and about 15% living in absolute poverty. In the second half of 2007, the level of unemployment was 23%, with youth unemployment particularly dire at 36%. Unemployment was most acute in refugee camps and in southern Gaza. The over-riding cause of spiralling poverty and unemployment is the ongoing ‘closure regime’, which restricts the movement of people and trade within Palestinian areas, into and out of Israel and with third-party markets.

Sixty-one years of occupation have put Palestinians under almost unbearable stress. The majority have spent their savings, sold property and other assets and cut down on their food intake. In response, local and international organisations have launched development interventions to help people retain or regain their economic independence, but most have been unsuccessful because of the top-down approach they have used. People have been targeted via sectors or clusters and excluded from the design, decision-making and implementation process, giving them no opportunity to discuss their problems and how to solve them. For example, women’s empowerment programmes are designed and implemented without examining the individual’s circumstances or taking into consideration the resources and opportunities actually available to beneficiaries. In addition, such programmes have exacerbated family fragmentation, as the focus on women and thus the exclusion of men (or the reverse in other programmes) does not reflect a family consensus.

This article discusses a new developmental approach specifically designed to address the Palestinian context and overcome the long-term problems produced by the protracted political crisis. This new approach, which aims to assist families to graduate from poverty, goes beyond interventions such as short-term employment programmes and sector-based projects. The ‘Sustainable Livelihoods Approach’ on which it is based is a dynamic response that supports the development of the family as a unit.

The launch of DEEP

In mid-2007, UNDP inaugurated a pilot programme for chronically poor families in the oPt: the Deprived Families Economic Empowerment Programme (DEEP). DEEP merges Promotional Safety Net activities with microfinance services to create a pathway for poor families to graduate from poverty. The programme also has a capacity-building component for partner NGOs. The purpose of merging the two services is to help deprived families use the grant facility to first build the necessary economic infrastructure and then, through access to microfinance, seek to achieve economic sustainability and independence. DEEP targets the poorest of the poor, people who fall beneath the nationally agreed poverty line. It starts by providing people with a social safety net to enable them to move out of extreme poverty and reach the ‘normal’ poverty line, at which point microfinance services can be offered.

DEEP is a four-year pilot programme, funded by the Islamic Development Bank and executed by UNDP/Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (PAPP) in partnership with the Palestinian government and 16 NGO implementing partners in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The overall objective is to make 4,000 families economically independent. In addition, support is being provided to 12,000 poor families to enable them to access financial services from micro-finance institutions (MFIs).

The DEEP is unique in that the family-centred approach allows household members to discuss and decide how best to make progress towards greater economic independence. Fieldworkers from NGO partners are trained in sustainable livelihood approaches, with a specific emphasis on the importance of involving participant families in the design, implementation and evaluation of each interventions. They are trained to give families enough time to discuss their needs and priorities according to what DEEP describes as their ‘five capitals’ (Human, Natural, Physical, Financial and Social), based on the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. DEEP considers cross-cutting issues such as the specific needs of different family members: women and men, children, youth and the elderly and people with disabilities. Women, especially those who head households, have been particular beneficiaries of DEEP’s focus on capacity-building and economic empowerment. The DEEP modality is much appreciated by beneficiary families as they are involved in every aspect of the process and feel ownership of the interventions designed to help them.

DEEP has its own monitoring and evaluation system, run through a web-based database. Information on family resources, livelihoods and efforts to upgrade businesses is gathered through extensive field visits by NGO partners, to make sure that the goals of the programme are adhered to. Each NGO keeps track of the intervention, providing technical assistance such as training, consultation, psychosocial support, referral and networking with other specialised NGOs that can offer medical, mental health or social services.

The implementation of DEEP in Gaza is facing many challenges due to Israel’s closure regime, the lack of raw materials, a rapid increase in prices and an unstable exchange rate. Despite these restrictions, however, DEEP Gaza has begun more than 500 interventions for 950 families. This number is planned to double within the next few months.

People decide

DEEP gives the families who participate in it the chance to choose from a number of employment alternatives, including agriculture, commerce, industry, services, job placements and training. A holistic approach is taken to understand the family from all angles, so that interventions can be designed as a package based on what the family owns, what it needs and the routes it must take to achieve its goals. Each intervention is given to the family as a one-time grant, with differential financial ceilings ranging from $4,000 to $8,000, determined by the size of family and the type of intervention. Interventions usually include a main activity, with a supporting one to reduce the margin of risk.

Case studies

Because interventions are individually designed, DEEP employs a wide range of approaches. In one example – a sheep-breeding project – beneficiaries receive a number of pregnant ewes of a breed known to be highly productive, along with vaccination and veterinary services for six months, medication and animal feed. The package includes all the support necessary to help the family gain an immediate income, whilst imposing no financial stress upon them. Following the six-month period, the family should be able to sustain the project from their own income.

Another interesting intervention is a cooperative-based Food Processing Unit. The project is located in Maghazi refugee camp, one of the poorest spots in the Gaza Strip. The beneficiaries are a group of 12 women, each of whom has between five and 12 family members and an unemployed head of the family. A feasibility study and consultation process was completed, and DEEP’s field analysts ensured that the unit would be a good income generation activity and business cooperative for all the women. While the partner NGO bought the equipment, the women received advanced training in baking. After the establishment of the unit, the partner NGO helped the group to manage the business, including setting up financial and administrative systems. Currently, the unit is producing cookies, pastries and pies, supplying kindergartens, school canteens and local shops in Maghazi.

Another beneficiary, Sameer Al Hams, runs a washing machine maintenance shop. As Sameer lacked the technical, financial and management resources to start the business, one of DEEP’s partner NGOs worked with him to set up a maintenance shop in Rafah. His income has been excellent, and Sameer has been able to enroll his daughter in university, save money and generally feel much more secure. ‘The income earned by your own hand is much better than any other kind of money,’ he says. ‘When you work everything tastes better. You can send your children to school and you do not feel like a beggar. I have regained my self esteem.’ Another beneficiary, Naema Al Shenbari, is an entrepreneur who developed her project idea with support from a DEEP partner NGO. She started by opening a small grocery, and has been able to grow the business into a mini-market. Naema, who is managing her project with great skill, has employed her brother to work in the market at a reasonable salary. Her income has been sufficient for her to support her family and even start saving.


DEEP’s strategy of helping people to decide on the best means to address their needs, come up with solutions and feel ownership of their income-generating projects represents a new participatory tool for development in both the West Bank and Gaza. The partnership is based on mutual trust and respect between all stakeholders in DEEP: UNDP counts on its partner NGOs, our partners count on families and families count on UNDP and the NGOs. This means that all the stakeholders involved feel commitment to and ownership of their programme. Before they became partners in DEEP, families were not only deprived of access to income, food or shelter, but also of opportunities to voice their views and express their needs in developmental projects. Through DEEP, they are not only improving their livelihoods, but also beginning to perceive themselves differently, as agents of their own well-being.

Beneficiary families note that, although they have been receiving food and cash assistance for years, they feel dehumanised every time they line up to receive it. UNDP believes that they need support and respect as much as they need food and cash. To help these families we must first help them speak out. We need to listen to them, gain their confidence and trust in the services being offered and enable them to understand that DEEP will empower them. Deprived people are oppressed because they do not give voice to their needs, and many have become trapped in a culture of silence. DEEP listens respectfully to poor people and designs interventions which seek to enrich them in a multitude of ways.

Rafeek El-madhoun is DEEP project coordinator-Gaza. Ibrahim Sourani is DEEP Project Assistant-Gaza, Vanessa Farr is the Gender Advisor, Hanna Nakhleh is DEEP NGO Grants coordinator and Dania Darwish is UNDP/PAPP Communication Officer. Correspondence concerning this article can be sent to:


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