How BIG funding affects community enterprise overseas

A new report for the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) by the Policy Studies Institute and SOAS sets out some of the outcomes of BIG-funded projects that support microenterprise and small-scale business development in poor communities around the world. It examines economic outcomes - such as income, employment creation, food security and skill development - and the effect of interventions on social outcomes such as health and education.

Study aims and methodology

The study was designed to review the range of impacts to have arisen from 30 projects funded by BIG under its International Development programme. Development policy has become increasingly focused on pro-poor economic growth. To that end, experts in the field assert the need for a greater focus on private-sector development, infrastructural reach and, given that 75 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, enhanced agricultural investment. Agricultural development was a central component of most of the BIG-funded projects under review.

The study was based on a multi-methods approach including a literature review, a review of project documentation, a short survey and qualitative interviews with UK grant holders and some of their overseas delivery partners. In addition, two in-depth case studies of successful projects in Sri Lanka and Kenya were conducted. In assessing impacts from the projects, the study was reliant on self-reported outcomes only.


The projects reviewed all set out to introduce, improve or diversify the livelihoods of some of the most impoverished communities around the world. A range of challenges were encountered, most notably: extremes of weather, soil erosion, deforestation or post-disaster reconstruction. Despite considerable diversity in terms of geographical location, socio-economic context, available resources and cultural frames of reference, the processes for change and methods deployed by the projects were similar in many respects. In order to move communities along the path toward sustained economic progress, the projects targeted three key areas for development: human capital, social capital and financial capital. Improved marketing strategies were also emphasised in many projects as were environmental conservation solutions.

Human capital was developed within all projects by means of comprehensive training programmes related to business and marketing skills, literacy, craft expertise or agricultural innovation. Social capital was enhanced by means of community mobilisation and group formation to formulate strategies for change, implement varied project goals and promote community ‘buy-in’ to ensure project sustainability. Finally, financial capital was delivered through equipment, livestock gifts, grants, micro-credit, loans and/or facilitated access to financial institutions for savings and credit. In response to climate change and environmental challenges, a conservationist philosophy was adopted by most projects. Agricultural innovation and technology was deployed including irrigation systems, both simple and highly complex, green manuring, crop rotation, drought-resistant crops and crops that are resilient to flooding.

Economic impacts – a range of economic outcomes were evident, including: increased incomes, creation of employment, increased agricultural yields, improved food security, improved sustainability of crops or livestock, improved agricultural methods, better nutrition and more meals eaten. The effective diversification of livelihoods was also a key impact of the BIG projects, such as introducing beekeeping in Kenya as an alternative to cattle-rearing in drought conditions, pig farming in Cambodia in response to low crop yields, or the introduction of smaller-scale, family-based projects such as garden farming, poultry rearing and non-agricultural business activities in the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the aftermath of the tsunami and subsequent saline land problems. Economically diversified communities are better able to withstand environmental disasters, reduce pressure on land resources, smooth incomes over the year, and enjoy improved nutrition and food security.

Social impacts - By taking a holistic approach, many projects not only enhanced income and productivity, or improved livelihoods, but also improved the supply of water, sanitation, health and education. A number of social benefits have therefore materialised for the project beneficiaries, either as a direct consequence of specific activities or as a by-product of economic benefits such as increased income. Developing livelihoods also carry benefits for self-esteem, hope for the future and can keep families together. The advocacy and group-formation elements of many projects were also associated with the empowerment of marginalised social groups such as women, remote tribes and people with HIV/AIDS.

The full report is available here.