Executive Summary –
Hybrid Organisations, Hybrid Strategies: Pathways out of Poverty
The Rural Livelihoods Learning Group (RLLG) brings together Ford Foundation Programme
Officers and practitioners to seek innovative solutions for reducing rural poverty. This study by the RLLG
explores “hybrid” organisations and strategies – so called because they utilise unusual combinations of
anti-poverty strategies – and their role in fostering meaningful livelihoods in very poor rural areas. An
alliance of four organisations, each responsible for a region, conducted this study: PRADAN in India,
ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia in the USA, Kenya Gatsby Trust in Africa, and Nitlapan in Latin America.
The research process, assumptions and conceptual framework were consensually derived and 21 hybrid
organisations were case studied. The findings from those case studies form the core of this report.
2. Hybrid Organisations: Conceptual Foundations and Definition
Hybrid organisations reflect an on-going debate on the causes of poverty and how change can
be brought about. Two different conceptions of rural development have emerged. One construct
presumes poverty fundamentally derives from market failures so that poor people lack access to
market-based goods and services. This analysis leads to strategies that integrate poor people into
markets and imitate the market as closely as possible, with strategies such as micro-finance services,
business development services and improving access to markets. The other conception of development
emphasises power and its distribution. Market correction initiatives are not adequate by themselves.
While it is necessary to create a level playing field through market correction initiatives, this second
construct focuses first and foremost on poor people’s own self-perceptions of power, building the sense
of power that comes from within an individual. Building this sense of self-power among the poor is
fundamentally more difficult than for the non-poor, who have a greater sense of agency and self-power.
Thus, the first sense in which hybrid organisations are “hybrid” is that they straddle this conceptual
divide. They bring market-based and empowerment strategies together.
Hybrid organisations are also rooted in a livelihoods understanding of poverty rather than
simpler definitions based on income. Poverty was not long ago defined as a lack of adequate income to
procure the basic necessities of life and absence of the means, especially jobs to earn such income. This
static and one-dimensional construct has been replaced by sustainable livelihoods, which acknowledges
that people’s needs and situations can change, but also the fact that there are other ways, such as
claims, entitlements and one’s own resources to meet one’s needs. An important element of sustainable
livelihoods is the notion of resilience which describes an individual’s ability to overcome vulnerability,
maintain dignity, control one’s life, take risks to seize opportunities, and rebound from setbacks in
We identified eight factors that comprise “meaningful rural livelihoods”:
1 Executive summary by Alan Okagaki (December 2009), based on global synthesis report by Mary Hobley and
Deep Joshi (October 2009).
• Self-confidence/agency to participate, self-belief, capability to claim;
• Equitable and certain access to assets;
• Knowledge of assets;
• Authority to use and leverage assets;
• Capability/skill to steward, use, secure and build own assets;
• Ability to maximise locally retained value;
• Scalability and impact; and
• Understanding limits to use for needs of future generations.
These attributes of meaningful rural livelihood can be consolidated into three categories: assets and
services, changing the rules of the game and voice, influence and agency.
Multiple Roles of Hybrid Organisations
RULES OF THE GAME
ASSETS & SERVICES Outcome: policies &
institutions that actively
Outcome: improved remove barriers & enhance
livelihood status of incentives to increase
poor access of diverse groups to
VOICE, INFLUENCE &
Outcome: extent to which
poor people successfully
engage & influence
Thus, hybrid organisations take a broad understanding of how people secure their livelihoods
and adjust their approaches to meet these complex realities. Instead of simply delivering services that
meet physical needs, hybrid organisations take people’s livelihoods and strengths as the basis for their
strategies and programs; they seek to develop the capability of poor people to become active agents in
their own development. Hybrid organisations recognise that agency and assets are meaningful at both
the individual and community levels. Hybrid organisations, then, are defined not simply by their
combinations of strategies but by their ability to think and act simultaneously and intentionally in the
three dimensions of agency, assets, and changing the rules of the game. They transcend traditional
boundaries, work across public and private goods provision, and act in multiple roles, and potentially at
3. Stages of Poverty
Hybrid organisations emerge in large part because they recognise that the poverty population is
not homogeneous and that different conditions of poverty require different strategic approaches.
• Extreme dependent poor or chronically dependent poor are at the lowest end of the
spectrum. They lack the minimum capacity to participate in the formal or informal economy.
They include old people from very poor families and people variously ‘capability-challenged’
and without social support systems. They need continued social or public support.
• Extreme vulnerable poor or declining poor participate in the economy but are on a
downward spiral, keep accumulating social, economic and capability deficits, and often have
practices and behaviour unsustainable in the market place. With suitable strategies they can
graduate out of their present condition. However, this requires public investments to help
them negotiate various externalities, such as widespread economic and ecological decline;
to adopt more market-friendly behaviours; and to enhance their sense of self-worth.
• Coping poor are stagnant but on the precipice and could fall into the lower category as they
are often locked into unsustainable production systems and cannot imagine alternatives.
Their risk threshold does not permit them to accumulate social, financial and economic
assets necessary to transit into the next higher category purely through market instruments;
some public support is necessary but must be provided in ways that enhances their agency
and builds experience useful for dealing with the mainstream and standing on their own
• Dynamic poor have the self-confidence, risk taking ability and economic behaviours to be
able to graduate out of poverty if they get a level playing field; therefore, fair market
instruments are adequate for them to transit out of poverty.
The hybrid organisations we studied generally had a notion of pathways – the developmental
process by which poor people make transitions toward more secure and meaningful livelihoods. These
organisations were committed to moving people out of poverty rather than just delivering a product or
service. Their understanding of poverty led them to use a variety of strategies to meet the needs of
people in different stages of poverty. As a general rule:
1) With the extreme poor: support for their economic level in order to reduce vulnerability,
enhance food security, increase their assets and integrate them into markets.
2) With the intermediate groups or coping poor: improve access to markets, increase their
assets, improve their participation and bring them closer to more developed groups.
3) With the more dynamic poor: consolidate their ties to the market, to value chains, to
participation and government schemes, to recover values and traditional customs, and to
give sustainability to processes already developed.
The Figure below illustrates how different strategies are appropriate depending on a person’s degree of
agency and resilience.
Processes that develop Poor
Extreme Vulnerable Poor
(economically active but Extreme Poor Children
marginalised & vulnerable) (inheritors of extreme
Chronically Dependent Poor Social transfers
(state support, social protection systems) – cash, assets
Elderly, Disabled without family support
5. Efficacy and the Nature of the Engagement
The broad category of “agency” includes the notion of self-efficacy, which help explain what
constrains and supports people’s ability to seize opportunities. Self-efficacy is the belief2 that one is
capable of performing in a certain manner to attain certain goals. It is a belief that one has the
capabilities to execute the courses of actions required to manage prospective situations. Unlike efficacy,
which is the power to produce an effect (in essence, competence3), self-efficacy is the belief (whether or
not accurate) that one has the power to produce that effect (it is also different from empty dreaming or
delusion). Self-efficacy motivates a person to persist in the face of setbacks and to acquire the necessary
competence to succeed.
2 "If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the
beginning." - Mahatma Gandhi
For example, a person with low self-efficacy would harbour feelings of hopelessness, a feeling
that pervades many of the people that the organisations in this study work with (see in particular India
and USA) and those that have been consciously left out (see for example Africa).
In this context, the nature of the relationship between the organisation and the person served
becomes critical. We identified three forms by which organisations engage poor people:
1) As beneficiaries – where organisations hand out assets and services. The implicit assumption
is that poverty is merely a result of accumulated deficits and would go away with an
injection of assets and services.
2) As clients – the relationship is essentially transactional, and is limited by the suitability or
worthiness of the client. Investment is not made if it does not bring assured returns at
3) As responsible citizens – with rights and obligations and who are agents of their own change.
The organisation believes a priori that people have capability, that they are worthy and sees
its own role as actualising that capability so that people drive change for themselves.
Thus, a distinguishing characteristic of hybrid organisations is that they work to support the
development of people’s own agency rather than perpetuating dependent relations. The end point of
any intervention is to exit from that relationship.
6. Strategy Evolution
The strategies of hybrid organisations focus on strengthening the full range of capitals: human
capital, social capital, economic capital, financial capital, environmental capital, and political capital.
However, a distinguishing characteristic of the hybrid organisations studied is that all changed their
approaches over time. The organisations had a range of starting points from finance-led, non-finance-
led, value-chain led, community-led and agency-led but each evolved from these starting points, as their
understanding of the complexity of livelihoods and people’s response to opportunities deepened. For
example, ACAT (South Africa) began by fostering a culture of savings but realised that it could not build
resilience without also supporting adult education, business entrepreneurship and sustainable
agriculture. A small beginning led to an unpacking and response to the diverse livelihood requirements
of the rural poor. This was accompanied by a careful process to develop the individual agency and sense
of self-efficacy, fostered through group-based processes.
As with the evolution of entry-points, so the deepening understanding within these
organisations has in some cases led to shifts in the focus on the segment of population they are working
with. In several cases in the USA (Four Bands and Southern) there has been a strategic shift to working
with children and youth, seeing them as the means by which to break the intergenerational transfer of
poverty. The ability of HOs to respond and learn is a critical element of their success in supporting the
movement of individuals and communities out of poverty.
Sectoral Entry Points and Increasing Hybridisation
ion of se
Entry Microfinance Reiterative diagnosis & design process
Support to Individual
Group & Secondary ency
ion of ag
Organisation Development pans
7. Hybrid Structure, Partnerships and Alliances
The evolution of strategy drives a parallel evolution in structure and practice within the hybrid
organisation (internalising new functions), and externally through formation of alliances and
partnerships or by fostering community-based mechanisms to take charge of some functions.
Hybridisation can occur in four different ways:
1) Hybridisation within individual staff (same person providing multiple services)
2) Hybridisation within an organisation (different structures delivering different services)
3) Hybridisation across organisations (different partnerships to deliver agreed hybrid
4) Hybridisation in forms of engagement – how strategies are delivered and with whom, e.g.,
working across the whole continuum of poverty (extreme poor, coping, dynamic poor)
These approaches to hybridisation are not mutually exclusive and most of the organisations
studied used a combination of approaches. Most commonly, the case study organisations adopted a
“linked partnership” approach, whereby two or more organisations work together to provide a range of
services based on a common strategy. The partnerships provide the complementary programmes and
services necessary to address the critical three components of self-efficacy, wealth building and systemic
change, and to extend reach and influence. For most of the organisations studied partnership allows
each organisation to provide complementary services but retain focus on their core competence. It also
allows specialist staff to be retained within organisations to provide the necessary expertise.
However, to make partnership happen, the hybrid organisation must provide a framework and
platform to negotiate common values and build the necessary relationships. The partners are bound by
mutual interests; the hybrid organisation does not have full control over the partners. The strength of
this model depends on the skills of the hybrid organisation and management of its partner relationships.
Families and their organisations
In addition to formal partnerships established between the parties, the Latin American case
studies brought forward the importance of the "map of alliances". Hybrid organisations form cross-
linkages between different actors, including the ones in their own internal structure (such as directors);
international agencies, with whom they must negotiate and develop shared and common interests;
regional and national governments with interests in maintenance of political order and economic
growth and security; and other actors already mentioned as providers of goods and services.
8. Changing the Rules of the Game
Through their programmes and strategies, hybrid organisations work with the poor population
and help them move along a pathway to positive livelihoods. However, strategies targeted only at the
individual are insufficient. Poverty is a function of place not just a function of people. As earlier stated,
local economic, social, political and cultural conditions create environments which foster and sustain
poverty. Hybrid organisations recognise that getting out and staying out of poverty also requires
changes in place and/or poor people’s ability to deal effectively with place. The hybrid organisation
works towards systemic change, changing the rules of the game. It has a theory of root causes of
poverty in its area and is working to change or eliminate those root causes. It also fosters capabilities
among poor people to be able to effectively deal with key social institutions, including the state and the
Thus, the defining characteristic of hybrid organisations is their commitment to systemic change
and their belief that their actions must be supportive of such change if there is to be sustained
movement out of poverty through the construction of resilient livelihoods. Hybrid organisations engage
in processes which are transformative and not just transactional. Transactional approaches – such as
micro-finance services, business development services and improving access to markets – focus
primarily on the economic dimensions of empowerment and service delivery, i.e. Assets but not Agency
or Changing the Rules of the Game. Transformational processes focused on empowering citizens to
build their voice, claim assets, and influence decisions, procedures and (eventually) the formal and
informal rules of the game. Most of the hybrid organisations studied adopted a combination of
transactional and transformational approaches. However, for sustained change to occur, it is necessary
that the transactional programs be framed within an overall strategy that moves towards
This commitment to systemic change has several implications. First, there is a real tension
between delivering services and connecting poor people to markets while simultaneously going head to
head with the power structures that control wealth and systems – that have at worst exploited and at
best ignored the chronically poor. Second, unlike transactional strategies which can often generate
income through fees or interest on loans, transformational strategies generally must be grant funded at
a time when many donors expect these organisations to be more financially self-sufficient.
Consequently, the organisations studied have developed “leverage” strategies whereby groups
of poor people can be moved towards stronger livelihoods rather than working solely with individuals.
Many hybrid organisations work with the outliers, the dynamic poor, to create a pathway to success that
the less capable poor can follow. They believe that creating successful role models – examples of people
similar to the target population succeeding – is in the long run a far more effective approach than highly
customised and intense one-on-one engagements. Most hybrid organisations believe it is imperative to
build community assets, not just individual assets, where community wealth is defined not simply in
terms of tangible assets but more importantly in terms of local leadership. Some (PRADAN, ACAT, CIPCA)
have purposefully focused on the extreme poor in the realisation that well developed mutual aid and
support groups of the extreme poor can be building blocks of large scale social mobilisation, leading to a
change in the self-belief of an entire community of people.
9. Concluding Thoughts
In sum, hybrid organisations have taken market linkage to another level. While hybrid
organisations see how market linkage fits into the individual pathway out of poverty, they do not
presume that simply providing opportunities is sufficient for people to seize them. Their analyses of
poverty leads them towards building a social/human capital infrastructure without which market linkage
strategies will collapse and long-term development processes cannot be sustained. Hybrid organisations
add strategies that recognise people’s starting points and levels of self-efficacy, develop their agency to
build resilient livelihoods, and enhance their ability to change the rules of the game where necessary.
Hybrid organisations provide the link between development finance and the other elements of building
secure livelihoods. They demonstrate that working in each of three arenas – Agency, Assets and Rules of
the Game – brings more sustained change than working in only one or two.