Methods: We used a clustered randomized controlled trial design and assigned primary school-going orphan children (N=1383; mean age was 12.7 years at baseline) from 48 schools into a control condition versus two intervention arms with differing savings match incentives (Bridges [match rate 1:1] and Bridges PLUS [match rate 1:2]). Children in all study arms received usual care for AIDS-orphaned children in the study area, consisting of counseling, school lunches and scholastic materials. Each child in each Bridges and Bridges PLUS arm received the usual care plus the bundle of services mentioned in the background section. We measure poverty using a multidimensional child poverty index that is relevant to the local Ugandan context based on Alkire and Foster (2011) methodology. This measure included four dimensions: health, assets, housing, and behavioral risks. Utilizing a multidimensional poverty measure is necessary because monetary poverty measures are unable to capture household resources, infrastructure and services allocated to the child (Gordon, 2003). Also, many children have not yet started working, so the lack of their own earnings also limits the possibility to measure monetary poverty among the child population. Intervention effects were examined through ordinary least square regression and difference-in-difference models.
Results: Results show that this multifaceted economic empowerment intervention alleviated the incidence of multidimensional poverty by more than 10 percentage points (or poverty intensity by 8 percent). The impact persisted even two years after intervention completion (24-month follow-up). The magnitude of poverty reduction was higher for the Bridges PLUS group, the study arm that received higher savings incentives. We explored the potential mechanisms of change and found that the intervention improved children’s self-concept and family relationship, and, to a moderate extent, improved overall social support. We further found that this poverty reduction effect was not brought forth by children’s change in educational aspiration. Furthermore, from a poverty dynamic perspective, our findings revealed that the multifaceted intervention was effective in avoiding the poverty trap or facilitating exiting poverty. We perform a series of robustness checks on the structure of our multidimensional poverty measure, and the effect of the program remains robust to various specifications.