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Understanding Drivers of Poverty to Develop Theories of Change

  • Objective: To ensure that CARE’s new generation of programs are grounded firmly in a strong understanding of local contexts and realities.
  • Materials/Preparation: idea cards, markers, one-page summary of underlying causes of poverty. At this point, teams should have reflected upon and researched on underlying causes of poverty affecting their impact population.
  • Participants: Staff and partners.


Participants work in groups, each focused on an impact group. In groups, they discuss each of the causes of poverty that arose within their research. Each cause is written on a separate idea card.
Once completed, the facilitator outlines the concept of CARE’s unifying framework or women’s empowerment framework:
  • Human Conditions/Agency: quality of life and development
  • Enabling Environment/Structures: the (public, private, civic, social) institutional environment, and its responsiveness and inclusiveness for growth and equity
  • Social Positions/Relations: power relations, social equity and inclusiveness

The facilitator also presents degrees of causes of poverty:

  • Immediate causes or manifestations: factors related directly to life and death, which include malnutrition, disease, etc.
  • Intermediate Causes: causes related to people’s well-being, which include access to basic services, lack of skills, lack of productivity, etc.
  • Underlying Causes: causes driving and perpetuating intermediate causes, usually related to the systems or rules that govern society – economic, political and social structures and beliefs that favor or exclude certain groups.

Based on these frameworks, the facilitator creates a matrix on the wall.

Human Conditions, Agency
Enabling Environment, Structures
Social Positions, Relations
Immediate Cause, Manifestation
Intermediate Cause
Underlying Cause
In plenary, participants take turns placing cards in the appropriate category, based on the questions:
  • To which domain does each cause of poverty pertain? (Participants were explained that in many cases a certain cause of poverty cuts across several domains)
  • At which degree (underlying, intermediate or immediate) does each cause of poverty belong?

Once this step is completed, participants cluster cards into categories, and the facilitator leads a discussion on what causes of poverty are particularly critical in perpetuating vulnerability among the impact group.

Based on consensus of key causes of poverty and the clusters of causes, participants then work in teams to develop domains of change.

These domains are then presented in plenary, where the team discussed, questioned and offered comments on the identified domains. Each domain was then revised and used as a basis for building program design (breakthroughs, pathways, strategies and indicators).


Some teams also use the discussion on underlying causes to review their impact group definitions. For each identified cause of poverty, teams discuss what groups of people are most affected by it. Once all cards were discussed, teams then identify key groups who are particularly marginalized.

This exercise leads to a review of impact groups and sub-groups, and what value CARE could add in working with the identified groups based on a reflection of CARE’s experience working with the group/context as well as a review of other stakeholders active in the area.

Based on the discussion, participants work together to revise their impact groups and then developed domains of change.


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  • D Pinault (2010). Lignes Directives pour Travail de Groupe: Valider les domaines de changement et le but d’impact. CARE East and Central Africa Regional Management Unit.
  • D Wu (2010). Making the P-Bouge Bouge: advancing, revisiting, revising, and advancing one again: CARE Burundi’s Program Shift Story. CARE Burundi. Available at the CARE Burundi page of the Program Shift wiki:
  • B Bode (2009). CARE Uganda Workshop to Define Impact Groups and a Theory of Change. CARE Uganda.
  • M Drinkwater (2009). Brief #5: Designing Programs. CARE USA. Available at the Case Studies and Briefs section of the Program Shift wiki: