In this blog series, members of the Upaya team dive into the what, why, and how of Upaya’s mission to lift people out of extreme poverty with dignified jobs.

Jobs are the core of Upaya’s work. We help early-stage enterprises grow with investments and consulting support to create jobs for people in extreme poverty. So, a company’s potential to create jobs factors into our investment decisions and selections for our accelerator program. And we evaluate the impact of the investments in our portfolio based on the jobs created.

Counting jobs sounds straightforward, right? Think again. Jobs come in many forms, and we need to ensure the jobs our partners create can and will lift families out of extreme poverty.

Jobholders processing tomatoes for Upaya’s partner company, Krishi Star

Our team has often grappled with questions around the definition of a job to determine which factors are most vital to achieving that mission. For instance, does seasonal work provide enough income to escape extreme poverty? What about a part-time position? How do we assess farmer or supplier jobs where income is not tied to the number of hours worked?

Over the course of Upaya’s eight years, we have honed in on the key aspects of a job that we deem vital for lifting a person out of extreme poverty.

We define a dignified job as a predictable relationship with an enterprise that leads to access to economic improvement necessary to rise above extreme poverty. In other words, there are three key elements we look for in a job: it must be predictable and dignified and provide income sufficient to move the jobholder out of extreme poverty.


People living in extreme poverty often spend their days trying to earn enough money to pay for their most basic needs, like food and shelter. Because they often do not have a steady job, they cobble together activities such as begging, hawking of second-hand items, shoe-shining, and trash picking to earn enough just to get through the day. Because their income is so unreliable, and fluctuates from day to day, people in these situations find themselves in a vicious circle where their unmet basic needs make it impossible to maintain a regular income stream.

Upaya has demonstrated that people in extreme poverty can become self‐reliant and quickly address their own needs simply by having access to steady income. The companies we partner with must provide a predictable and reliable source of income to their jobholders.


Dignity looks different across our partner companies’ jobholders. It’s difficult to define and measure empirically, but undeniable when you see it. We see it in the proud mother saving her income to build a house that doesn’t leak in the rain. And the young woman singing joyously at work. We see it in the family facing sudden illness without fear of financial instability. And in the young man who returns home feeling fulfilled after a job well done.

The companies in our investment portfolio emphasize the safety of their work environments. Jobholders are treated fairly and with respect. The jobs are not demeaning or too physically taxing. It is a requirement that the entrepreneurs we partner with put the wellbeing of their jobholders first.

sufficient to Move the jobholder out of extreme poverty

We have seen that even the poorest of the poor are capable of lifting themselves out of extreme poverty when given a means to earn a living. The jobs our partner companies create must provide enough economic improvement that they allow the jobholders to rise above the extreme poverty line.

We conduct regular surveys with our partners’ jobholders to assess their increases in income and progress out of extreme poverty. We have a goal of seeing at least a 50% increase in income from the jobs created within one year. Most importantly, a job must allow an individual to stay above the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day.

Jobholders working for Upaya’s partner, Tamul Plates, prepare palm leaves to be turned into biodegradable plates.

Jobholders working for Upaya’s partner, Tamul Plates, prepare palm leaves to be turned into biodegradable plates.

“Upaya” is a Sanskrit word that roughly translates to "skillful means" or "method," referring to any activity, skill, experience, or practice that helps someone toward the realization of a goal. For us at Upaya Social Ventures, a dignified job is just that. Dignified jobs are the means that will help people rise and stay out of extreme poverty.