Updates from GiveDirectly

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A few weeks ago, I participated in an open conference call with the staff of GiveDirectly.  They discussed their performance in 2015, and plans for future expansion.  A recording of the call and their notes on the discussion are both available.  Some of the things that stood out to me from the discussion were as follows:

  • Expanding outside of Kenya has led to new operational challenges.  For example, in Uganda, one issue has been getting people set up with national IDs in order to access mobile money.
  • They recently began operating in Rwanda, and launched their first collaboration with an institutional funder (USAID).  They’re also working with MTN and Centenary Bank, and looking for additional partners.
  • They’re looking at additional institutional partnerships with DFID and the World Bank, although it wasn’t clear which countries might be involved.  One of the goals of these partnerships is institutionalizing the idea that cash transfers are a benchmark to which other aid programs can be compared.
  • The current wave of interest in cash transfers has led to some changes in the branding (though not the implementation) of other types of humanitarian programs.  For example, some aid organizations are now describing the use of vouchers for asset transfers as “cash based.”  However, the whole point of giving people cash is that it’s fungible, and assets are often less so.
  • GiveDirectly isn’t currently planning to work with governments to implement state-run cash transfer programs.  They’ve been approached by the Kenyan government about this, but their concern is that it would undermine state capacity.  In addition, it’s difficult to start a program and then transfer it back to the state.
  • They’re driven by the idea of doing “crazy things” which initially seem impossible with cash transfers.  For example, they’re thinking of piloting a lifetime basic income guarantee project in a few towns in Kenya.  There may also be new ways for large donors to think about having an impact.  As Paul Niehaus said at one point, “With that kind of money [that places like the Gates Foundation have], you could realistically eliminate poverty in a mid-sized African country.”

If you’d like to support GiveDirectly, Rock River Inn is offering to match all donations up to US$13,000 through 31 December.