GiveDirectly: What happens when we just give money to the poor?

When you first hear from an organization that’s asking for money to fight poverty, how do you respond? If you’re like me, it’s usually with a healthy dose of skepticism: how would my money be used?

Would it go to financing the nonprofit’s advertising costs, or administrative costs, or maybe even… to financing staff birthday parties?

The fact that there’s been some buzz recently about GiveDirectly—an organization that distributes donors’ cash gifts directly to people in need—is evidence that these questions have indeed been on a lot of people’s minds.

GiveDirectly’s answer is unusual: just give the money to people in need, and trust them to do something worthwhile with it.

GiveD

A Kenyan recipient of a GiveDirectly donation
(photo via GiveDirectly.org)

To be fair, the idea isn’t really new—governments and NGOs have been distributing money directly for years. What is new is that the development of phone-based banking has made it possible to send money from anywhere instantly and with fewer middlemen—a concept that could be attractive to donors who dislike the overhead of more traditional organizations.

GiveDirectly, founded in 2008 and recently featured on NPR, finds people living in extreme poverty in Kenya, and sends them the equivalent of up to 1,000 USD by phone. The recipients can spend the money however they like—no prescriptions, no strings attached.

How is this laissez-faire approach going over in the new era of accountability? First of all, it’s not quite as hands-off as it sounds. GiveDirectly has conducted follow-up interviews with some of its donation recipients to find out how they used the money.

Many said they used it for one-time items that would contribute to their future economic well-being, like money-saving home improvements or business startup costs. So there is some continuing relationship, and some results are being measured.

But effectiveness is as important to donors as accountability, if not more. GiveDirectly’s website cites nearly thirty academic studies on the effectiveness of direct giving which help to dash a common suspicion about the model: namely, that people will spend the cash on frivolous or even harmful things like alcohol or drugs.

These studies found no evidence of that.

Even so, not everyone is sold. Aside from potential misuse of the money, some fear that giving cash introduces a risk of dependency that doesn’t exist with other kinds of development assistance, like infrastructure improvements.

However, proponents of direct giving could argue in return that giving money is at least better than giving material goods, as the local economy is stimulated when people have more cash to spend (when goods are given, local merchants don’t stand to profit).

There’s another, less obvious benefit to going the direct-giving route: discovering how people choose to help themselves, given the resources, can provide great data to help NGOs better understand how to meet their community’s unique needs—instead of imposing what they or their or donors might think is needed—and to refocus their efforts in that direction.

For example, GiveDirectly’s data show that a vast majority of recipients spent the money they received on a new, durable metal roof to replace their old grass roof. They’ll save on maintenance costs for years, allowing them to put more money toward educating their families, starting or growing businesses, and general well-being.

Larger NGOs could now enter the picture to help many more people by replacing many more roofs. It’s possible to arrive at the same conclusion through surveys, analysis, or other means, but there’s an attractive elegance to inviting people to literally show potential supporters what kind of help they could really use.

What do you think of GiveDirectly’s approach? Do you believe the direct giving model could—or should—work on a larger scale? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Tags: , , , ,



Try this! Bring TEDx to under-resourced communities

The idea

Over the past few years, TED talks have become a popular way of sharing knowledge on pretty much anything. From robot technology to guerrilla gardening, the topics tackled by TED speakers have a limitless breadth, and the events are known to pack auditoriums and concert halls across the world.

But what about smaller, isolated communities who don’t have access to this bottomless pit of information, whether it be in person or via TED’s online video archive?

They create their own version.

TEDx Kliptown participants outside of the local venue.

TEDx Kliptown participants outside of the event’s first venue.

Both Kelo Kubu and Kevin Otieno have championed these new kinds of TEDx talks in two African villages. Kubu used a “TEDx in a Box”—an all-in-one kit of equipment needed to put on a talk—to hold Kliptown, South Africa’s first talk in 2011 and Otieno used the aid of other veteran TEDx organizers to get TEDx Kibera (one of Kenya’s largest slums) off the ground in 2009.

“It’s important to share [TED talks] with other impoverished communities, since the majority of the people in these communities have lost hope in life,” says Otieno. “We’ve already seen the small impact made in Kibera. People can learn, be encouraged, be motivated and be inspired to think big and differently. And they didn’t have that before.”

While their events both followed a similar structure of a regular TEDx talk, both Kubu and Otieno worked hard to mold the events into something the locals would want to attend, if not continue on their own. From promoting a simplistic, bare-bones image—as to not intimidate the largely impoverished attendees—to knowing what snacks to bring, the two successfully piqued the interest and imaginations of their specific communities by finding common ground.

Why you might like to try this

  • Sparks local and global idea-sharing.  In Kliptown, Thulani Madondo, the leader of South Africa’s One Laptop Per Child branch spoke about the program’s efforts to bring new technology to remote communities and classrooms. In response, local children in the audience who had received laptops through this program recorded their own TEDx discussion on how they use it. “What was interesting to me was the ease at which the community caught on to the idea of TEDx and wanted to make their own,” says Kubu. “And to see both the creator of the laptop program and the children who received it side by side brought it full circle.”
  • Empowers community. Otieno says that TEDx Kibera has changed people’s perceptions on who can teach. “They realize that despite their socioeconomic status they are not different. They can’t choose where they are born but they can choose what they want to be.” Since TEDx became a reoccurring presence in Kibera four years ago, new businesses led by event attendees have popped up across the sprawling slum.
  • Provides insight on universal technologies. The TEDx in a Box kit contains tablets and smart phones that can be plugged into projectors to screen TEDx talks. Kubu says that bringing this usually foreign technology to small communities is a huge step in global education, especially for youth. “Kids catch onto new technology faster than adults. It doesn’t matter if they are in a rural community or in New York City. With just a simple tablet or smart phone in a classroom, children can become global citizens,” says Kubu. “This is the future of education.”


Gomba, a local artist, speaks about art, empowerment and life in Kibera at the TEDx Kibera event.
 

How you can replicate it

While each area‘s TEDx events should be uniquely crafted to make sense in their community, Kubu and Otieno agree that the idea is meant to be universal.  If you’d like to host a TEDx in your small community, or know of one that could benefit from a TEDx event, consider these tips from Kubu.

  • Do your homework on the location.  Community members will only be interested in the talk if the topics relate to real issues and ideas that are relevant to their society. For example, in Kibera, Otieno invited the head of a local art studio to speak, encouraging listeners to contribute to the space. “To make it work, you have to know something about the community. You have to know what their needs are and how it can benefit them,” says Kubu. “It has to make sense.”
  • Find the right messenger. Kubu says that, if you aren’t from the area, it’s key to connect with a community leader to spread the word about the event. People feel more comfortable hearing about a new idea when it comes from a familiar source.
  • Make the audience comfortable Be sure to create a welcoming atmosphere for attendees. If they’re used to sitting on the floor, don’t bring chairs. If social events in their community usually involve snacks, make sure you bring the right ones.
  • Make cost a non-issue. “It’s important to show the community that putting on a event doesn’t have to cost a lot of money,” she says. “You can make money a barrier, and we don’t want that.  We want people to see that it’s easy and can be something they would have done on any other day.”
  • Provide tools to keep it going. Kubu left a stack of TED DVDs at Kilptown’s library—one of the few places in town with electricity and a DVD player. Now, locals visit the library weekly for an arranged viewing of a talk.

“Ideally, I’d like to see Kliptown put on their own TEDx talk,” she says. “But all we can do is start the idea. The rest is in their hands.”

_

Interested in curating a small-scale TEDx talk? Contact Kelo Kubu at Kelo.Kubu@gmail.com or Kevin Otieno at otieno_rebel@yahoo.com. 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Idea File: Mapping Kibera and other slums

featured

Kibera photo by khym54 (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Today’s idea: Map Kibera

For many of us, all it takes is a few clicks to find out what’s nearby. The first thing I do when I’m restaurant hunting, for example, is go to Google Maps. Same goes for when I’m traveling.

But there are still areas that literally aren’t on the map. Nairobi’s slum Kibera, for example, was displayed as a forest on official documents until late 2009 when a group of volunteers set out to change this. Realizing the tremendous value a simple map could have for this city within a city, the group trained Kenyan youth in GPS and data editing. The result was an ever-evolving digital map that displays all of the community’s resources – hospitals, schools, food kiosks, gas pumps, Internet cafes, and more.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Community empowerment. The tool taps into one of our basic human needs: recognition. Instead of focusing on a lack, why not create a map that highlights existing assets?
  • Practical resource. The map increases residents’ knowledge of the area, thereby increasing access to resources.
  • Stake in own development. While the initial idea was from non-Kenyans, it was the local youth who implemented the project. From the process they learned concrete technical skills and built a sense of ownership.
  • Open technology. The platform accounts for rapid changes; anyone can go in and update the map.

How you can replicate it

First, see if the need for a digital map exists. If it does, participants can identify starting reference points, such as existing paper maps or firsthand knowledge. A clear view from space using Google MapMaker also helps.

You’ll need a lot of people to capture all the resources. Reach out to community members via traditional word of mouth, or through social networking sites such as Facebook. Once you have the information, a good tool to use is OpenStreetMap. For easy editing, MapQuest is surprisingly complementary.

Throughout the process, engage residents in its creation and provide opportunities for learning. Let the community take ownership; if you’re an outsider, they, not you, should be in charge of the map’s maintenance.

Caveats and considerations

Because creating the map ideally involves a lot of people, the potential for mistakes can be huge. But if it’s a peer reviewed process, where people are constantly checking to make sure the data is correct, then the mistakes can be lessened.

Once the map is completed, it can be a challenge to make the up-to-date version accessible for those who don’t have access to the Internet, or whose knowledge is sparse. One possible option might be to put an editable version of the map on residents’ mobile phones.

What else can you do after the map has been filled in? There are plenty of initiatives to glean lessons and inspiration from: Ladies Mapping Party, Ushahidi, Groundcrew, GeoCommons, Crowdmap, Managing News, and DC Foodshed just to name a few. Any others come to mind?

Written with the help of Scott Stadum, User Engagement Analyst for the Sunlight Foundation.

Tags: , , , , ,