The COVID-19 pandemic could push more than 140 million people globally into extreme poverty and the very aid that the most vulnerable need has never been more complicated to deliver. Global and domestic travel restrictions have made it difficult and more expensive for global humanitarian organizations to get aid workers and supplies to the places most in need. Even at a local level, in-person services have been hampered by the health risks associated with programs that deliver goods and services. Many low-income communities are also grappling with job losses, and containment measures have limited options for people to earn an income. This has left many facing food insecurity and vulnerable populations at the highest risk of slipping deeper into poverty.
For over a decade, GiveDirectly has provided no-strings-attached cash transfers to the world’s most vulnerable. Now they are leveraging the growth in the adoption of mobile technologies across Sub-Saharan Africa to design and deploy a breakthrough, fully remote model of humanitarian relief in response to the COVID-19 crisis. With Audacious investment over the next 12 months, GiveDirectly will scale its current model to provide unconditional cash transfers to over 300,000 vulnerable people, helping families to address their immediate needs safely. GiveDirectly also aims to demonstrate the potential of data-informed crisis relief across different contexts and improve the scale and effectiveness of future humanitarian responses.
Across the next year, GiveDirectly will scale its current model, enrolling and identifying recipients without in-person contact in two ways: 1) partnering with community-based organizations to identify target beneficiaries within their existing networks and 2) leveraging data from national telephone companies to target those most in need at scale. Once target beneficiaries have been identified, they will be registered via cell phones or phone surveys, and cash dispersed to them via mobile money operators, such as M-Pesa. GiveDirectly will also collect rigorous feedback and data, systematizing the underlying processes and algorithms so they can be deployed for future disasters, demonstrating a new model for rapid humanitarian relief.
The global scale of the COVID-19 pandemic requires a flexible solution, like cash aid, that accounts for each context, community, and individual's differing needs. GiveDirectly is the first—and largest—nonprofit exclusively dedicated to delivering cash aid directly to the world's poorest. Since 2009, GiveDirectly has delivered over $260 million directly into the hands of over 270,000 families living in poverty. Direct cash assistance is effective and provides the dignity of choice to recipients, enabling them to define their own needs. In more than 150 studies, direct cash aid shows positive outcomes across various indicators, including income, savings, psychological well-being, and food consumption.
Michael is the President and co-founder of GiveDirectly. He co-founded Segovia Technology which makes it easier for organizations to pay anyone, anytime, anywhere in the emerging markets, as well as Taptap Send, which is making consumer remittances cheaper and more convenient. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders and is also a term member of the Council of Foreign Relations. Michael was named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 leading Global Thinkers in 2013. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, where he also studied Math and Classics.
Dozens of studies have already shown conclusively that just handing very poor people a considerable sum of cash can transform their lives in lasting ways. That is hardly surprising. But this study set out to ask a different question: What about their neighbors?
For about a decade now, the charity GiveDirectly has been distributing cash straight to poor residents in sub-Saharan Africa, starting in Kenya and expanding later to Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Morocco.
Over the past decade there has been a surge of interest in a novel approach to helping the world's poor: Instead of giving them goods like food or services like job training, just hand out cash — with no strings attached. Now a major new study suggests that people who get the aid aren't the only ones who benefit.