OPINION: GiveDirectly? Not So Fast.
Friday, March 14, 2014
GiveDirectly is the current flavor of the month, and every couple of days someone asks us what we think of it. For those of you behind on your news feed, GiveDirectly does unconditional cash transfers—it sends money via mobile payment straight to the poorest people in Kenyan villages. It’s a brilliant approach to cutting out corruption and waste: 93 cents of every donated dollar goes to recipients as cash, and those recipients reliably spend it on food, housing, health care, education, and business investment. GiveWelllists GiveDirectly as one of its three “Top Charities” and recently gave the organization $5 million to do a lot more of the same.
The GiveDirectly team is really impressive, and we like approaches to development that give poor people the power of choice. We also like the cheekiness of simply handing out cash, and it was fun to hear the GiveDirectly crew talking about their work on NPR’s “This American Life” (equally fun to hear Heifer International pinned to wall for its lack of—almost contempt for—impact data on the same show). But is GiveDirectly’s model, as Slate put it: “the best and simplest way to fight poverty”?
No. It’s an experiment—an important one, but an experiment nonetheless. We hope we’re wrong, but our hunch is that it is more of a 1-year reprieve from deprivation than a cost-effective, lasting “solution to poverty.”