GiveDirectly provides cash transfers to low-income households in 9 countries across East Africa, West Africa, and North America. Based in both the United States and Kenya, but foregoing the traditional structure of operating professionally-staffed assistance programs, GiveDirectly collects donations internationally, primarily from individuals, companies, and institutional partners and distributes those funds to individual recipients via mobile money. They identify and evaluate recipients, provide cash, and follow up with individuals to research the effects of Universal Basic Income and unconditional cash transfers on impoverished communities. In addition to small-sum donations, they have received 25 million dollars from Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and 5 million dollars’ worth of Bitcoin from ‘The Pineapple Fund’. Of every dollar donated, historically GiveDirectly retains about ten cents to sustain the organization and conduct research and transfers the remaining 90 cents directly to families in poverty. The money is no-strings-attached: individuals can spend it however they like.
In response to COVID-19, GiveDirectly focused their cash-transfer programs on urban, peri-urban, low-connectivity, and vulnerable areas in Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, and Rwanda as well as randomly selected food stamp and SNAP benefit recipients across the United States. They launched an ‘emergency cash-assistance model’ that works with community organizations and local telecommunications agencies to provide digital cash via SMS.
Theory of Change
Providing cash to the world’s poorest without conditions empowers them economically, enabling recipients to use the money most effectively by giving them agency in how best to ameliorate their situation.
In 2017, GiveDirectly launched a 12-year, 30 million dollar Universal Basic Income pilot experiment in Kenya. Their randomized-controlled trial places 295 villages across rural Kenya into one of several categories: long-term or short-term basic income recipients, lump-sum recipients, or control groups. Households and community leaders are surveyed to assess the impact of cash-transfers on individual financial preferences, economic and social well-being, health, and local economies. Additionally, in 2018, GiveDirectly received international funding for its lump-sum, unconditional cash transfer program to refugees in Uganda. GiveDirectly’s East Africa and US COVID-19 response supports basic needs and mitigates market collapses to sustain local economies through the pandemic. Working with field partners, they identify populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and enroll, transfer funds, and follow up with participants by phone.
Through peer-reviewed publications on their longitudinal experiments, GiveDirectly provides concrete evidence that most people invest unconditional grants on education, healthcare, energy, and their businesses to pull themselves out of poverty. A 2016 GiveDirectly randomized-controlled trial found that $1,000 provided in unconditional cash transfer led to increases of $270 in earnings, $430 in savings, and $330 on nutrition – and a 0% impact on alcohol/tobacco expenditure. Preliminary 2020 findings on their Universal Basic Income study found that cash transfers helped decrease shocks to food insecurity and provide a modest safety net to rely on during the pandemic.