Here’s What Happens When You Give $1,000 to Someone in Extreme Poverty
Andrew McDermott writes at NewCo.com:
My wife, Adrienne, and I are long-time supporters of unconditional cash giving. From handing $5 to a homeless person on the street in Manhattan to raising $450 to give to a working father of one in rural South Africa — we believe in the virtues of sharing abundance in an empowering fashion that enables people to decide how best to allocate their resources themselves. When we found GiveDirectly in November 2015, an org that gives $1,000, unconditionally, to people who are in extreme poverty, as a solution to get them out of extreme poverty, we fell in love. Unconditional — they can do anything they want with it — which is incredibly empowering to recipients, but many people in ‘the west’ think it’s risky…or even foolish.
We’ve told countless friends and family about GiveDirectly, and the concept of transferring cash is met with much skepticism; soliciting responses such as “eh, I only give people food,” and others such as;
“How do they make sure people aren’t defrauding them or stealing the cash?”
“I bet most people waste or squander the cash.”
“It probably doesn’t have long-term impact, such as building a school could.”
“General angst about the “Savior Barbie” complex, where western people go out to save people in poor countries by telling them what they should do — often a self-serving endeavor.”
After dealing with the frequent barrage of opposing views, but always holding strong to our personal convictions; we decided to dig for some more answers — and see how many of these holes they were poking in our own justifications could be filled. Since we currently travel abroad full-time, and Kenya is an incredible country, we decided to head out for a field visit and take a real peek under the hood of GD’s operation.
In August 2016, my wife and I visited GiveDirectly’s office in Kisumu, Kenya and spent two 10-hour days in the field, visiting real past recipients in the Siaya (where President Obama’s grandmother lives!) and Homa Bay regions. After meeting the team on the ground and hearing about their day to day work, we were really surprised and impressed by five main things that actually directly addressed a lot of the negative feedback we’ve heard in the past:
- ) The vast majority of the team are local Kenyans; only two of around 80 or so employees are expats. We think that’s fantastic, since we’ve already known that 91% of the cash that we personally give to GD goes directly into the field, but actually a solid portion of the 9% administrative cost actually funnels into creating local jobs that afford hundreds more people in East Africa the opportunity to build bright futures for themselves. There’s a huge unemployment issue in Kenya and other East African countries and foreign investment is still far behind demand, so this kind of job creation has a huge impact on the community.
Beyond the employment opportunity, the real incredible moments for us came when we had the chance to speak individually with a few of the locals on the team. Candidly; they are all proud to be working their asses off to improve the lives of people in their own community. We even heard two separate stories from some senior-level guys (still under 30 years old) who were driven to work at GiveDirectly after having their own first real exposure to abject poverty; even just a few miles from where they lived. They were moved to make a difference, to pour their energy every day into giving other people in their community better lives.
One of the most interesting stories we heard was about a young woman who received a cash transfer from GiveDirectly in 2014. She used a large portion of the transfer to cover her school fees so that she could complete her schooling, and then graduated and immediately sought employment. She applied to work for GiveDirectly (GD often has 200–600 applicants for any one vacancy) and she got the job. From living off of less than one dollar a day, to now being employed in one of the most competitive roles available, the cash transfer from GiveDirectly has completely altered the path of her life, and she will reach heights that only two years ago she would have thought to be completely unattainable for her.
2). There was really no “savior barbie” complex in the GiveDirectly operation — no one is coming in from wealthy nations and telling anyone else how to live their own lives and what’s best for them, and no one here is swooping in from some rich country on a self-serving mission ‘save the world.’
3.) Auditing — The rigor behind this operation is crazy. They have 5 separate teams of people for each stage in the transfer process — from initial outreach through final follow-up, the recipients almost never see the same people, so there’s no nepotism, and absolutely everything is audited.
4.) . . .