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Research Director Field Studies – Day 3: Cash transfer experts

In the final part of this three-part series, GiveDirectly’s Research Director Michael Cooke discusses key takeaways from his trip to visit field teams and recipients in Kenya.

At GiveDirectly we talk a lot about the poor being the true poverty experts. Today I had the great privilege of being able to ask questions of poverty experts who had received cash transfers. For the purposes of this blog, let’s call them Expert 1 and Expert 2.

I asked Expert 1 what was most important to her when she was deciding what to spend her transfer on. She had two priorities: to have her own toilet – her family was sharing one with a neighbor and digging is difficult (and therefore expensive) in the area they live – and to have a source of income for the future.

Expert 1’s husband is a fisherman who had to rent nets each day, giving part of his daily income over to the net owner. They therefore spent part of their transfer on their own net. Expert 1 also used part of the transfer as start-up capital for her own shoe-selling business. The family also now has their own, deep-dug toilet, as well as cushions for their bench and chairs, building materials to improve and extend their house, two goats, and food.

Outdoor toilet with metal roof and siding
A toilet built by a recipient with part of their cash transfer.

I asked Expert 1 what advice she would give to new recipients who had just been enrolled in GiveDirectly’s program. She said she would:

  • Advise them not to believe the rumors that sometimes circulate about GiveDirectly
  • Explain how she used her transfers
  • Make it clear that they should not copy her – they should instead decide on their areas of priority and spend the money in those areas

Expert 2 spent his transfer on extending his home (the new floor and walls were drying when we visited), his own toilet, installing a solar-powered lighting system so that he did not have to spend money on paraffin, school fees, new bed and bedding, and, finally, sending money to his sister who looks after a number of orphans.

I asked the same question of Expert 2 – about what advice he’d give to new recipients – and he said he would advise new recipients to spend their transfer on whatever they lack: if they lack a house, they should build a house; if they are not married and want to be, they should pay a dowry. He would also advise them that buying livestock is an option.