This summer we interviewed five young women from Mathare, a large slum in Nairobi, Kenya (for comparison, it’s nearly 8x as dense as NYC). These women are enrolled in our first urban pilot of cash transfers, delivering transfers of approximately $1200 USD to youth aged 18 to 35. The program — our first to ever provide smartphones to recipients — also provides digital educational content on entrepreneurship. Over 25% of Kenya’s youth are unemployed (many even after completing their education or participating in job training).
In our interviews, we wanted to hear how the transfers have affected their lives, but we were also curious to learn a bit more about how else these women use their smartphones. We’ve previously collected data from recipients in the urban youth program about how they use their phones, and 43.65% reported using their phone to listen to music or the radio on most days. So we asked the women we spoke with if they like to listen to music themselves, and if so, what their favorite song is.
We’ve compiled a Spotify playlist featuring the five songs these women shared with us. You can listen to the full playlist here.
Before receiving GiveDirectly transfers, Mercy washed clothes to earn money to support her three children. The small amount of money she earned was enough to cover food, but not much else. Often, her children were sent home from school because she couldn’t afford their school fees.
When Mercy began receiving GiveDirectly transfers, she invested in a butchering business, like one her father ran when she was a child. Because Mercy grew up watching him run the business, she felt confident she could do it on her own. She bought a scale and paid rent on a small shop. She now runs the shop in addition to washing clothes to generate enough income for food, rent, and school fees for her children.
In the evenings when she closes up the butcher shop, she likes to listen to gospel music — her favorite artist is John De’Mathew.
Monica has a towel business in Mathare: she buys towels at wholesale prices to resell. She said this is a difficult business — often people steal from her or fail to pay her — and running the business is made even more challenging as she tries to balance a family at the same time. With her transfer from GiveDirectly, the balance has been a little easier to manage, as she can now pay for a babysitter. But she still expressed concern on her day-to-day: sometimes she has to simultaneously run her business and watch her children; and when she’s not looking after them she worries about their safety.
The towel business is not Monica’s passion — she’s always dreamed of becoming a designer, but only made it up to Form 2 in school (the equivalent of 10th grade) because she couldn’t afford her school fees.
“I had to ditch my passion,” she said. “My future was taken away.”
Monica loves to listen to gospel music, and her favorite song is “Irema” by Shiru wa GP.
“Shiru is encouraging and inspires you,” Monica said. “I like her lyrics, ‘If you fall down, you don’t have to worry.’”
Mary grew up in Mathare and finished both primary and secondary school, at which point she went to college and studied to be a travel agent. But she never used those skills. When her husband passed away in 2011, she began a salon business on her doorstep, braiding hair for local clients. She took a pastry class through her local church to gain baking skills, hoping to someday buy an oven and sell pastries to generate extra income to support her family.
When Mary received her GiveDirectly transfers, she bought an oven and baking tins. Each day, she bakes from 4 to 5 p.m. The following morning, she sells her baked goods from her doorstep. She continues to book salon appointments with loyal clients, and invests the income she generates through the salon business back into her baking business.
Mary told us that her favorite musical artist is the Tanzanian bongo drummer Diamond Platnumz. She’s inspired by the positive method he sets forth.
Before receiving her GiveDirectly transfer, Joyce sold air fresheners by walking from car to car on the Mathare streets to generate income to support her two daughters and her husband.
When she was first approached by GiveDirectly about receiving a cash transfer, Joyce was skeptical. “I was only used to receiving loans,” she said.
But once she started receiving her transfers, Joyce decided to start a new business: selling second-hand clothes. She said people in Mathare are known to dress smartly, but at an affordable price, and she saw an opportunity — the market is far and everyone is busy, so she decided to deliver clothes directly to people instead. People are willing to pay an extra cost for convenience. She dreams of expanding the business into other neighborhoods.
Joyce said her best-selling items are socks, bras, and boxers. And she told us her husband says he’s happier now because he sees her happier; he knew selling air fresheners didn’t motivate her, but selling clothing does.
Her favorite song to listen to is the reggae rendition of Adele’s “Hello” performed by Alaine.
Gertrude is a single mother and takes tailoring jobs to generate income to pay for food, rent, and school fees. She earns about 200 Kenyan shillings a day (approximately $2 USD), but needs about 500 Kenyan shillings to pay for all of her family’s expenses.
Gertrude said it’s difficult being a single mother because people expect men to be the head of the household, not women. Though people tell her she is doing an incredible job and her children are happy, she wonders, “What if I’m not giving them good advice?”
She’s proud of the fact that one of her daughter’s has completed Form 4 (the equivalent of 12th grade). Gertrude hopes she’ll someday have a workshop to run a tailoring business from and with her increased earnings be able to pay for school fees for her other children.
Gertrude loves gospel songs by Chris Mwahangila, particularly the song “Nitetee Mungu.”
“When I listen to them my energy is raised and rejuvenated,” she said.
On the album cover, from left to right, are Monica, Gertrude, and Joyce. Listen to the full playlist here.