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Why I give directly: Service at the local level

Stewart Bainum Jr. is the Chairman of the Board for Choice Hotels International. He was the CEO of Manor Care, Inc. from 1987 to 1998 and has served on various boards including the UCLA Anderson Board of Visitors and the Board of Trustees of Johns Hopkins University.

Headshot of Stewart Bainum Jr.



Last month Stewart visited GiveDirectly’s operations in Western Kenya where he spoke with GiveDirectly staff and recipients in person. We appreciated that he asked hard questions about everything from GiveDirectly’s operations to how non-recipients felt about neighbors who had received a transfer. Since his trip Stewart has decided to send $1 million as transfers through GiveDirectly, helping roughly 4,000 individuals living in extreme poverty improve their own lives. In this post he reflects on seeing GiveDirectly’s work on the ground and explains why he gives directly.

We spent three days in Western Kenya visiting villages that were either being registered by GiveDirectly for a transfer or had received transfers three years earlier. Without input from GiveDirectly staff, we randomly selected families to interview. We were especially impressed with how wisely the recipient families had used the funds, given their unique needs.

Some recipients were realizing a 40-50% annual return on the distributed capital that probably can be sustained for many years. Others had thoughtfully chosen investments which, while nicely fitting their needs, generated more qualitative and less quantifiable returns. We were also struck by the positive attitude of the families who had not received a transfer. They were happy for those who had and believed that (1) GiveDirectly had chosen those most in need and (2) over ninety percent of the families had used the funds wisely.

Most NGOs have worthy missions and some have winning strategies for accomplishing their mission. But few seem to have the ability to efficiently deliver their service at the local level. GiveDirectly allowed us to confidentially interview their people at five levels, chosen randomly by us, one on one without any of their peers or supervisors in the room. These interviews helped us appreciate GiveDirectly’s talent, better understand its culture and also corroborated our growing confidence in their special ability to execute locally.

We were also pleased that the GiveDirectly team is committed to continuously learning what they can do differently and better. It helped us realize that the return generated by our investment is likely to grow over time.