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CANADA: Vancouver based non-profit, the New Leaf Project, is starting an unconditional cash transfer pilot study this Summer

Claire Williams and Frans Tjallingii

A new non-profit organization named the New Leaf Project (NLP) is on the verge of starting a direct unconditional cash transfer program in Vancouver, Canada. This program, designed as a test pilot, is set to start in late summer, and will disburse a one-time cash grant of 7500 CAN$ to 50 recently homeless people.


Co-founders Frans Tjallingii and Claire Williams started building the project in October 2015, after Frans finished reading Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists. From there they set up to presente their idea to economists, researchers and leaders in the social services sector. Many got excited and supported the project. Frans and Claire also got in touch with GiveDirectly, a New York based charity NGO, for advice on how to run the cash transfer trial in Vancouver. Another important partnership is with Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Jiaying Zhao, whose primary line of research examines the cognitive causes and consequences of poverty. The NLP has also made formal agreements with social service organizations such as the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, an NGO dedicated to homeless people relief.


After doing research work on previous cash transfers trials and on available literature on the subject, the coordinators at the NLP assert that “direct cash transfers offer a powerful alternative to their status quo”. The pilot project will include 50 individuals, who will be selected according to a set of criteria. The grant is made unconditionally in the sense that it does not impose any conditions on how it is spent by participants. The selection criteria have been designed to “support participants to the highest degree possible, assess their readiness for change and reduce the risk of harm”. Criteria include length of time a person has been homeless, a willingness to work and level of functionality.


The NLP test pilot


The NLP will focus on some performance indicators, over which success (or failure) will be evaluated. These indicators include employment attainment and retention, income levels, housing stability, health conditions, subjective well-being, cognitive functions and sense of community and social support. One important feature of the NLP test trial is to evaluate the influence of motivational training which will be offered to half of the participants. This training process, headed by a team at the University of British Columbia, involves the development of “personal plans, self-affirmation work and financial and digital literacy training”. The rationale behind this training procedure is that empowering homeless people may not only be about cash, but also building up a healthy sense of self-worth and connection to society, including the important issue of employment.


The amount of the cash transfer – 7500 CAN$ – is based upon the approximate annual welfare benefit in British Columbia. This distribution of cash in one installment is based upon evidence from other cash transfer programs, that larger sums of money given in one lump-sum have a greater potential to transform someone’s life than a series of smaller payments (e.g.: the delivery of social assistance payments) (1). This amount will be given to two groups, while a third group will act as a control. These first two groups will receive the money, while only one of them will receive the motivational training program. The NLP coordinators hypothesize that the group receiving both the money and the training will outperform the others in the abovementioned indicators. They also anticipate that the group receiving the money but not the training will show better results than the control group.


Results and future developments


If the pilot project demonstrates impact, the NLP founders already envision the possibility of going national with their initiative. One step in that direction would be to extend the trial, or implementation of the project, to cities like Toronto and Montreal. That can only occur, however, after a thorough dissemination of the results made possible by the Vancouver experiment. Results will be shared via the project website, the making of a video and possibly a documentary. There will also be more formal presentation of results through reports to funders and the publication of academic literature.


There is no relationship between the NLP and provincial attempts to go forward with basic income pilot studies in Canada, namely in Ontario. Claire Williams considers British Columbia’s change in provincial leadership a positive development for the project, but furthers no more on possible connections between formal political institutions and the NLP at this point.




(1) – Other disbursements, as for exemple as done by GiveDirectly are usually made monthly.


Acknowledgments: Claire Williams, for the interview and other informative material.


More information at:

The New Leaf Project website

About Andre Coelho

André Coelho has written 136 articles.

Activist. Engineer. Musician. For the more beautiful world our hearts know it's possible.

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  • Thomas Oberhäuser

    Hello – I read this in your article: “Criteria include length of time a person has been homeless, a willingness to work …” – Does this mean, the people have to offer their workforce? Is this a concept with conditions, the people have to meet? – …. What is the connection to an Unconditional Basic Income? – Thanks.

    • Andre Coelho

      Hi Thomas,

      This experiment in Vancouver is not a basic income experiment in a complete sense. There are some conditions attached, as explained in the article. What the NLP is doing is a cash transfer program, in an attempt to revitalize these people’s lives. Since the program is meant to last only for 12 months and is limited to 7500 US$ per person, one of the purposes is to get these people back into a job (so they can earn an income and keep away from homelessness).

      Best regards,


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