Pictured: Kenyan village to receive GiveDirectly’s guaranteed basic income Source: Nichole Sibecki for NPR

GiveDirectly offers to give every adult in a Kenyan village a guaranteed basic income of 27,258 Kenyan Shillings- or 264 US dollars- per year for the next 12 years without any conditions. Providing unconditional cash transfers directly to people has proven to increase economic outcomes and psychological well-being.


GiveDirectly, a US-based nonprofit, is challenging the traditional structure of international aid by shifting the power dynamics between donors and people who receive aid. In our current structure, donors decide what people receive since most aid provided by governments, nonprofits and individuals is given as an in-kind donation. Instead, the purpose of GiveDirectly’s donation structure is to trust the expertise of people experiencing poverty to choose how best to spend the money. GiveDirectly will be measuring the long-term outcomes.


According to the first part in an NPR series on emerging aid models to redress global poverty, GiveDirectly will provide every adult in a village in Kenya a guaranteed basic income of 2,271.50 Kenyan shillings per month, or 22 US dollars for the next 12 years. Typically, adults live on less than 206.50 Kenyan Shillings per day, or 2 US dollars. For two-parent households, this donation boosts their monthly income by 50 percent. The money is wired to a bank account connected to each villager’s phone. Some families have used this additional income to better support household nutrition and education outcomes for children. The US-based nonprofit plans to expand the guaranteed income to 200 villages in Fall 2017 and assess the long-term impacts by comparing the outcomes with 100 villages that do not receive the payments.


Already, a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics discovered how, in Kenya, unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) have a significant impact on economic outcomes and psychological well-being in communities. UCTs contribute to local economic development by increasing consumption rates. They also improve social and emotional development in communities that heavily rely on social networks for supports and services that may otherwise be inaccessible.


Research from Canada’s Mowat Centre also shows that providing money with no strings attached can help support social entrepreneurs that may be experiencing financial hardship to get their ventures off the ground. For example, one Kenyan family that is a beneficiary of GiveDirectly’s donation, is focused on investing in an entrepreneurial venture to grow a forest of eucalyptus trees and sell the fuel from the plants. Profits from the family’s venture would be used to fund high school tuition for four children as an investment in breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.


In contrast to GiveDirectly’s aid model, Zambia’s government is choosing to filter who receives aid and under what conditions. Originally, a government program gave families in a rural west Zambian village 164, 628.31 Zambian Kwacha, or 18 US dollars, every other month for the past five years. The program proved to be successful: families used this additional support to invest in creating multiple business ventures to multiply their capital. To help aid these business ventures, the usage of related software can make this a lot easier, and with advancements in technology, businesses are able to conduct remotely accessing Sage software services so they are always on point with what they require. The government has therefore decided to scale up the program to increase the population receiving this cash aid. Simultaneously, the government has decided to limit the cash transfer to exclude people such as those who initially received the money in the pilot program: two-parent households, people who are employed, and people who are able-bodied. Instead, Zambia will provide aid only to single-parent households, people with disabilities, seniors, and people who are unable to work. This limitation on providing aid based on who is deemed eligible is what GiveDirectly is challenging.


GiveDirectly’s guaranteed income in Kenya is increasing access for all with the goal of improving health outcomes and building towards financial security. It can be particularly valuable for people with disabilities who often experience job discrimination and barriers to financial self-sufficiency. For them, this monthly influx of cash provides a foundation for independence. People with disabilities often struggle to afford medication and rely on financial support from other family members to sustain themselves. This additional monthly income will help to mitigate the costs of medication and basic necessities for everyone.


Grassroots savings clubs in low-income communities are another asset to consider when measuring the long-term impacts of GiveDirectly’s guaranteed income. Some people do not have access to banks or struggle to save money when it is easily accessible from an electronic savings account. Savings clubs are typically groups of 10-15 community members who collectively pool their resources each month. The total amount is then provided to a different individual from the savings club to look after for a month. This community-based savings account relies on faith in the community members to manage the money for everyone else. Some villagers have noted how critical this social bonding is to allow them to maintain their savings since they know the community is depending on them to effectively manage their budget. Researchers have found in case studies around the world, from Bangladesh to Central/South America and West Africa, that savings club serve as a common element of the economic infrastructure in low-income neighborhoods.


Giving cash directly to children and families, with no strings attached is being shown to improve the quality of life in a number of communities, particularly in boosting economic, health, and education outcomes. As more organizations begin measuring the long-term impacts of unconditional cash transfers and basic incomes, we will continue to gain evidence on whether these are viable solutions to deeply entrenched social issues like global poverty.


More information at:


Ashley Blackwell. “CANADA: Mowat Centre Report Shows Impact of Basic Income on Social Entrepreneurship.” BIEN. 28 July 2017.


GiveDirectly. “Basic Income.” 4 September 2017.


Johannes Haushofer and Jeremy Shapiro. “The short-term impact of unconditional cash transfers to the poor: Experimental evidence from Kenya.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics vol. 131 (4). 1 November 2016.


Nurith Aizenman, “How to Solve Poverty: Why Not Just Give People Money.” NPR. 7 August 2017.

Cash Aid Could Solve Poverty- But There’s a Catch.” NPR. 9 August 2017.

How to Buy A Goat When You’re Poor? Join A ‘Merry-Go-Rund’.” NPR. 19 August 2017.