Traveling Summary: Driving 6h 49 m driving 189 km
After reaching the GiveDirectly office in Ngororero, we switched to their hired car and drove out to the district government offices. We met with the district government leader to confirm permission to go into the community. From then we headed up into the mountains, split up, (Phil and Sean going with their own GiveDirectly field worker), and then want to observe our first census.
“GiveDirectly is a nonprofit that lets donors like you send money directly to the world’s poorest households. We believe people living in poverty deserve the dignity to choose for themselves how best to improve their lives — cash enables that choice.” In Rwanda, where IntelliTect has donated, each recipient was given a little more than 800 USD in two installments a month a part. Interactions with the recipients are as follows:
- Community meeting: a section of 2-3 hundred recipients is gathered together and informed about the unconditional cash they are going to receive and how the process works.
- A meeting with each household occurs, called a census, where information is gathered to support the process and, if necessary, a phone and SIM card is provided in support of a mobile bank transfer to the recipient.
- Recipients are contacted by phone and informed about the cash transfer.
- Cash is transferred in two installments separated by a month.
- A follow up “audit” occurs in which GD asks recipients how they spent the money.
The census I observed was led by Priscila and I had my friend Cedric (whom I met earlier) help with the translation. We were accompanied by the chief of the district and two armed police they brought with them. I suggested that armed police might interfere with the census process but I was assured they were for “our protection” and the GD staff acquiesced.
The process went something like this:
- Explain the program
- Confirm that the cash transfer is non-conditional
- Caution the household of potential scams
- Ask the recipients which of the heads of household would be the official recipient (if no preference is specified, GiveDirectly chooses the female) and get confirmation that both participants agree. About 60-80% of the time the household selects the female and if the couple doesn’t express a preference, GD chooses the female.
- Document all income-generating activities – surprisingly, this didn’t record the amount of income, just the various activities (more on this later)
- Provide the option for a new Motorola phone (<15 USD value subtracted from the total cash transfer) with instructions on the mobile banking (via which they will receive the cash transfer)
- Review guidelines (like no conflict – more on that later) and spending exclusions (which include drugs&alcohol, gambling, and high-interest loans)
- Confirm identity and electronically sign acceptance agreement
- Photos of both recipients, family, and the house (inside & out)
Generally, a household census is expected to take around 30 minutes but ours was more like 50 (presumably because of the pesky foreigners that were getting in the home.)
It was a well-run process. In addition to the optional phone, the household was provided with a handout explaining the program and identifying the amount of the cash transfer. The census data was recorded in a mobile-enabled, offline (Salesforce) application which included the recording of all photographs.
Before the census, the recipients didn’t know exactly how much they were going to receive – well except for rumors from the neighbors. The actual transfer would occur in two separate transactions, the first within a month or so and the second a month after that. Regardless, once the amount was confirmed, the joy and excitement of the recipient household was overwhelming. In fact, when we left and passed a second household who Priscila would be taking a census with next, the mom came out and gave me a big hug. As a GD field worker, Priscila’s job was to meet and take a census with 10 households per day, which included the time taken to travel between households.
By this time we were running late for the community meeting. This was where GD would announce to the next community that like their neighboring community before them, they would be receiving the unconditional cash transfers. As we approached the building — an old auditorium from a private school that had closed due to a lack of paying students — we could sense the excitement. When we walked in everyone was celebrating by singing. The song was a gospel-sounding government song about following the rules and something about security. It was emotional to hear, but upon learning the translation, it seemed eerily like George Orwell’s 1984 — but no one seemed to be aware or have any concern. Interesting!
The community meeting outlined the process, covering much of the same information that was presented in the census (which was next after the meeting for this community). In addition, the district chief presented before and emphasized after, how everyone must follow the rules, watch and report their neighbors for any suspicious behavior, and implied that the GD activity was in some way associated with the government. When GD presented, the fieldworker got the crowd excited with a shout of “Give” to which the audience responded “Directly.” An activity repeated throughout to help keep people’s attention and excitement. The meeting ended with questions, many of which were already answered but there were some areas of clarification.
From my perspective, both GD activities were emotionally charged and the joy and excitement palpable. A few times, especially at the start of the community meeting, I had to suppress my emotional joy bordering on any tears leaking out. I was honored and blessed to be there.
One important point to note: GD highlighted that the key goal of the cash transfers was for these people to escape extreme poverty. As a donor, this was exactly what I would hope. Unfortunately, it actually opened up an important question for me.
- What was the increase in income from before the cash transfer to (some significant number like) five years later?
A second question related to the point they emphasized during the community meeting: couples should not have conflict in order to receive the cash transfer. This is important because they want unity in the financial decisions the couple is making. While I (obviously) have no conflict in my marriage :), this raised an eyebrow for me:
- Why did the census, which asked about marital conflict, only detect conflict two percent of the time when UN Women had the following statistics at the time of this writing:
- Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence in the last 12 months: 20.7%
- Lifetime Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence: 37.1%
More on these questions and my GD impressions here.