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Charity To Amp Up Direct Aid Mission In Impoverished East Africa


What if solving global poverty is as simple as just giving people money? That's the theory behind the charity GiveDirectly, which has spent much of the last decade providing no-strings-attached cash to the very poor in developing countries. Now, the organization wants to go even further and provide a guaranteed basic income to thousands of East Africans for at least 10 years. Here to talk to us about the project is GiveDirectly's cofounder, Michael Faye. He joins us from our studios in New York. Michael, thanks for being with us.

MICHAEL FAYE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: This seems, Michael, to go against most people's notion of how aid works. So explain what the process is.

FAYE: It is an unorthodox idea to give cash to the poor in order to make them less poor. For a long time, we assumed that the poor could not be trusted to make decisions for themselves. So we made them for them. And we sent them goats, and we sent them cows and food stamps and so on. And as it turns out, the poor are quite good at making decisions for themselves. And evidence actually shows that it's more impactful and more cost-effective than a lot of the other means of doing development or social programming.

MARTIN: And how much money are we talking about?

FAYE: So historically, we've been giving about one year's consumption per family, which is about $1,000, or about $200 per person.

MARTIN: Can you give us a sense of what people historically have used the money for?

FAYE: People have used it for a wide range of things. Capital investments - we saw an increase in people's income by about 34 percent. You saw kids eating more than they had before.

MARTIN: And you want to be able to make this longer, decade-long commitment to the people who you identify?

FAYE: There's an exciting idea which is being talked about a lot now, which is universal basic income, which is a form of cash transfer that actually provides everybody with enough money to live forever. So for $30 million, we're going to be providing cash transfers in East Africa to 18,000 people, of which 6,000 will be getting a full universal basic income for 10 to 15 years.

MARTIN: So you say you want to identify a community and pay them an annual salary - everyone in that community - for an entire year. You're going to do it for 10 years. But then you said ultimately, the dream scenario is you want to be able to subsidize this community forever?

FAYE: So we're going to make a clear promise at the beginning of the pilot to the poor on how long they will receive a transfer from because the promise of a guarantee - if it's for 10 years, 15 years or forever - today, may affect today's decisions. These are the questions that we'd like to answer. And to do it, we need to make a very clear commitment to the poor upfront, whether it's 10 years, 15 years or forever.

MARTIN: Is the implicit goal of the project to get people to be able to eventually make their own salaries?

FAYE: Is the goal to get people to make their own salaries? I think the goal is to improve welfare for the poor and improve their lives pretty dramatically. They're people that are looking to find their next meal, or debating whether or not they can afford to send their kid to school. And I think the outcomes of cash will be across the various dimensions of welfare, whether it's education, health, income-generating activities, assets and so on. So I think it's not as simple as one metric. It's really looking across the broad array of welfare.

MARTIN: Michael Faye is cofounder of the group GiveDirectly. Thanks so much for talking with us, Michael.

FAYE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.