A lot of NGOs are predicated on the notion that they know best. They come into the communities they’re trying to help with the best of intentions, but they have very specific ways in which they deliver that help. For those that give money, they might be willing to support the construction of a health clinic if they’re a health-focused organization – but not a school, or an arts centre. Essentially, the underlying logic is that the organizations know how to improve the lives and outcomes of their beneficiaries better than the beneficiaries themselves.
Enter GiveDirectly, a U.S.-based organization that operates in Kenya. Utilizing the wide use of cellphone banking in Kenya, GiveDirectly’s model is that they, well, give directly to the people they’re trying to help. They take the money given to them by donors, target the poorest communities in need (their average beneficiary lives on $0.65 per day), and transfers funds through the widespread ‘M-Pesa’ mobile payment system. They don’t demand the money only be used in certain ways, or repayments. The only thing GiveDirectly wants is for the recipients to see their lives improve.
The most common way the money is used is to buy metal roofing for their homes, to replace the cheaper (but short-lived) thatched roofing. The reason for this is that the thatched roofing has to be replaced annually, and even more frequently in many cases.
The metal roofing can last for a decade. It means that once they use their donation on their roof, they’re going to have more money for everything else they might need in the coming years. If the goal of NGOs is to see improved outcomes for their beneficiaries, then GiveDirectly is doing its job – the net report for beneficiaries being better off as a result of GiveDirectly is 100%. The notable thing is that they’re achieving this by simply trusting the beneficiaries to know what’s best for themselves. And GiveDirectly is rigorous in its methodology, with obsessive monitoring and evaluation systems to show just how much their model does indeed improve the outcomes of the communities they’re working in.