How do standard development programs compare to just giving people cash? In Rwanda, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to shed light on this question. Villages were randomly assigned to one of four groups: they received either a USAID-funded, integrated WASH and nutrition program (with savings and asset transfer components), unconditional cash grants of equal cost to the donor, a larger cash transfer, or no program at the time of study. The transfers were funded by USAID and Google.org.
The evaluation measured impacts on five main health and economic outcomes: household dietary diversity, maternal and child anemia, child growth (height-for-age, weight-for-age, and mid-upper arm circumference), household wealth, and household consumption, as well as other secondary outcomes, such as savings.
After approximately one year:
» The integrated nutrition and WASH program had a positive impact on savings, a secondary outcome, among the eligible population, but did not impact any primary outcomes (household dietary diversity, maternal or child anemia, child growth, household consumption, or wealth) within the period of the study.
» An equivalent amount of cash (a cost to USAID of $142 per household) allowed households to pay down debt and boosted productive and consumption assets, but did not impact child health outcomes.
» A much larger cash transfer—of more than $500 per household—had a wide range of benefits: it not only increased consumption, savings, assets, and house values,but improved household dietary diversity and height-for-age, and decreased child mortality.
» The results suggest that, over the time period of the study, targeted programs focused on changing specific outcomes may be able to do so at lower cost than cash, but that large investments of cash can more rapidly affect some leading indicators of malnutrition.
» The results also suggest that large cash transfers impact not only the economic measures of consumption and wealth, but also dietary diversity, height-for-age, and child mortality, while small transfers appear to have more limited benefits.
In 2008, Uganda granted hundreds of small groups $400/person to help members start individual skilled trades. Four years on, an experimental evaluation found grants raised earnings by 38% (Blattman, Fiala, Martinez 2014). We return after 9 years to find these start-up grants acted more as a kick-start than a lift out of poverty. Grantees' investment leveled off; controls eventually increased their incomes through business and casual labor; and so both groups converged in employment, earnings, and consumption. Grants had lasting impacts on assets, skilled work, and possibly child health, but had little effect on mortality, fertility, health or education.
We present the results of a study designed to ‘benchmark’ a major USAID-funded child malnutrition program against what would have occurred if the cost of the program had simply been disbursed directly to beneficiaries to spend as they see fit. Using a three-armed trial from 248 villages in Rwanda, the study measures impacts on households containing poor or underweight children, or pregnant or lactating women, as well as the broader population of study villages. We find that the bundled health program delivers benefits in an outcome directly targeted by specific sub-components of the intervention (savings), but does not improve household dietary diversity, child anthropometrics, or anemia within the year of the study. A cost-equivalent cash transfer boosts productive asset investment and allows households to pay down debt. The bundled program is significantly better in cost-equivalent terms at generating savings and worse for debt reduction, while cost-equivalent cash drives more asset investment. A much larger cash transfer of more than $500 per household improves a wide range of consumption measures including dietary diversity, as well as savings, assets, and housing values. Only the large cash transfer shows evidence of moving child outcomes, with significant but modest improvements in child height-for-age, weight-for-age, and mid upper-arm circumference (about 0.1 SD). The results indicate that programs targeted towards driving specific outcomes can do so at lower cost than cash, but large cash transfers drive substantial benefits across a wide range of impacts, including many of those targeted by the more tailored program.
Un equipo de investigadores de Innovations for Poverty Action, en colaboración con el Gobierno Colombiano, desarrolló una auditoría aleatoria de dos de los programas sociales más grandes del país—Sistema de Identificación de Potenciales Beneficiarios de Programas Sociales (Sisbén) y Más Familias en Acción (MFA)—para medir cómo el estatus social de los ciudadanos y los factores políticos locales afectan la eficiencia de los servidores municipales en el procesamiento y atención de las solicitudes ciudadanas.
- La tasa de respuesta de las llamadas a las alcaldías municipales del territorio nacional y las alcaldías locales en Bogotá fue baja: cerca del 65% de los solicitantes recibieron una respuesta en hasta seis intentos.
- Un número importante de alcaldías (148/618 o 23%) son inaccesibles por teléfono durante horas de servicio al ciudadano.
- Era menos probable que las llamadas fueran respondidas en horas de la tarde (después de almuerzo) que, en horas de la mañana, proporcionando una leve evidencia de ausentismo. » Dentro de las llamadas respondidas, menos del 50% de los solicitantes recibieron información correcta sobre Más Familias en Acción o Sisbén.
- El equipo investigador encontró evidencia moderada de discriminación según el acento regional, la clase socioeconómica y el estado migratorio cuando los solicitantes preguntaban cómo acceder a beneficios de MFA y Sisbén.
Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) is a research and policy non-profit that discovers and promotes effective solutions to global poverty problems. IPA brings together researchers and decision-makers to design, rigorously evaluate, and refine these solutions and their applications, ensuring that the evidence created is used to improve the lives of the world’s poor. Since our founding in 2002, IPA has worked with over 575 leading academics to conduct over 650 evaluations in 51 countries. Future growth will be concentrated in focus countries, such as Myanmar, where we have local and international staff, established relationships with government, NGOs, and the private sector, and deep knowledge of local issues.
To test the causal impact of religiosity, we conducted a randomized evaluation of an evangelical Protestant Christian values and theology education program that consisted of 15 weekly half-hour sessions. We analyze outcomes for 6,276 ultra-poor Filipino households six months after the program ended. We find significant increases in religiosity and income, no significant changes in total labor supply, assets, consumption, food security, or life satisfaction, and a significant decrease in perceived relative economic status. Exploratory analysis suggests the program may have improved hygienic practices and increased household discord, and that the income treatment effect may operate through increasing grit.
Helping the ultra-poor develop sustainable livelihoods is a global priority, but policymakers, practitioners, and funders are faced with competing ideas about the best way to reduce extreme poverty. Innovations for Poverty Action conducted a randomized evaluation to test the impacts of diverse components and variants of the Village Enterprise microenterprise program, an integrated poverty alleviation intervention that provides poor households with a combination of cash transfers, mentorship, business training, and support with the formation of savings groups, over a one-year period.
- Village Enterprise’s microenterprise development program led to increased consumption, assets, and income, as well as improvements in nutrition and subjective well-being.
- Cost-effectiveness appears high: researchers estimate a full cost recovery within three to four years.
- A cost-equivalent cash transfer appeared to have less promising medium-term impacts on poverty reduction and subjective well-being than the microenterprise program, though estimates are more ambiguous.
- Adding a light-touch behavior change component to the cash transfer changed the investment patterns of cash transfer recipients and improved subjective well-being somewhat, but cannot be characterized as a substitute for the much more heavy-touch training and mentorship interventions of the microenterprise program.
- Overall, the results suggest that training and mentorship components of integrated poverty alleviation programs are sensible and cannot simply be removed (or substituted for cash transfers). But as they are complex, more research is needed on the issue of scaling them while maintaining their quality.
* These results are preliminary and may change after further data collection and/or analysis.
A multi-faceted program comprising a grant of productive assets, training, coaching, and savings has been found to build sustainable income for those in extreme poverty. We focus on two important questions: whether a mere grant of productive assets would generate similar impacts (it does not), and whether access to a savings account and a deposit collection service would generate similar impacts (it does not).
Can programmatic extensions such as training and mentorship enhance the economic impact of cash transfers, or do they needlessly absorb resources that program recipients could allocate more meaningfully by themselves? Using a randomized trial, we evaluate a program that targets poor Ugandans and offers them an integrated package comprised of lump sum transfers, coaching, and training on microenterprise development as well as savings group formation. We assess its impact and that of its savings component, as well as the impacts of much simplified program variants: one intervention variant that is limited to lump sum cash transfers and another that expands upon transfers using a light-touch behavioral intervention component. The results support the notion that integrated development interventions are sensible poverty reduction tools.
In Liberia, we have continued our global tradition of rigorous, applicable research by building foundational research capacity and conducting evaluations in areas of pressing national concern. Examples of our work described in this brief offer promising insights into everyday issues that affect the lives of the Liberian poor.
In Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Mali, we have continued our global tradition of rigorous, applicable research by building foundational research capacity and conducting evaluations in areas of pressing national concern. Examples of our work below offer promising insights into everyday issues that affect the lives of the Francophone West African poor.
Approximately 767 million people live on less than $1.90 a day.1 Across the world, the extreme poor generally depend on insecure and fragile livelihoods, and their income is frequently irregular or seasonal, putting them and their families at risk of hunger. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) works with academics from top research institutions to discover sustainable ways to lift these households out of extreme poverty and to support the scale-up of effective programs. In recent years, IPA has helped propel breakthrough findings—particularly on cash transfers and the “big-push” strategy known as the Graduation approach—into large-scale programs, reaching tens of millions of people. We are now testing variations of the Graduation approach in Ghana, Uganda, and the Sahel to identify what drives the impacts and how to make it more cost-effective.
1 http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview. Accessed November 7, 2016.
Three hundred million of the world’s rural poor suffer from seasonal income insecurity, which often occurs between planting and harvest when the demand for agricultural labor falls and the price of food rises. Those who undergo a lean season typically miss meals for a two- to three-month period. This is especially problematic for pregnant women and young children since poor nutrition for even a short time can limit long-term cognitive and physical development. Seasonal hunger and deprivation is perhaps the biggest challenge to the reduction of global poverty that has remained largely under the radar.
Members of some families in poor rural areas migrate to urban areas for work to cope with seasonal deprivation. In Bangladesh, however, researchers observed that many vulnerable households, who could potentially reap large benefits from temporary migration, didn’t send anyone away to work, thereby risking hunger. Why weren’t more people migrating? Would these households improve food security if they were to send a migrant to these areas during the lean season? More broadly, why were so many people sticking around in relatively unproductive rural areas, in the face of persistent gaps in wages and productivity between urban and rural areas? Was this akin to the proverbial $100 bills being left on the sidewalk?
A research team from Yale University, the London School of Economics, the University of Sydney, and Innovations for Poverty Action investigated these questions in Northern Bangladesh during 2008-2011, testing whether providing information or small financial incentives, worth about the cost of a bus ticket, increased migration and in turn, improved household welfare. They found that households offered either a grant or loan to migrate were substantially more likely to send someone to work outside the village during the lean season, and those families increased caloric intake relative to those not offered the incentives. Many of those households chose to re-migrate on their own a year later. A replication and expansion of the study during 2014-2016 not only confirmed these findings, it also showed that larger scale emigration increases wages and work hours in the village of origin, indirectly benefiting other residents who stay back.
Read about Evidence Action's scale-up of the program here.
Targeted interventions that sustainably improve the lives of the poor will be a critical component in eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The poorest households tend to be physically and socially isolated and face disadvantages across multiple dimensions, which makes moving out of extreme poverty challenging and costly. This paper compares the cost-effectiveness of three strands of anti-poverty social protection interventions by reviewing 30 livelihood development programs, 11 lump-sum unconditional cash transfers, and seven graduation programs. All the selected graduation initiatives focused on the extreme poor, while the livelihood development and cash transfer programs targeted a broader set of beneficiaries. Impacts on annual household consumption (or on income when consumption data were not available) per dollar spent were used to benchmark cost-effectiveness across programs. Among all 48 programs reviewed, lump-sum cash transfers were found to have the highest benefit-cost ratio, though there are very few lump-sum cash transfer programs that serve the extreme poor or measure long-term impacts. Livelihood programs that targeted the extreme poor had much lower benefit-cost ratios. Graduation programs are more cost-effective than the livelihood programs that targeted the extreme poor and measured long-term impacts (i.e., at least one year after end of interventions). More evidence is needed, especially on long-term impacts of lump-sum cash transfers to the extreme poor, to make better comparisons among the three types of programs for sustainable reduction of extreme poverty.