How do standard development programs compare to just giving people cash?

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Households living in extreme poverty face a wide range of challenges that limit their ability to make productive investments or cope with unpredictable shocks such as droughts or disease. Productive inclusion programs combine cash transfers with trainings and other support to increase household earnings while also helping households withstand and recover from shocks.

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How does an employment and training program compare, in impacts and cost, to just giving people cash?

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Globally, bureaucrats are responsible for the day-to-day matters of policy implementation and government service provision. However, we know very little about how bureaucrats’ own interests and biases influence the ultimate distribution of public goods and services. To measure how citizens’ identities and the characteristics of their petitions affect municipal bureaucrats’ bias and efficiency, researchers conducted a national-scale audit of two of Colombia’s largest social service programs.

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Identifying eligible beneficiaries for social programs, a process known as targeting, can be a challenging and costly process for development and humanitarian organizations. Many widely-used targeting strategies were developed for rural environments and may not work as well in dynamic and densely populated urban centers. One potential new technique is “decentralized targeting,” a process that relies on information from socially knowledgeable members of a community.

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Evidence suggests that approaches based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can improve mental health and reduce crime and violence in post-conflict areas. However, delivering CBT programs is a challenge in settings that lack trained staff and therapeutic facilities. Researchers in Sierra Leone are exploring alternate delivery platforms to bring evidence-based mental health interventions to youth facing conflict and adversity in West Africa.

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A universal basic income (UBI) is a specific form of unconditional cash transfer: enough to meet basic needs, and delivered to everyone within a community. The idea of a UBI has received global attention for varied reasons – as a way to alleviate extreme poverty, to reduce inequality, or to provide a more robust safety net to workers in rapidly changing labor markets – but little rigorous evidence exists on the impacts of a long-term commitment to providing one.

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Access to quality jobs is a pressing concern in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers have partnered with Samasource and Innovations for Poverty Action to conduct a randomized evaluation measuring the impact of a digital vocational training program, with and without an employment program, on formal employment of young Kenyans.

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Scholars going back to Adam Smith and Max Weber have hypothesized that religiosity promotes economic success. In the Philippines, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to measure the impact of an evangelical Protestant religious values and theology education program on individuals’ economic and subjective wellbeing. Results show that the program increased religiosity and incomes, but decreased self-perception of relative economic wellbeing.

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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.

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Sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing rapid demographic growth. While formal unemployment is low, wage job opportunities are also limited. In this context, a vast majority of young people are engaged in low-productivity self-employment. Traditional apprenticeships are one of the most common sources of skills acquisition for youths. Many governments attempt to intervene in the apprenticeship market, but there is limited evidence on the impacts of these public interventions.

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When children do not receive adequate nourishment in the first years of life, it can impair their physical and cognitive development and have long-term consequences on their earnings and productivity. In Myanmar, which has one of the highest rates of stunting in the Asia-Pacific region, Innovations for Poverty Action is working with researchers to evaluate the impact of maternal cash transfers and nutritional information on child malnutrition.

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Youth account for 60% of the unemployed in Africa. One approach to increasing employment among youth is to provide training and mentoring for young people to help them find jobs or start new businesses. This study evaluates the impact of a training and mentorship program with a robust long-term support component on Tanzanian youth’s employment, entrepreneurial activities, and self-confidence.

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Around the world, 168 million children are engaged in child labor, and in the Philippines many of the children working illegally are in occupations that pose a threat to their health and safety. However, poor families may have little other choice to support themselves. The government of the Philippines aims to help families avoid child labor by providing them with a one-time asset transfer equivalent to US $500 and training in using the asset to develop a livelihood.

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Seasonal hunger affects 300 million of the world’s rural poor. Seasonal migration can help some people find temporary employment, but many of those who could potentially benefit from migration face financial constraints that prevent them from traveling during the lean season. Researchers investigated whether providing low-cost travel incentives increases migration, and whether migrants experience better food security as a result of their travel.

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