This Charity is Giving 6,000 Kenyans a Basic Income for Life

GiveDirectly is conducting a long-term social experiment to finally get to the bottom of the basic income debate.

by Nicole Winchell, January 1, 2018

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Basic income
Basic income is a socio-political financial concept according to which every citizen, independent of his/her economic status, receives an unconditional fixed financial compensation. 

The basic income. It’s been a hotly debated topic in recents years. Would it spur innovation and lead to a happier society or would people just stop working and would society “break down”. Would it fuel growth or reduce it? Would people spend more time on entrepreneurship or parenting? Or would they just sit back and do nothing? 

The time has come to stop speculating and start testing. And that’s exactly what GiveDirectly is doing.

GiveDirectly has decided to try to permanently end extreme poverty across dozens of villages in Kenya by guaranteeing them an ongoing income high enough to meet their basic needs—a universal basic income, or basic income guarantee. 

Starting this year, GiveDirectly will begin paying all the residents in multiple Kenyan villages, over 6,000 individuals, a regular income that's enough to meet their most basic needs. 

And they will do so for more that ten years.

For many, the idea of just giving people money seems outlandish. (The assumption being that this causes laziness.) But recent studies and shifts in policy-making show that giving people cash in hand is one of the most effective tools in reducing poverty and improving livelihoods.

In order to analyze the results, GiveDirectly is working with leading academic researchers, including Abhijit Banerjee from MIT. The goal is to better understand the long-term behavioral implications of knowing that your livelihood is secured and understanding how this affects social dynamics over time. 

The trial will cost roughly $30 million, of which 90% will go directly to the recipients. Running the projects in an emerging market will allow Give Directly to conduct a wide-scale experiment at a fraction of the cost, as a similar sample size in the USA would cost nearly $1 billion. 

To get started, GiveDirectly is putting in $10 million of their own funds to match the first $10 million donated by others. Like The Changer, GiveDirectly is partially funded by the Benckiser Stiftung Zukunft, a German foundation passionately committed to identifying, developing and funding results-driven social projects. 

So what could happen? At worst, that money will shift the life trajectories of thousands of low-income households. At best, it could change how the world thinks about ending poverty.

And you can be part of it too. If you’d like to join them, you can contribute or learn more here.

Originally published April 18, 2016