Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Methods to Find Appropriate Recipients

One of the biggest challenges we face is the identification of appropriate recipients.  I put this challenge to a few friends who have worked in humanitarian aid for, likely, over a combined 30 years between them.  According to them, there are many methods out there for identification, some of which can be found among the plethora of cash transfer resources found on the Cash Learning Partnership website.  However, they suggested three ways for Give Aid Direct to test its model in the pilot:

1.    School Based Beneficiary Identification
In Kenya, the school is a key partner in community development and support programs. It plays a key role as an entry point for development organizations; as well as a service delivery point for community programmes such as health (health education and promotion, immunizations and vaccinations, growth monitoring etc). In many communities, the school is also utilized by community members for non-educational activities such as local administration meetings (Chief’s Baraza), agricultural trainings etc.

The head teacher, teachers, parent teacher committees (PTAs) could play a very useful role in beneficiary targeting for Give Aid Direct. They are a respected and wise source of knowledge of community needs, specifically priority needs. The local government and traditional leadership also hold schools; and teachers and parent committees in high esteem. They can identify the neediest cases based on:
§  Absenteeism – is a key indicator of poverty, child labour, illness or death in the family, abuse/violence
§  Appearance, Behaviour and Conduct – teachers can tell when the family situation has changed by checking the ABC.
§  Community-shared information – teachers and committee members are approached for support because they are regarded as opinion leaders and able to support financially

2.    Matching Grants for Community Group Own Initiatives
In practically all communities in Kenya, there exist self help groups. They are known all over Kenya as Chama. It loosely translates to a group/organization. These are community members who are brought together by proximity to each other or neighbourliness. They form an organized group – with elected/chosen leaders, a written or otherwise agreed on constitution or code of conduct. Most importantly, they agree on a small amount of money that they contribute periodically – daily weekly, fortnightly or monthly to address a common need. It could be buying cups and plates, plastering the floor and walls of the house, buying school uniform and shoes, buying a goat, sheep or chickens or even a bigger venture like buying land jointly. Sometimes, the members agree to give a lump cash sum to members to use on individual priorities.

The purchase of items or livestock is done on a rotational basis. For example – a group of 15 neighbourhood women come together and contribute Kshs 50 (USD 0.57) every fortnight. This money is given to a trusted treasurer. At the end of the month, they go to the identified crockery shop and buy a set of plates, cups, spoons, cooking pots for 2 or 3 members. This is repeated every month till all the members benefit. Alternatively, the contributions are ‘banked’ or kept by the trusted treasurer until they have enough to buy for each member. On the day of purchase and apportioning, there is great celebration because their unity and focus has borne them gifts.

GAD could provide Matching Grants for the efforts of the community own efforts. These address the community members felt needs, reduces the waiting time to enjoy the benefits, and does not create dependence on GAD by the communities.

This concept is so impacting that even well-to-do people have formed chamas. Among the middle class and elites, the priorities are, of course, different. Groups may come together to jointly save for car upgrades, holidays, investments such as land, real estate, stocks and other ‘needs’.

Banks realizing the opportunity here, have customized bank accounts for chamas.

3.    Response to TV Medical Appeals
Every so often, Kenyan TV stations will present a heart-rending case of a patient who requires financial support to access urgent or critical medical care. The media houses in Kenya can be trusted to have done a thorough check on the background and genuineness of the cases they show. Plus the videos speak for themselves.  Here is an example I found on youtube.

So there you have it, three ideas - what do you think?  What method would be your preference?  Why?  Let us know.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Individuals or Projects?.....both, of course!

Something else that came out of the brainstorming session, just over a week ago, was that those present found it easier to envisage direct giving to projects in need of funds, rather than to individuals. Indeed one person said that if he were faced with hundreds or thousands of individual profiles, the difficulty of making choice between them might be so difficult that he might not donate. This difficulty of choosing when faced with high number of choices is well-known psychological phenomenon.

The preference expressed in this meeting is, of course, just one datum point but it did make us pause for thought. Talking it through afterwards, with Chris and Amos, who are both aid workers, they said that they often come across small, locally sponsored, projects that miss out on funding from the big NGO’s. Aid workers could, therefore, be a source of projects and could validation then as genuine. They wouldn't be the only source but it did highlight that the difficulty of identifying and validating recipients would be easier for projects than individuals.

I'm not sure about Amos but this left my head in a bit of a spin for a couple of days: individuals or projects? Then the obvious dawned on me and put my restless mind at ease. We should aim to do both in the pilot, and beyond, to find out whether people have a strong preference one way or the others.

The other thing that came out of it were some analogies with other types of business. What we are proposing is rather like a shop. Donors are buyers and recipients are products. I know, I know, describing recipients as products is degrading but it is just an analogy that turns out to be useful. First, it’s useful because we have to think about marketing and selling our product, so the metaphor of a product taps into that model of the world. But what really struck me was what someone said in the meeting which was about becoming the Amazon of direct giving. Now that’s an analogy that has a lot of legs.

As this is my first post, I want to leave you with something inspiring. One of the principles of Give Aid Direct is to give recipients control over how donations are are used. When I first Amos, I had trouble getting my mind around having to live on one or two dollars a day. So here is an example of some people who do and how a small amount of money and a huge amount of ingenuity can make a very big difference to people who subsist on very little.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Help Needed

One of the activities that we are involved in at the moment is building the initial basic website for Give Aid Direct so that we can implement the pilot project.  We have one genius (Tom) working on it already, but with a little additonal help we could build it faster, so I thought I post a little request to everyone to share with your networks.

Basically we are looking for some web development help.  Some of the skills we are looking for include:
  - Experience in design and layout of websites
  - Knowledge of CSS and preferably SASS
  - Knowledge of HTML5 markup and preferably Haml[1]
  - Ability to create interfaces using Javacript, Jquery, etc.
  - Some knowledge of Ruby on Rails

So if you know anyone, please get in touch!

Brainstorming Solutions

Last Thursday evening in the heart of London's financial district, a few folk stayed late after work to join us in a session trying to solve the challenge of figuring out how register and verify ±30,000 recipients within 7 days after a disaster in a way that is cost-effective (under £2/profile).  A big challenge.

The idea was to bring together people with no humanitarian aid experience with a couple of us with humanitarian experience and see if we could learn together.  Often we get trapped in our way of thinking and find it difficult to step outside of ourselves and see things differently.  All of us have a starting point for how we think, so the idea was that if we interact with people who have different starting points, perhaps we can find new solutions to problems we have.

So that's how we ended up in the depths of old building in London part of an even older organisation.  It was a far cry from a disaster zone, but it was still a humbling experience to interact with people from a completely different way of life.

So did we solve the problem?  No, not entirely, but we took some steps closer to the solutions.  Ideas like:

  • Can we pre-register recipients in areas where we know disasters happen regularly (ie. Bangladesh)?
  • Can we work with local leaders and government officials who have access to census information or register citizens for other projects?
  • Can local representatives be identified to be responsible for the registration.
  • Is there a way to register recipients over SMS?
Of course there were lots of concerns and additional challenges raised, which also brings enormous value.

So while no magic bullet was found, the mere act of engaging in conversation was incredibly valuable. It was good to be in front of others again, sharing the idea and piecing together solutions.  As the old saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will Give Aid Direct, but last Thursday we laid a few more bricks. 

To those of you who were present on Thursday - thank you.  To those of you who were not - keep talking with us.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

A video about cash transfers

I came across this short video in which a young girl tells her story about the impact that cash transfers has had on her life.

This is an example of the type of impact Give Aid Direct is hoping to achieve.  Join us!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Give Aid Direct

The idea of Give Aid Direct has evolved over the past 10 years of working in some of the worst disasters on the planet.  Humanitarian Aid is a wonderful and infuriating thing to be involved in as you see the best and the worst of humanity mixed together in a very stark way right before your eyes.  Along the way, I have met some of the most incredible people - some with millions and some with pennies to their name.

Over the years the issue of choice became a common theme as I continued to wonder how we can give the people who have been affected by disasters more choice.  Somehow, I sensed there is an intimate link between choice and dignity.  I've sat in many meetings discussing assessments of a disaster and heard the stats of the dead, the homes destroyed, children missing, etc., but rarely was the question ever asked - what do the people affected want us to do?  We make lots of assumptions, but often forget to ask them.  We forget to test our assumptions.  So I began to wrestle with questions like how can we, as aid workers or donors or people who want to help, enable the possibility for those affected by the disaster to have a greater role in the rebuilding of their communities?  How can we innovate our models of the delivery of aid to bring more money into the local economies?

In my view, there will always be a need for handouts after a disaster.  People homes are destroyed, family members killed or missing, livelihoods washed away.  Sometimes we just need to be given stuff to help us get through the day and see tomorrow.  However, can we change how we "give stuff" so that the people affected have a greater say in the process?

For the past decade, aid agencies have been doing more and more work with what are called "cash transfer" programmes in which they give the recipients a voucher for food rather than actual food, or give cash to be used to buy food, etc.  Through mountains of skepticism (including some of my own) this idea prevailed and now is an acceptable method of delivering aid.  However, it is still rare that unconditional cash transfers - meaning recipients are given cash and can spend it on what they deem most appropriate - even though many evaluations have shown that the money is spent on what we would deem "appropriate" things like food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, etc.

At the same, I was always fascinated with technology and how we can use it to improve the lives of people living on a dollar or two a day.  I was particularly fascinated with M-pesa - mobile banking system that has taken off in Kenya and now most of Africa.  In essence, it allows you to send money from your phone to someone else's by sending a SMS.  Now it has further developed and you can pay most of your bills using M-pesa.

Then one day, I was walking the streets of London with a good friend debating social media.  We began to wonder why no one had connected the dots between social media like Facebook and cash transfers using a M-pesa type system.

This is where Give Aid Direct came from - the desire to create a platform where individual donors can choose the people affected by the disaster they wish to give their money to and where the recipient of the money can decide what to do with the money.

This is what we are building.  Join us!