GiveDirectly — rethinking international charity

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givedirectly
The GiveDirectly website. -- The charity asserts that it measures its results carefully and it has achieved measurable life improvements without abuse or corruption

 

Publicity photo of Marvin Miller with Inger Stevens as a switchboard operator from The Millionaire, 1956.
Publicity photo of Marvin Miller with Inger Stevens as a switchboard operator from The Millionaire, 1956.

Some of us older people remember the old CBS-TV series The Millionaire, where an anonymous benefactor would give $1 million each week to a diversity of individuals, and then observed the changes that resulted.

The real-life concept of an international charity, GiveDirectly, is neither so anonymous, nor fictional. Instead of giving $1 million to western people, the charity gives $1,000 (or equivalent) to individuals deemed as the poorest in third-world countries.

There are no conditions on the grants. The money is paid in a lump sum (though it is testing the option of progressive payments when the recipient would prefer it that way). And then it pulls in the research by following up on the results — and has discovered some interesting (and to me) surprising things.

Consider these results.

givedirectly
The GiveDirectly website.  The charity asserts that it measures its results carefully and it has achieved measurable life improvements without abuse or corruption

Yes, after the funds are allocated, earnings rise on average 34 per cent, assets 58 per cent and hunger declines 42 per cent. There is virtually no corruption (local officials and functionaries do not get their hands on the money.) And, for those of us asserting that the poor are the way they are because they would abuse their funds with drink and drugs, there isn’t an indication that a significant percentage of recipients throw their funds into the under-world.

Instead, it seems quite a few recipients regard the money as investment capital — and strive to preserve and enhance its value. Others further their education, upgrade their homes, or, in some cases, pursue cultural or artistic interests.

Silicon Valley capitalists are among GiveDirectly’s biggest backers, and the charity is possible because of mobile phone technology which allows funds to be delivered electronically to places in the world that would just a few years ago have been inaccessible. (A review of the GiveDirectly site indicates much interest and activity in eastern Africa.)

Can we learn anything for our construction marketing initiatives from this rather intriguing charity? I’m not sure. For example, would the direct giving approach work so well in western countries where poverty may have causes other than just being in a place where most people are poor? The method of selecting suitable recipients — one tool is to scan satellite images and give the money to people living in thatched, rather than metal-roofed homes — requires a level of randomness because I certainly know there are bad people as well as good in third-world countries (and plenty of drug and alcohol abuse as well).

In our world, there are perspectives, however, that seemingly random acts of generosity — without any expectation of return — can be effective for your marketing and business development — and associating these initiatives with your employees’ and clients’ values will accelerate the process. Would, however, delivering cash payments out of the blue to worthy strangers make business sense? I would never have thought so, until now.

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