What you need to know about GiveDirectly

Attention executive directors! Are you stressing about overhead costs? Staying up nights wondering how to prove the impact of your programs? Tying yourself into knots over infrastructure?

Worry no more! Now you can forget infrastructure, forget staff, forget people in the field. In fact, forget programs and services. Because now you can help people just by giving them money.

That’s right, you just raise the money and then hand it over to the people who need it. Suddenly the headaches of running an organization are gone. Just give away money!

Okay, enough sarcasm. You’ve probably heard about Giving Directly, the charity that gives money to people in need. It’s been a media darling lately.

And it is a good idea … as far as it goes.

GiveDirectly is something akin to Kiva, the microfinance charity. Kiva works because donors like thinking that they can change the world — or at least one person’s world — for a $25 gift that provides, say, a couple of chickens to a poor family. This is simple, direct, help-the-poor-help-themselves charity work. All good.

GiveDirectly is an even more stripped-down version. They give money to people in need and let them decide how to use it. There’s no infrastructure and virtually no staff. There aren’t even any programs. This is simpler and more direct than microfinance, with the added appeal of trusting people to know best what they themselves need.

But hold on a minute.

Let’s say money starts going to individuals in a Kenyan village. One buys a cow. One a motorbike taxi. Another a roof for his hut. And so on. Now what? Who’s seeing the big picture? Who’s doing the planning? Who’s creating the path to sustainable economic development? Who’s seeing that charity and government are working together to create the rising tide to lift all boats?

Giving someone the money to buy something that helps them personally may be part of the solution, but it’s not the whole solution. You can’t build a burgeoning economy and social instutions on one-cow dairy farms.

Some in the media are suggesting that GiveDirectly is a radical new model that will change how charities operate. Radical? Yes. Interesting? Sure. Worthwhile? Absolutely. A total game-changer? Uh-uh.

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