The design of the safety net program is perfect; it is based on the latest data and evidence; it enjoys political support at the highest levels, and it has sufficient financing.
So why can this safety net program not even get started after a year?
Maybe the answer has something to do with institutions. Accounting for the formal and informal “rules of the game” for social safety nets is key to the success of any program or system. In our chapter “Anchoring in Strong Institutions to Expand and Sustain Social Safety Nets” in the recently-released regional study on safety nets, we discuss some critical aspects of institutions that can make (or break) a social safety net program and how these evolve as programs grow in Africa.
Can cash transfers increase voting in elections? An upcoming article by Conover et al estimates that participation of Colombia’s Familias en Accion conditional cash transfer (CCT) program increases the probability that women cast a ballot by 2.8% (and women are more likely to vote for the incumbent candidate who supported the CCT).
It’s hard to argue against the idea that giving cash to someone in need is the best you can do for that person in most circumstances: money maximizes your choice set and any conditions, strings attached, etc. makes that set smaller. With the advance of mobile technologies and better, bigger data, you can now send someone anywhere in the world money and make that person’s life instantly better – at least in the short run. But, what if I told you that with every dollar you send to one poor person, you’re taking away food from a few other people? How should we evaluate the impact of your transfer then?
How long do the effects of cash transfers last? A paper by Blattman et al found that after nine years from inception, cash grants for young-adults in Uganda had lasting impacts on assets and skilled work, but had little eﬀect on mortality, fertility, health or education. See Ozler’s nice blog dissecting the study. A paper by Barham et al found that, after 10 years from inception, conditional cash transfers in Nicaragua did not lead to long-term impacts in learning, but did yield significant impacts on nutrition (body mass index), fertility, and subsequent labor market outcomes and income.
This is a guest post by Craig McIntosh and Andrew Zeitlin.
We are grateful to have this chance to speak about our experiences with USAID's pilot of benchmarking its traditional development assistance using unconditional cash transfers. Along with the companion benchmarking study that is still in the field (that one comparing a youth workforce readiness to cash) we have spent the past two and a half years working to design these head-to-head studies, and are glad to have a chance to reflect on the process. These are complex studies with many stakeholders and lots of collective agreements over communications, and our report to USAID, released yesterday, reflects that. Here, we convey our personal impressions as researchers involved in the studies.
Blattman, Fiala, and Martinez (2018), which examines the nine-year effects of a group-based cash grant program for unemployed youth to start individual enterprises in skilled trades in Northern Uganda, was released today. Those of you well versed in the topic will remember Blattman et al. (2014), which summarized the impacts from the four-year follow-up. That paper found large earnings gains and capital stock increases among those young, unemployed individuals, who formed groups, proposed to form enterprises in skilled trades, and were selected to receive the approximately $400/per person lump-sum grants (in 2008 USD using market exchange rates) on offer from the Northern Uganda Social Action Funds (NUSAF). I figured that a summary of the paper that goes into some minutiae might be helpful for those of you who will not read it carefully – despite your best intentions. I had an early look at the paper because the authors kindly sent it to me for comments.
Let’s start with social protection in Africa. A new paper by Kagin et al. estimates that in Malawi, each Malawi Kwacha (MK) transferred through the Social Cash Transfer Program generates 1.88 MK, while multipliers of public works are between 2.9-3.24 MK. In the same country, the Malawi Economic Monitor by Kandoole et al. has a very crisp, insightful edition discussing safety nets, e.g., spending is only 0.6% of GDP compared to 2% of input subsidies, and almost 6% on humanitarian aid.
Ghana was the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG1) target of halving extreme poverty by 2015. A share of the population living in poverty decreased from 52% in 1991 to 24% in 2012. Ghana is eager to lead the way in Africa again, but this time to graduate extreme poor households, out of poverty. The current policy debates are around graduating in about three to four years some 8.4 % of households living in extreme poverty. But to what occupations?