Last night FAI had the pleasure of co-hosting a lively and informative panel discussion on the impact of cash transfers in international development with the Microfinance Club of New York. The panel (moderated by FAI's Timothy Ogden) included Paul Niehaus and Jeremy Schapiro, co-founders of GiveDirectly, Jenny Aker, Assistant Professor of Development Economics at The Fletcher School, and Johannes Haushofer, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University.
As is to be expected when you mix practitioners and academics, the evening's conversations had a good mix of thoughtful insights, debates, and allusions to other bodies of work for futher research. Below is a list of what was mentioned as well as some additional items we feel are a nice complement for the issues raised by the panelists, including a new FAI infographic showing what we know so far about microcredit. . . Read More
This week’s UN General Assembly meetings brought renewed attention to the set of global goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015.
The latest draft of the new “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) is a kitchen-sink-like receptacle for the interests of every possible development constituency. There are some obvious and glaring problems with this. To focus on the plus side, though, this enormous brain dump allows space for some intriguing new thinking about what the global community can and should agree upon . . . Read More
In an interview with FAI, economist Jenny Aker explained that effective commitment savings products are those that balance flexibility and restrictions:
“If you give someone a savings product and it completely ties their hand, they don’t want to use it. They want to have a little bit of that tying of the hand so they can’t spend that money but they don’t want to be completely divorced from access to that money.”
Much of the research on commitments focuses on savings products, which makes sense: when trying to save money, some “tying of the hands” helps. Like dieting, setting money aside requires the willpower to deny yourself something you want in the present to meet a goal in the future. To win the struggle for control between your present self and your future self, little commitment nudges can change behavior. Where product design gets tricky is in determining how restrictive the commitment should be. A study of savers in Kenya gives us one clue that it might not take much: when given the choice of letting neighbors hold the key to a savings lock box or holding the keys themselves, participants saved more when they chose the latter. Simply having the physical barrier of the box was enough to nudge them to save . . . Read More
Economist Jenny Aker explores the pros and cons of delivering aid via cash, voucher, or digital payment in two very different African programs . . . Read More
Just about everyone agrees that international remittances should be cheaper. If you run the numbers on international remittance flows, incomes of recipients and transaction costs, you can make a case that reducing remittance costs would be among the highest ROI interventions for raising incomes of poor households in the developing world (and given what we’re learning about the use and benefits of cash transfers, there’s good reason to believe the money would be well spent).
As this became clear over the last 10 years, the World Bank, IADB and plenty of NGOs have drawn attention to the issue—and have largely succeeded in dramatically reducing the cost of sending money home (costs do still vary widely depending on sending and receiving country). Still, most people I talk with think costs should fall even more . . . Read More
A new paper by Chris Blattman (Columbia) and co-authors provides optimistic new evidence on the returns to providing cash grants to impoverished women in northern Uganda. The new experiment varied whether the ultra-poor, largely women, were offered a business grant worth $150, training and supervision, and found dramatic impacts of the cash grant on entrepreneurship, hours worked, individual earnings, and household consumption.
The paper stands out from previous studies in that it finds strong positive impacts for women, and that it does so among the most impoverished people in the village. Only those people identified by a local nonprofit as the poorest fifteen people in each village (86 percent of whom were women) were eligible for the study. Previous studies of cash and in-kind small enterprise grants delivered to women in Sri Lanka and in Ghana find more mixed effects. Grants to female-owned microenterprises had, on average, no impact in Sri Lanka, and in Ghana, only in-kind grants or grants made to initially more profitable female microenterprises appeared to benefit recipients . . . Read More
In April Walmart announced the launch of a new money transfer service. I did a double take on the service's low price: $9.50 to send up to $900 from one Walmart store to another – that’s as much as $66.50 cheaper than the price of competing services at Western Union and Money Gram.
This is just the latest example of Walmart's foray into the financial services industry. In 2012 the retailer launched the Bluebird prepaid card with American Express. The product has no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements, making it more affordable than the norm. The cost of cashing a check at Walmart's Money Center is a transparent flat rate, often cheaper than independent financial services centers that take a large percentage of a check's total. The big box store also offers car insurance “one stop shops” at a growing number of locations, and it houses bank branches with “convenient hours, free financial education and unusually forgiving account features”. All in all, Walmart seems to consistently deliver more budget-friendly financial tools than its competitors. And not only do its financial products come at a lower price for consumers; they are all offered in the same place, easing the burden on people who are squeezed for time and transportation . . . Read More