I’ve been totally addicted to researching the promising future that appears to be ahead of ‘direct payments’ within the field of International Development. The term, and the concept, were launched by the organisation, aptly named as GiveDirectly. I have shared a link to their website below, should you wish to learn more about their work:
If you didn’t guess from the title, this approach to development is super simple – people give money to poor people and let them spend it in any way that they choose. Skeptical? Check out the research for yourself, it’s overwhelmingly positive and can be found on their website.
In one way or another, The Zuri Project has been paying direct, conditional payments to our Ugandan partners for the past three years. We weren’t doing this under the auspice of Direct Giving per se, but as I have been exploring recently, our approach can be categorised as such. Without mentioning the amount, we have been making payments to our partner organisation, Opportunity Africa. They are registered as an NGO at the national level, but they are totally localised in their focus. They work exclusively in the village of Kihembe in the district of Kanungu, which is in the south western corner of Uganda.
The organisation is run totally by Ugandan people from within the village. Our charity, The Zuri Project, supports Opportunity Africa with their development by providing resources and funds where necessary, to enable them to deliver projects desired by the people of their community. For example, Opportunity Africa are responsible for the building of the first ever secondary school in Kihembe, and have worked hard to support the redevelopment of the village’s dilapidated health centre.
Personally, what I have seen and learned is that, when receiving direct payments, they spend the money very wisely and in keeping with their aims and ambitions as a community. To date, we have added conditions to the funding, as we have supported Opportunity Africa to build a framework and manage projects independently. Without this framework, I believe it would have been difficult for us to maintain a prosperous and proactive partnership. But now, three years on from our first conditional direct payment to Uganda, I think we are in a position to start exploring new options, whether it is direct payments to individuals or unconditional payments to Opportunity Africa, we haven’t yet decided.
But we know one thing for sure. The Ugandans that we have worked with haven’t wasted the money, or spent it disproportionately on themselves; criticism which is often fired at organisations who dare to trial direct payments to people or organisations. Quite the contrary is true, in fact. We have found that the Opportunity Africa team has been incredibly diligent with the vast majority of money that has been spent, and it has been very carefully managed. Of course, some of the projects that they have tried haven’t quite worked out as planned, but we will explore with our partners what to try next.
Before we make that decision, we will first look at the data we have collected and see exactly how the money was spent. We hope it will show what we initially think. Simply, that poor does not equal stupid. And when treated with respect & dignity, people, regardless of their economic status, can make a positive contribution to other people’s lives.