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Mackenzie Scott's PhilanthropyMacKenzie Scott, one of the wealthiest women in the world, inherited a 4% stake in Amazon following her divorce from Jeff Bezos in 2019. At the time, the stake held a value of $38 billion, growing to more than $60 billion today. Following her divorce, she signed onto the Giving Pledge, which U.S. investor Warren Buffett, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation established, pledging to give away at least 50% of her wealth to charity or “until the safe was empty.” In contrast to other pledgers, such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Buffett, Scott did not wait to live up to her promises. So far, Mackenzie Scott’s philanthropy has resulted in $6 billion to 500 organizations in 2020 with a further $2.7 billion in 2021.

Vast Reach

The goal behind Mackenzie Scott’s philanthropy is to maximize her impact by donating to charities that other philanthropists often overlook. A $1.68 billion donation in 2020 went toward addressing various social issues. The largest portion ($587 million) of the donation went to racial equity, but a significant amount also went toward economic mobility ($399.5 million), global development ($130 million), functional democracy ($72 million), LGBTQ+ equity ($46 million), empathy and bridging divides ($55 billion), among other issues.

As a result, not only is Mackenzie Scott’s philanthropy generous but it also focuses on making the largest impact across a variety of social issues. In particular, in her latest donation of $2.7 billion, she emphasizes giving to more than 700 million people that live in extreme poverty across the globe. The objective was to find solutions with “on-the-ground engagement and diverse engagement.” Therefore, local teams with female leaders and people of color held priority positions.

To name a few, these organizations include Dream a Dream, GiveDirectly and Muso. Specifically, Dream a Dream focuses on empowering children from destitute backgrounds to receive an education and garner skills that will help them thrive in today’s world. GiveDirectly is a platform that provides direct cash transfers to people in need, primarily in African countries, with most people spending the aid on medicine, food, education and entrepreneurial projects. Last but not least, Muso focuses on preventing global deaths that arise from extreme poverty with frequent home visits to patients and access to care clinics. All of these organizations have different strategies on how to battle poverty and alleviate the issues that stem from it, employing diverse teams to enable more creative and effective solutions.

COVID-19 Funds

In addition to donating to poverty-related causes, the focus of Scott’s giving in 2020 was the COVID-19 pandemic. Estimates indicate that $4 billion out of the $6 billion that Scott gave away last year went directly to COVID-related causes. Scott’s donation accounts for about three-quarters of billionaire and high-net-worth individual pandemic-related philanthropy. Scott expresses that the pandemic fostered fresh inequalities in the world’s systems and that she feels compelled to do her part in improving an unjust and often unstable world. Therefore, Scott is not only staying true to her promise but has also become one of the most generous givers in recent years.

A Worthy Cause

MacKenzie Scott’s pledge to give away “until the safe was empty” represents a fresh and positive force to solve social problems that other philanthropists frequently overlook. Mackenzie Scott’s philanthropy is not only generous but also strategic with a focus on on-the-ground strategies and organizations with diverse teams to maximize the impact of her donations. Scott’s donations address racial inequality as well as global poverty and the consequent problems arising from it.

– Max Sidorovitch
Photo: Flickr

Novissi GiveDirectly Togo, a West African country home to 8 million people, wants to put money into the pockets of its most vulnerable citizens in order to alleviate some of the economic burdens of COVID-19. The most impoverished Togolese people, however, are often the most difficult to locate as they tend to live in remote areas and have little or no record of income. To address this issue, the government of Togo partnered with researchers at the University of California and the U.S. charity called GiveDirectly. The team is using artificial intelligence to identify pockets of extreme poverty within its borders. The program called Novissi GiveDirectly intends to stabilize the economy by uplifting those most in need.

The Initial Novissi Program

“Novissi” translates to “solidarity” in one of the local languages of Ewe. The initial Novissi program already distributed $22 million via mobile money payments to 600,000 citizens who live in urban areas. Voting registration provided the state with information about a citizen’s financial status and the state used this information to determine eligibility. Then, payment was sent via mobile devices. However, this same methodology could not be applied to the many Togolese who live outside the cities and identify as informal workers. The government wanted to target people in rural areas living on less than $1.25 per day without the means to put themselves on the government’s radar. Presented with this challenge, a second phase of the program emerged: Novissi GiveDirectly.

Novissi GiveDirectly

In Togo, Novissi GiveDirectly utilizes satellite imagery, mobile data and artificial intelligence as a poverty solution. Satellites capture photos from every square kilometer of the country, giving insight into villages’ local infrastructure, the housing materials used and even the size of land plots.

Mobile data also provides researchers with a major clue in the search for those carrying the biggest financial burdens. In general, impoverished people use cellphones less often, receive more calls than they make and have lower mobile money balances. Artificial intelligence then analyzes the mountains of data to identify who is eligible to receive aid from the program by estimating an individual’s wealth. Registration is as simple as a Togolese citizen dialing #855 to register for the program.

The Impact on Locals

Eric Dossekpli is a 49-year-old farmer whose livelihood has experienced a direct impact from COVID-19. His market goods were not selling because people were not buying due to the financial distress of the pandemic. This left him without an income and unable to afford fertilizer to continue growing crops.

When Dossekpli heard about Novissi GiveDirectly, he immediately registered. Once Novissi GiveDirectly confirmed his eligibility, he received an instant mobile payment of $13. Novissi GiveDirectly gives $13 to men and $15 to women every month for five months. Women receive more money due to their roles as caregivers. The money received meant he could pay for his children’s tuition and afford food. “I can’t imagine how I was going to live if not for this money. All I can say is thanks,” said Dossekpli.

The Road Ahead

What makes the program unique is that it operates using data that is already available. This makes it quick and comprehensive, two characteristics that are critical during a crisis. The program aims to distribute $10 million to 114,000 Togolese people over a period of a few months. The Novissi GiveDirectly model is currently being considered for Nigeria and Bangladesh.

Though Novissi GiveDirectly has emerged in response to a crisis, one cannot help but consider the potential benefits of such targeted investments long-term. If $13 can pay for the education of four Togolese children during a global pandemic, a sustained investment of this nature could boost an entire economy, allowing everybody to reap the rewards.

Greg Fortier
Photo: Flickr

Universal Basic Income in Kenya
Imagine if one received free money from the government every month, directly into their bank account with no one asking any questions. It may sound too good to be true, yet that is the main premise behind universal basic income or UBI. Universal basic income in Kenya is going a long way toward fighting the results of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is Universal Basic Income?

With UBI programs, governments, organizations or private funders deposit direct cash payments to citizens monthly. These deposits occur regardless of status or circumstance with no strings attached. This means no interest and no expectation to recipients to repay the money. UBI programs intend to supplement or even entirely replace other financial social programs and help those struggling financially. The goal of this financial aid is to prevent vulnerable groups from falling deeper into poverty. In addition, it works toward alleviating national poverty on a wider scale.

The idea of universal basic income has long been under debate with skeptics insisting that providing free money to the impoverished would only lower the incentive to work, bankrupt any government who would give it an honest try and fail to address the root causes of poverty. While these criticisms are well grounded, UBI has nonetheless collected a growing base of supporters. Early supporters of a UBI program date back to the Enlightenment, including political activist and philosopher Thomas Paine and French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. In more recent years, supporters have included Silicon Valley giants Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and South African billionaire Elon Musk. Others range from author Milton Friedman to Pope Francis.

UBI in Practice Globally

Perhaps surprisingly, countries all over the world have experimented with UBI programs. What may come as an even bigger shock is that it has been in use in the United States for the last four decades. Since 1982, Alaska has implemented the Alaska Permanent Fund, an investment fund that disperses a dividend of anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 to every Alaskan resident including children. The results have virtually eliminated extreme poverty in the state. Extreme poverty refers to those living on $2 or less a day.

Outside of North America, UBI programs have undergone implementation in every continent except Antarctica, from Brazil to Japan with a varying degrees of success. This highlights the widespread capabilities and applications that are possible with basic income systems. However, 2020 introduced a new variable to the theory of UBI. How would a basic income system affect communities dealing with the adverse health and economic effects of a global pandemic?

UBI and COVID-19

The longest-running and most ambitious attempt at a universal basic income system is currently underway in Kenya. Since 2016, nonprofit GiveDirectly has been sending direct cash payments to more than 14,000 households in the Siaya and Bomet Counties of Kenya. The mission is to continue the program through 2028. In doing so, it will collect decades worth of data on the effects of UBI on poverty-stricken communities.

However, the unprecedented arrival of COVID-19 has brought disastrous effects to Kenya’s economy and will likely send millions into poverty. The unpredictable addition of a global pandemic has enabled researchers to examine the effects of an established universal basic income infrastructure. This situation provides invaluable insight into how a basic income system might help vulnerable communities cope with a large-scale crisis.

Based in the Siaya and Bomet Counties of Kenya the program split the recipients of cash payments into four groups. These groups included long-term, short-term, lump sum and a control group. For long-term recipients, every adult for the duration of the 12-year program is to receive $0.75 per day. This amount sufficiently covers food expenses and basic health and schooling needs.

The short-term recipients received the same amount for basic needs, $0.75 per day, for two years. The third group received a lump sum that amounted to a one-time payment of $500. Finally, the control group did not receive any payments at all. This allowed an honest comparison amongst villagers to evaluate the significance that UBI payments had on individuals who received payments.

The Results

Those receiving universal basic income in Kenya experienced better food security and were less likely to report experiencing hunger in the past 30 days. This resulted in a widespread improvement in overall rates of hunger. Hunger rates fell from 68% to 57%, with the strongest improvements coming from the long-term group of recipients.

Looking at general health including mental health, UBI recipients showed promising results. Results indicated that payments reduced the probability that an individual would seek medical treatment. Furthermore, households were around six percentage points less likely to report that a household member was ill. Research also suggests that payments reduced hospital utilization, which helped preserve hospital capacity. Having the peace of mind that at least one stream of income would remain steady certainly played a factor in improving the well-being of Kenyan’s facing economic uncertainty.

Universal basic income payments helped individuals stay resilient through the devastating effects of COVID-19. Nevertheless, basic income is still far from a silver bullet for fighting poverty. In Kenya, UBI was not effective at completely protecting recipients from economic hardship, and by nature, a UBI program will expose individuals to economic volatility and cannot guarantee complete financial protection.

However, payments allowed individuals a crucial advantage in holding on to basic needs such as food and healthcare in comparison to those without any basic income payments. This demonstrates that putting the infrastructure in place for universal basic income in Kenya can provide much-needed relief and security to citizens when they need it most.

Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

GiveDirectly’s cash transfer projectIn March 2020, GiveDirectly launched The Kenya Emergency Cash Fund to protect vulnerable Kenyan communities by sending recipients cash through mobile wallets. GiveDirectly is a nonprofit organization operating in East Africa that works to alleviate extreme poverty. Since its founding in 2009, GiveDirectly has given over $160 million to 170,000 families in the region, eventually earning a 100% rating from Charity Navigator. GiveDirectly’s cash transfer project is an initiative to help low-income Kenyans, especially during COVID-19.

Kenya Emergency Cash Fund

The Kenya Emergency Cash Fund, also known as the Kenya COVID-19 Fund, was formed in partnership with the Shikilia Initiative, which is a collaboration between the Kenyan private sector and nonprofit organizations. In coordination with GiveDirectly’s cash transfer project, Shikilia’s goal during the pandemic is to provide 200,000 people with monthly transfers of $30 for the next three months.

“We currently have enrolled 11,000 adults into the program and have disbursed around $300 to these recipients,” Director of Recipient Advocacy, Caroline Teti, told The Borgen Project. Teti joined GiveDirectly in 2016. She hopes to put an end to the devastating and disempowering nature of poverty across Africa through innovative projects such as GiveDirectly’s cash transfer project.

GiveDirectly has already launched settlements in Mathare, Kibera, Korogocho, Mukuru and Kawangware. This is crucial since resident families of these settlements live on $2 or less and are therefore expected to take the hardest economic hit as a result of the pandemic. For example, Teti reported that as a result of COVID-19, 95% of people in Mathare are eating less.

Recipients barely had savings before the pandemic. So, without GiveDirectly’s cash transfers made available to low-income communities by the Emergency Cash Fund, Teti believes that “families would have snuck back to the villages, increasing transmission risks to older people living in the countryside.”

Making Cash Transfers Efficient

In order to ensure that these cash transfers made to recipients are efficient, GiveDirectly is partnering with Shining Hope for Communities, a grassroots movement that catalyzes large-scale transformation in urban slums in Kenya.

Methods GiveDirectly and SHOFCO use to reach recipients more rapidly include using existing databases of low-income households, using rosters provided by local vetted NGO partners and using rosters of mobile money subscribers recruited through partner mobile network operators.

Project 100

Though GiveDirectly’s priority is getting cash to hard-hit families in extreme poverty in Kenya, it also organized Project 100 to raise funds for U.S. families impacted by COVID-19. For this project, GiveDirectly partnered with Propel, a company that helps recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program manage their benefits. The project aims to raise a total of $100 million for recipients.

The Road Ahead

According to the World Bank, poverty in Kenya may still remain above 20% by 2030 if it continues on a minimal growth path. More job opportunities for youth and infrastructure investments that improve transportation and service deliveries would be necessary to raise Kenya’s productivity.

Through GiveDirectly’s cash transfer project, an efficient and simple method of delivering cash, small-scale businesses will have the opportunity to grow, especially when food insecurity is no longer an obstacle. As Teti says, “We must rethink recipient empowerment and consider cash as a model for changing the lives of people living in poverty.”

– Joy Arkeh
Photo: Flickr

UBI in KenyaIn 2019, former Presidential candidate Andrew Yang proposed a universal basic income and introduced many Americans to the concept. For the developing nation of Kenya, UBI has been an ongoing research project for years.

Universal basic income is a system in which the citizens of a country receive a recurring payment from the federal government for basic necessities such as food, housing and medicine. The goal is to lessen wealth inequality while fostering a higher standard of life regardless of one’s status in society.

Universal basic income in Kenya started in 2017 as a study to map the effectiveness of supplying money to individual villages. In each village, a different stipend was doled out with varying degrees of frequency. The $30 million UBI program was created with the help of GiveDirectly, a non-governmental organization dedicated to addressing global poverty through direct payments. In both 2019 and 2020, researchers followed up with more than 8,000 people involved in the study. What they found proves the success of universal basic income programs to improve food security, health, and mental and emotional well-being.

How the Cash is Distributed

For this study, it is important to note how the payments were allotted to the 14,474 households that participated. The researchers split counties in rural Kenya into four groups. The people in the first set of villages received $0.75 per day for 12 years. The second group received the same stipend but for only two years and was therefore never surveyed during COVID-19. The third group received a one-time lump sum of $500. Finally, the last division of villages was given nothing to act as a comparison.

Food Insecurity

The comparison group, which received no UBI, reported only 32% food security in the last few years. The three UBI groups who received payments reported a notable decrease in hunger between 5-11 percentage points. The study shows that the first group, which received a recurring amount during 12 years, experienced the smallest hunger levels. This suggests that UBI in Kenya can alleviate hunger, especially when provided in smaller payments over time.

Physical, Mental and Emotional Well-being

Universal basic income in Kenya also affects physical health. About a third of respondents without a stipend said they sought medical attention in the last month. However, those in the UBI groups were healthier, with fewer respondents reporting clinical visits or sick family members. Given the lack of COVID-19 cases in the respective villages, the pandemic did not change the findings.

The researchers also found that degrees of depression varied by the method in which the income was distributed over time. Mental health was considered low in the cashless group. Not all UBI groups benefited; however, the group provided with the $500 lump sum reported high levels of depression. Some researchers speculate that receiving a cash payment in regular increments is more beneficial to one’s mental and emotional well-being.

During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought to light how beneficial a universal basic income program can be when faced with unforeseen financial setbacks like a pandemic. When the study researchers checked in with Kenya in 2020, the pandemic struck the world. Only 12 cases existed in Siaya and Bomet, where the study was being conducted. Kenya underwent a strict lockdown in March, pushing vulnerable people living in rural communities into even more precarious situations. The study showed that UBI recipients were less likely to engage in social activities or visit a clinic, both of which increase the likelihood of catching the virus.

While the study is new and not fully complete, good signs point toward a permanent UBI in Kenya because of the proven benefits. Universal basic income has the ability to offer financial assistance and stability to lessen the blow of the pandemic for Kenyans. With UBI, Kenya has the potential to help those in desperation and foster a higher standard of living for all.

– Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

cash grants in Kenya
If you have ever wondered what good remittances do for poverty reduction, a study done by the researching nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) could help put things in perspective. Researchers at IPA evaluated the economic progress of Kenyan villages from 2014 to 2017 after families were given unconditional cash transfers or UCTs. The cash grants in Kenya were provided by a charity organization called GiveDirectly.

The results of the study highlight the potential UCTs have to financially elevate communities around the world. However, when dispersed without careful consideration, some aspects of cash transfers can be detrimental. Let’s discuss GiveDirectly’s trial and why it was successful in initiating great economic stimulation in Kenya.

The Logistics of the Study

The study took place in villages surrounding Lake Victoria in Siaya County, Kenya. To avoid a concentration of funds, researchers categorized villages by two groups: villages with high saturation and low saturation status. Random assignment appointed two-thirds of high saturation villages and one-third of low saturation villages to the trial. As an extra measure to confirm financial need, GiveDirectly only chose families residing in homes with a thatched roof; about one-third of households qualified.

GiveDirectly provided money transfers in intervals to a family member, totaling 87,000 KES, or 1,000 USD. Data was recorded through baseline and closing surveys taken by the participating families and local business owners. The surveys covered topics such as “household financial, physical, and mental well-being, business performance, changes in market prices, and the provision of local public goods.”

Cash Grants in Kenya: The Results

The increase of income stimulated a surge in spending from recipient families. For the most part, these expenditures occurred in the region. Business disclosed that 86% of their clientele were from local or neighboring villages.

The increased consumption had a spillover effect, as non-participant households also saw an influx of income. According to their report, GiveDirectly claims that having higher local enterprise revenues, “in turn, appears to increase the income of local untreated households, leading to higher spending on their part.” The grants created a pattern of earning and consuming that resulted in overall higher cash flow in the area.

Furthermore, participant households across the board showed “higher levels of psychological well-being, food security, education, and security.” Increasing their financial security had an overall positive impact on many other aspects of their lives.

Why it Worked

Before the 2014 study, UCTs previously given by GiveDirectly were also proven to generate economic stimulation in Kenya due to rising consumption and investments. To fully understand the results of this study, it is important to note a few specific factors.

First, GiveDirectly provided UCTs rather than conditional cash transfers, or CTTs. The World Bank defines CCTs as being “contingent on behaviors like school attendance and visits to health clinics.” These requirements do not come as easily to some families as others, especially those living remotely. In contrast, UCTs provide financial support to families without burdening them with specific requirements that they may be unable to meet.

The location also played a big role in the success of this trial. GiveDirectly chose families from an area containing a major national road that IPA determines may be one of the reasons for economic overspill. The IPA report also depicts Kenya’s traditional “harambees,” gatherings meant for community fundraising, as another cause for the balanced wealth distribution.

Moving Forward

The economic stimulation in Kenya proves the efficiency of tactful cash grants. GiveDirectly’s accomplishments in poverty alleviation are just a fraction of what is possible. Moving forward, if more funds are devoted to foreign poverty aid, it is possible for such results to be seen on a global scale.

Lizt Garcia
Photo: Flickr

BlueDot, a Canadian artificial intelligence company, alerted its customers of an outbreak more than a week before the WHO notified the public of the COVID-19 outbreak. The company uses programs driven by artificial intelligence to analyze large amounts of information with the goal of discovering disease outbreaks. This company – and many others like it – could be key in helping thousands of people navigate COVID-19.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science focused on intelligence displayed by machines. There are both pros and cons associated with the development of artificial intelligence. However, with the possibility of COVID-19 pushing 50 million more people into poor households in 2020, many countries are doing everything they can to harness this developing technology.

Artificial Intelligence, COVID-19 and Poverty

People in impoverished communities are facing a serious dilemma: should they continue to work and potentially catch COVID-19 or stay home and face hunger or malnutrition?

There is currently no vaccine for the virus, and lockdowns and social distancing measures are effective but economically harmful. Most people in poverty do not have the financial savings to support themselves. Similarly, restrictions have the potential to push already unstable economies in less developed countries into a recession. Fortunately, artificial intelligence is providing new ways to support people in such challenging times.

4 Ways Artificial Intelligence Can Help Impoverished Communities During COVID-19

  1. Satellite images and phone data are assisting in identifying communities in need of financial assistance. Policymakers in Togo, a West African nation, teamed up with UC Berkeley to find ways to use satellite images and phone data to identify the country’s most impoverished communities and provide aid. A similar program is already in use in various African countries. The NGO GiveDirectly partnered with a local phone company to give governmental assistance to subscribers who live in impoverished communities. The government contacts citizens and offers them a cash transfer. In March alone, GiveDirectly made payments totaling over $2.5 million to 13,806 recipients.
  2. The technology could help researchers analyze COVID-19 data and make clinical decisions. A doctor from Kashmir is using artificial intelligence to detect patterns in large amounts of COVID-19 data. Currently, there is an overwhelming influx of public health data surfacing. In addition, with the virus’s potential to push more people into poverty, there is a need to analyze and evaluate the data quickly. The doctor is also working with local professionals to discover innovative ways to provide healthcare in the country.
  3. Developing countries have started using artificial intelligence for surveillance and social control. Nations like Ecuador, Kenya, Peru and South Africa are using surveillance technologies to ensure citizens are using social distancing measures. South Africa implemented a “real-time contact tracing and communication system.” The software used to create the system was originally intended to detect rhinoceros poaching hotspots in national parks.
  4. Artificial intelligence makes it possible to accurately screen many people at a time from a distance. China has used the technology to install distanced fever-screening systems in railway and subway stations. Beijing’s Qinghe Railway Station houses one of the systems, which can “examine up to 200 people in one minute without disrupting passenger flow.” Many developing countries are densely packed, and many people in those countries have poor access to healthcare. Screening large numbers of people in a short period of time can have a positive impact on the fight against COVID-19 in developing countries.

The race to harness artificial intelligence is on around the globe. Artificial intelligence has the potential not only to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19 on developing countries but around the world. The public database Kaggle is sponsoring the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset Challenge. Its hope is that experts around the world will come together to find new ways to use artificial intelligence techniques. Ultimately, this will produce new insights to assist in the global fight against COVID-19.

Araceli Mercer
Photo: Flickr

Rutger Bregman's Three Ideas to End Poverty
In the best-selling book, “Utopia for Realists,” author and Dutch popular historian, Rutger Bregman, outlines three utopian ideas to eliminate extreme poverty. Universal basic income, a 15-hour work-week and open borders are Bregman’s three leading solutions to creating an ideal global society. Bregman’s writings, interviews and fiery speeches, like the one he gave at the Davos World Economic Forum in 2019, reminds one of the importance of utopian thinking. Here is a breakdown of Rutger Bregman’s three ideas to end poverty.

Universal Basic Income

A universal basic income (UBI) is the first of Rutger Bregman’s three ideas to end poverty. UBI is an unconditional cash transfer that countries can give to citizens; the concept involves the allocation of a certain amount of funds regularly to cover essential living costs. Recipients of the grant are free to spend it however they choose. The idea has found support from a wide range of credible thinkers, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., economist Milton Friedman and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

The longest-running UBI experiment is currently happening in Kenya. The charity GiveDirectly is paying more than 20,000 people roughly 75 cents per day. Less than $1 may not seem like a lot, but that amount is roughly what Kenya’s poorest make daily. Money from the nonprofit essentially doubles recipients’ annual incomes. GiveDirectly’s trial began back in 2016 and should span over 12 years. So far, the results have shown a positive impact. By using a cellphone-based payment system, the nonprofit has increased food consumption by 20 percent, reduced the number of days a child goes without food by 42 percent and increased revenue from livestock and small business by 48 percent.

Additionally, UBI might be around the corner for the United States. As the coronavirus health crisis unfolds, the U.S. government is moving quickly to jump-start the nation’s economy. In a rare bipartisan effort, Republicans and Democrats have signed a colossal $2 trillion stimulus plan which will include direct cash payments to American citizens. The Senate aims to send one or two cash transfers to American adults for $1,200, and an additional $500 for children. It is the most extensive emergency stimulus package in American history.

15-hour Work Week

In “Utopia for Realists,” Bregman reminds his readers that at one time the idea of a 15-hour work-week was not as inconceivable as it may sound today. In 1930, British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that a 15-hour work-week would be inevitable by 2030. He believed that society’s real problem would be dealing with boredom from all the spare time. Alas, his prediction did not come true. In fact, the opposite is true in some cases, and people are working more hours than they did in previous generations.

In a world where time is money, it is hard to imagine the practicality of working less to earn more. However, Bregman insists that “productivity and long work hours do not go hand in hand.” Over time, fatigue and stress are causing burn-out in workers all over the world. The problem is so severe in Japanese corporate culture that it has a name for it, Karoshi, meaning death caused by overwork. There comes a point when working more becomes less productive.

Americans, on average, are clocking in 137 more hours than Japanese workers every year with 52.3 percent of people report being unhappy at work. Although average productivity has gone up 400 percent since 1950, real wages (adjusted for inflation) have remained stagnant. People are working more than they did 70 years ago and are not seeing the difference in payment.

But does working less pay more? A New Zealand based estate planning company, Perpetual Guardian, believes so. The staff experimented with working four days a week and have dubbed it a massive success. A survey from before the experiment determined that only 54 percent of employees felt they were able to manage a work-life balance. After implementing a four-day work-week, 78 percent felt they could. Employee stress levels dropped 7 percent and team engagement rose 20 percent. This idea of Rutger Bregman’s three ideas to end poverty would allow greater pay with shorter hours.

Open Borders

Open borders may be the most radical solution of Rutger Bregman’s three ideas to end poverty. Opening up the world’s borders to allow the free movement of people across any country makes many skeptical and afraid of societal collapse.

Development economist Michael Clemens argues that open borders would double global GDP by allowing the free movement of labor to become more productive. Clemens also dissuades fears of job loss and culture degradation pointing to the U.S. Chinese immigration ban that was in place from 1882-1965, and how after the ban lifted, none of the predictions became true.

Economist Bryan Caplan argues that nation-dividing borders more often act as a form of global apartheid. The level of economic inequality one experiences generally depends upon which country they were born in. Rutger Bregman states that 60 percent of someone’s income depends simply on their country of origin. With the enforcement of stricter border policies all over the world, poor people have little to no say in where they can live.

Rutger Bregman’s three ideas to end poverty are bold and unorthodox, however, some are conducting studies around the globe to determine their viability. Bregman’s ideas are utopian, and that is the point. Ending slavery, improving women’s rights and adopting a 40-hour work-week were once utopian ideas too. “Utopia for Realists “argues that it is essential to dream big, to create a better society for everyone.

Henry Schrandt
Photo: Flickr

Google’s Contribution to Fighting Extreme PovertyGoogle is one of the most renowned tech companies in the world with an exquisite smartphone line, a widely-used search engine and the ownership of media-giant, YouTube. Despite the success of Google, it started from humble beginnings. Two Ph.D. students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founded Google, originally named Backrub, at Stanford University for a research project in 1998. From an initial investment of $100,000, Google turned into a multi-billion dollar company, focusing part of its fortune on its own philanthropic goals. Google’s contribution to fighting extreme poverty includes dedicating $50 million to the global education initiative and $50 million to the economic opportunity initiative. Google.org announced a $1 billion commitment in grants and one million employee volunteer hours to close the global education gap, create economic opportunities and diminish prejudice and discrimination.

Google and GiveDirectly

In 2012, Google granted $2.4 million to GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is a nonprofit organization that transfers money to people in Kenya using “electronic monitoring and payment technology.” Recipients can receive money via personal cell phones or the cell phones GiveDirectly gives them.

GiveDirectly hopes for economic stimulation by increasing cash flow to impoverished individuals to create more expenditure on services and products. For example, NPR covered a GiveDirectly success story about a Kenyan man who used the money he received to buy a used motorcycle. With his motorcycle, he charges riders a fee similar to taxi services like Lyft or Uber as a source of income. This organization allows donors to fund individual living expenses instead of general predetermined expenses, giving recipients the freedom to purchase the specific items they need to financially benefit their family.

As of 2016, 36.1 percent of Kenya’s population lives on less than $1.90 per day. This statistic dropped from 46.8 percent in 2006 but Kenya is still far from eradicating poverty altogether. Google’s contribution to fighting extreme poverty allowed GiveDirectly to recreate its program in Uganda and East Africa, as well as research its economic, social and psychological impacts.

Google and StoryWeaver

A year later in 2013, Google funded $3.85 million to an India-based organization, StoryWeaver, as part of the $50 million initiative to close the global education gap. StoryWeaver is a free online educational resource targeting underprivileged areas. It is also a platform for authors, illustrators and translators to create stories for children. StoryWeaver makes books more available to children all over the world in their native languages at varying reading levels. The ability to read and write sets the foundation for further education and countries in poverty have a significantly lower literacy rate due to inadequate educational materials or resources.

Literacy rates in India logged in at 74.04 percent in 2011 compared to the average world literacy rate of 86.3 percent. As a result, StoryWeaver works to provide free reading material to communities in need. StoryWeaver has already garnered over two million reads and 13,000 stories in 175 languages. With Google’s help, StoryWeaver will be able to expand its platform and user base while increasing the production of stories.

Google emphasizes the importance of accessible educational materials and worldwide economic participation by supporting innovative national and global nonprofits. With its powerful influence, resources and platform, Google is in a strong position to establish positive changes and produce substantial outcomes. Google’s contribution to fighting extreme poverty began almost 14 years ago and its efforts continue to remain steadfast today.

– Angela Dong
Photo: Flickr

GiveDirectly
GiveDirectly, a U.S. nonprofit organization, is seeking to change the way aid is given to impoverished communities around the world. Where most nonprofit organizations seek to fight global poverty through advocacy programs, research studies, services and volunteers, GiveDirectly bypasses traditional nongovernmental organization structures to allow donors to see exactly where and who their money is going to. By doing so, GiveDirectly is able to send money directly to people in poverty.

Modern payment through technology has become a prominent cost-effective way to transfer sums of money over thousands of miles. GiveDirectly uses such technology to take and use money from donors and transfer it directly to people in impoverished communities. After opening to the public in 2011, the nonprofit exclusively makes payments to people in extreme poverty through online transferable cash grants.

The next step is to study the impact of direct aid to poverty-stricken communities. Over the next 12 years, every adult in 40 villages throughout Kenya will receive $0.75 per day through GiveDirectly donors. The wage, while below the poverty line, will ensure a source of income on top of day-to-day jobs.

Residents of another 80 villages will receive that amount over just two years and residents of yet another 80 villages will receive that amount in a lump sum. Since GiveDirectly sends money directly to people in poverty, all community members will receive the donations despite income levels, as a form of universal income. More than 26,000 people will receive a donation transfer, where 6,000 will receive a sustained universal income.

According to the GiveDirectly website, the group has received 81% of the funds required to pay for the study throughout all 12 years. The research team includes Abhijit Banerjee, co-founder of J-PAL and a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Alan Krueger, a former Chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and a professor at Princeton and Tavneet Suri, Scientific Director for J-PAL Africa, also at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Stephene, a 27-year-old laborer in Kenya, enrolled as a recipient of cash-grants from GiveDirectly four months ago. Two months in, he received his first payment over the phone of $97. He spent his first sum of money plastering his house and on necessities for his wife who is expecting a child.

When asked what he would spend the donated money on, Stephene said he would use it to buy his own boat, to make his life as a fisherman easier. He recently received his second payment of $481. The funds went to buying iron sheets and finally, his own fishing boat. In an interview with GiveDirectly, Stephene said, “This has improved my source of income [and] thus improved my living standards.”

Recipients of donations receive an SMS text message when their payments are ready for collection. On average, it takes 32 minutes for individuals to walk to the closest agent and collect their cash transfers.

In addition to the efficiency of the aid program, recipients can spend their payments on necessities that are unique to their lives and families. By sending money directly to people in poverty, the organization breaks down some of the difficulties of traditional foreign aid.

Riley Bunch

Photo: Flickr