Traditionally, funding for developmental aid has come with numerous strings attached; from how and where money is to be spent, to the design and implementation of programs geared toward helping the poor, the individual recipient is left with little say in where donor money goes. With the advent of the fast-approaching deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, and our woeful lagging in their attainment, comes the realization that established forms of giving just don’t seem to be working. In his controversial new book, “Just Give Money to the Poor: The Development Revolution from the Global South,” David Hulme argues that instead of sustaining a huge aid industry to find ways of helping the poor, we should instead “just give money to the poor”.
At a recent book event, hosted by the New American Foundation, author David Hulme, Professor of Development Studies, Director of Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester and Founder-Director of the Chronic Poverty Research Centre, explained his position and gave a brief overview of the results of his research findings, fully detailed in his book. His argument, that cash transfers offer a viable and effective means of reducing poverty in the developing world, is based on his findings from China, Mexico, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa; all countries which have shown a growing trend of cash transfers over the last two decades.
Hulme and his co-authors, fellow director of Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester Armando Barrientos and journalist-researcher Joseph Hanlon, found that non-conditional cash transfers reduce poverty in the short term, as more than half of household recipients spent the money on more and better food. Additionally, families which received cash transfers had taller and healthier children who were more likely to attend school. Cash transfers were also found to alleviate poverty in the long term: as money was spent locally it stimulated the local economy, created investment and microenterprises, as well as encouraged job seeking. The cash transfers researched by the authors were initiatives taken by national governments, not donor-financed, and were a crucial component of the country’s social assistance program.
These findings suggest the superfluous nature of the entire NGO and government overseas aid structure. Once given the means, individuals in the developing world appear to know best how to go about reducing their poverty. The question remains as to whether donor support can be found for such an initiative, if we can remove ourselves from stereotypical notions of aid and handouts, as well as paternalistic attitudes of knowing what’s best for the poor. A person can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps without boots. Maybe we should start to think about just giving them boots, instead of expensive and complicated frameworks for stimulating their boot-making economy.