Success Story: GiveDirectly

Success Story: GiveDirectly


A GiveDirectly recipient used her cash transfer to purchase materials for a water pump in rural Kenya. She dug a 30-foot deep borehole, which supplies fresh water for her family.

This month, we’re excited to feature a guest post by Joy Sun of GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is a pioneer in transforming the way we think about investing in wellbeing of the world’s poorest people. More importantly, GiveDirectly seeks to change the way the public understands what constitutes effective and successful poverty relief work.

By Joy Sun, Chief Operating Officer (Domestic), GiveDirectly

GiveDirectly is an unorthodox organization in many ways. It gives donors’ money to the extreme poor, as directly as possible – a model that has been called “the crazy new idea that could solve global poverty” and “part of a shift in thinking about how best to use aid to help the poorest.” Our model allows the recipient, not the donor, to choose how best to use the money. We focus on what it costs to deliver a cash transfer to a recipient as a measure of its efficiency (currently less than 10 cents on the dollar in Kenya), instead of commonly used metrics like money spent on “overhead” vs. “program services” which can often be misleading.

A Kenyan farmer used his GiveDirectly cash transfer to purchase a generator and a water pump, which he uses to irrigate his crops.

GiveDirectly’s distinctiveness has been an emphasis on rigorous data rather than on stories about individual recipients to demonstrate success. GiveDirectly was founded on the principle that money should be channeled to proven interventions evaluated rigorously using the gold standard of a randomized controlled trial (RCT), like cash transfers. We focus on providing donors with evidence about average effects – including an RCT released last year by Innovations for Poverty Action – rather than on stories about individual recipients, which can often be cherry picked to serve marketing objectives. A growing number of donors, particularly in the effective altruism movement, are demanding evidence like this.

Yet GiveDirectly’s staff, including field officers who visit recipients in their homes and communicate regularly with them by mobile phone, have no shortage of moving stories about our recipients. These people have used their cash transfers to improve their lives, often in creative and surprising ways.

GiveDirectly’s recipients use cost-effective cell phone technologies to receive their direct cash transfers.

The next frontier GiveDirectly is aiming for is radical and real-time transparency for donors, made possible by pushing the boundaries of technology. We are working towards opening up our raw, unfiltered data about recipients (which will be anonymized to protect privacy). This increased access to data will allow our donors to explore individual recipients’ experiences and come to their own conclusions about the organization’s impact. Our goal is to build on technology that is currently used for field management; the unprecedented step will be to use it to give donors access to real-time data about what is happening with their money in the field.

When donors demand success data, not just success stories, they help raise the bar for all charities to demonstrate real impact for their money.

For more information on how you can give directly to the poor, please visit

To learn more, watch Joy Sun’s July 2014 Ted Talk “Should you donate differently?” about why it’s a good idea to empower the world’s poor to determine their own financial goals.

Share this story:

Related stories:


About the author:

Guest Blogger

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.