Here’s an interesting idea. Instead of sending donations to agencies and foreign governments in hopes they will direct it to those in need, why not send cash directly to poor families overseas, via their cellphones? From Forbes.com:
GiveDirectly, a U.S.-based nonprofit operating in Kenya, is doing just that, and it’s won the support of the likes of Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes and Google. Last Thursday night in San Francisco, Hughes and a posse of venture capitalists and tech entrepreneurs including General Catalyst partner Hemant Taneja and Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, hosted about 150 people for wine, conversation and an introduction to GiveDirectly. …
Paul Niehaus, an assistant professor of economics at UC San Diego and a board member of GiveDirect, came up with the idea of transferring money to poor people’s cell phones back in 2008. … GiveDirectly finds poor households – typically people who live in mud huts with thatched roofs – and uses a system called M-Pesa, run by Vodafone , to transfer money to their cell phones. Transaction fees eat up a mere 3 cents per donated dollar. Niehaus says plenty of recipients use the money to upgrade their homes by adding a metal roof.
The project has won a $2.4 million Global Impact Award from Google. I love this idea, though I feel a need to reconcile my enthusiasm for this with my reticence to give cash directly to the homeless panhandlers I meet in our churchyard every day here at home. What do you think?