‘Phase 1 Findings: Stateless Payments for Stateless People’
You may recall that in March this year, OmiseGO, together with Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin, donated the equivalent of $1 million USD tokens to GiveDirectly, to facilitate the transfer of currency directly to people living in extreme poverty. The project that OmiseGO funded is specifically focused on enabling research into the impacts of direct giving to refugee populations.
With Phase 1 of the project to deliver large, unconditional transfer of cash to refugees complete, we’re able to draw insights from the research and field work of GiveDirectly to enable our mission to facilitate disintermediation and provide access to financial networks to unbanked populations.
A GiveDirectly field officer enrolls a new recipient to receive cash transfers in Kenya. ©GiveDirectly
Phase 1 of the project was an operational pilot to test the feasibility of delivering large, unconditional cash transfers to refugees in Uganda and gather illustrative evidence of user behavior and impact. This initial pilot is being used to inform a follow-on proof-of-concept in Rwanda and a large-scale third-party evaluation in Uganda, which will deliver cash to an entire refugee settlement (10,000+ households) and produce rigorous quantitative evidence on the social and economic impacts.
What sets this project apart is the provision of contextually large, unconditional, one-time direct transfers. The effectiveness of this methodology when compared to other humanitarian aid approaches is proven. For example, it was found in one study that 70% of Syrian refugees elected to receive aid in unrestricted cash over food vouchers.
GiveDirectly distributed $660USD each to 4,371 refugee and host households in Uganda, roughly equivalent to one year’s worth of World Food Programme rations. Funds were disbursed to local host communities as well as refugees.
Pilot Project Findings
GiveDirectly’s findings from the first phase of the pilot reinforce the thesis of direct transfer of value to achieve positive outcomes on local community development.
Most importantly, the pilot proved that large cash transfers to refugees is eminently feasible. Following a locally deployed sign-up campaign and education on mobile pin management, payments were delivered digitally, through mobile money and a local banking partner. Recipients safely received them, with losses to theft and other adverse events at just 0.15% share of total transfers. Economic markets responded, with local agent networks emerging to providing cash out services. New jobs and increased trading of goods and services indicates a strong local economy.
Cash transfers provide refugees, one of the most constrained populations in the world, with a unique degree of choice. Around a quarter of the value was used to cover immediate necessities, such as food, clothing and paying off debts. The remaining three quarters went to longer-term investments, such as housing, livestock, businesses or education.
Unforeseen circumstances during the pilot demonstrate the benefits of enabling users to maintain agency over how they spend their own funds. Just before receiving the transfers of cash, refugees had their farmland repossessed by the Ugandan government in order to house new arrivals of refugees in the region. The proportion of the refugee population engaged in subsistence farming and commercial farming fell drastically. Unconditional cash transfers, rather than predetermined aid solutions such as food vouchers, allowed people to adapt and choose how to meet daily needs and diversify income sources.
The full report on activities and outcomes from GiveDirectly is available here.
Implications for OmiseGO
OmiseGO’s donation contribution is going towards a larger scale project to deliver cash to an entire refugee settlement in 2019 which will be followed by a rigorous external evaluation of impact.
The research and evidence from GiveDirectly’s work is extremely important to forward the vision of delivering mobile financial transactions at scale for financial self-sovereignty and understanding user adoption prerequisites and behaviors in local contexts.
We are living in the highest levels of displacement in human history. An unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. The availability of financial networks to access credit for housing, services and businesses is crucial. In this sense, accessible financial systems are key to unleashing the vast potential of the urban poor to improve their living and working environments and livelihoods and addressing human inequality.
OmiseGO is deeply appreciative of the on-ground efforts and open research of GiveDirectly. We will continue to utilize the findings of GiveDirectly’s work in the field to inform our understanding of mobile money network adoption in underserved markets, education of local communities for mobile money adoption, and cash-out behaviors in given contexts to reach end users.
Call To Action
Again, we would like to use this opportunity to raise awareness of GiveDirectly’s efforts and invite the OMG community to participate.
For financial contributions, GiveDirectly accepts ETH or ERC20 tokens to this Ethereum address.
We also welcome engagement from development sector experts and local community groups, especially in Southeast Asia, to help inform market engagement and effectively serve local communities.
GiveDirectly Team for inputs.
GiveDirectly blog: https://www.givedirectly.org/blog-post?id=8598277768732857358
 United Nations World Food Programme, ‘Food — Restricted Vouchers or Unrestricted Cash? How To Best Support Syrian Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon?, April 2017.
 The Challenge of Slums, Global Report on Human Settlements, UN-Habitat, 2003, 166.