How to give money to the Poor

We recently posted on cash grant programs in Sierra Leone and Kenya. In the recently published Mainstreaming Gender in Social Protection for the Informal Economy, Dr. Naila Kabeer of the University of Sussex argues that the design of cash transfer programs may be more important in determining who participates in them and who benefits than whether they are of the self-selecting public works kind or the social fund variety.

She finds weaknesses in both kinds of program:
Public works-type programs can be put in place faster than social fund schemes and are more effective in reaching vulnerable groups through their self-targeting mechanism. However, they systematically exclude certain sections of the poor. The assumption that labour is the most abundant asset of the poor ignores the ‘time poverty’ of poorer women.

A major problem with social funds is the notion of ‘the community’. In societies characterised by pervasive inequality and unmet needs, the call for community participation may merely serve to keep the powerlessness of the poor hidden. Project managers who rely on traditional leaders or existing structures of power to sustain community management thus reproduce inequalities within the community.

According to Kabeer the important variable is therefore not whether these programs are of the social fund or self-selecting public works variety, but rather of whether they take local conditions into account. What do you think?

Click here to here to listen to the author discuss this book on the Commonwealth Broadcast Association’s ‘Pick of the Commonwealth’ – March edition #29 (interview starts at 20.22 minutes).

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