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No Strings Attached: GiveDirectly San Diego Founder Helps Change International Giving

KPBS Evening Edition anchor Ebone Monet interviews Paul Niehaus on June 28, 2...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: KPBS Evening Edition anchor Ebone Monet interviews Paul Niehaus on June 28, 2017.

GiveDirectly is a nonprofit aiming to change international giving. Since going public in 2011, GiveDirectly has enrolled more than 80,000 families, committing more than $70 million dollars to people in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

Paul Niehaus is a GiveDirectly co-founder and an associate professor at UC San Diego. When he is not teaching graduate economic students he is preparing for GiveDirectly’s new radical experiment.

GiveDirectly leaders say they are poised to do the largest basic income research study in history. The Universal Basic Income experiment will test the impact of basic income over 12 years in Kenya. GiveDirectly is currently raising $30 million dollars to make it happen.

KPBS Evening Edition Anchor Ebone Monet sat down with Niehaus to discuss GiveDirectly and its Basic Income Experiment.

Video by Katie Schoolov

Q: How does a kid from Boston go on to start an international charity helping people across the world?

A: What I’ve always been motivated by is the idea of tackling the grand challenges of our time. What are the biggest problems facing the human race on this planet? I think right up there with climate change, global poverty is obviously one of the big ones. In that setting, a dollar can go so far. Giving up that latte, giving up that coffee or a dinner out. Something that doesn’t really make a big impact in my life can have a huge impact on the life of someone in Africa.

Q: What about people who are skeptical of charities?

A: The reality is the whole system is built on the idea that we have to decide for poor people what they should get, and that's why people get those salaries. They get paid to decide what stuff we should give to poor people and, you’ve got to question that, right? Is not obvious, the model poor people get whatever donors think sounds cool is a good way to make decisions. So we’re trying to push that and say in many cases, poor people can make that decision for themselves, and it would be much more efficient.

Q: Why would GiveDirectly test Universal Basic Income?

A: We think it’s a fascinating debate that cash transfers should be playing a bigger role and basic income is one form of cash transfers. We also think there hasn’t been enough of that rigorous testing yet.

Q: How does it feel when you get that feedback from people being helped and realizing this is not just a theory on a paper but real people, in a real way?

A: It feels great. I think you have to try it and tell me how it feels to you. We have a lot of people, who have kids, who are literally not eating so they’re just feeding their kids. Now, they’re not going through that stressful decision of which kid gets to eat tonight.

GiveDirectly, the brainchild of a UC San Diego associate professor, has become one of the fastest growing international charities. It allows people to send money directly to people living in extreme poverty.

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