An experiment in giving: Part II

“If enough people are willing to give a modest amount without worrying too much about the guarantees most charities think they need and want, how much more good can be done? How many more people might give? What might this mean for the future of personal, charitable giving?”

From ‘An experiment in giving‘. September 2017

Three months ago, a group of 35 of us committed to giving £10/$15 a month to ten Nigerian families in need for a period of twelve months. You can read more on how it all came about here. It was an unashamedly unscientific approach to giving, focusing more on providing the recipients some hope as much as a clearly definable, measurable opportunity. None of us had met the families, and none of us knew of their aspirations or ambitions. What we did know – all that we did know – was that they were all experiencing hardship to varying degrees and that they needed a break in life.

A long-time, trusted Nigerian friend – who also happened to be behind this – did the ground work for us and helped identify the ten families. He also helped them open bank accounts so they could receive the funds (for most this was the first time they had ever had a bank account). He also provided some training in basic financial literacy. The families received their first payment – a double payment to help get them off to the best possible start – in October.

As we approached the three month mark in early December, all ten beneficiaries received visits to see how they were doing. They were all in high spirits and thankful for the financial support that the project was giving (which, in most cases, represented a 50% increase in monthly income). Initial feedback and assessments indicate a significant improvement in their lives, with the funds helping with everything from daily subsistence needs, school fees, the purchase of work tools, finance for their trade, clearing debts, healthcare and house building.

From the outset we promised to be open and transparent about what we were doing, and each of the recipients gave us permission to use their names and photos publicly. Indeed, they have been actively encouraging us to share their stories so that we may extend the reach of the programme (we have no plans to do this at the moment). Before we go much further, though, we recognise the need to carry out more robust research into the impact of the project, and whether small contributions such as these (small from the donors perspective, at least) over a period of time (12 months) have the potential to set the ground for lasting change at the family level.

Arit is a widow in her sixties. She had seven children when she was younger, but only four survived into adulthood – one of whom lives with her in her dilapidated hut. Unfortunately her other children had to move 30 kilometres away to the nearest city to find work.

Arit has used part of her first payment to restart her local snacks business. Shelter is her major challenge and she is saving her monthly income towards building a small concrete house for herself.

Mary has just turned 45, and is a mother of five children. Her husband abandoned her seven years ago when he couldn’t provide for the family, so she now lives with her entire family in a single rented room.

Mary’s financial status has greatly improved in the last three months. She has moved from just hawking sachet water to owning a cooler and securing her own location where she sells her products. She is now able to make more income because her cooler keeps her water cold and people buy more when they are thirsty in the hot and humid weather. The funds have also helped with her children’s school fees. She’s also  happy to have a bank account – which has helped her develop a culture of saving.

Emem is a 44 year old widow with six children. She has managed to send four of these children to school through her own hard work, but her daily work is arduous and she is struggling to keep up with the school fees. She lives 45 km from the state capital.

Since receiving her funds, Emem has expanded her vegetable farming. She has been able to lease about an acre of land beside the village stream to grow more vegetables (waterleaf, pumpkin leaf and sweet corn) for the nearby town food market and is confident she can now make more money to improve the livelihood of her family.

Nsikan is a widow in her fifties. She lives 65 km away from the state capital. This area, which can only be accessed on two wheels or by foot, has seen a lot of hardship. Her husband passed away seven years ago so Nsikan now must provide for five children. When she told her new husband that he couldn’t marry a second wife, he abandoned her.

Since Nsikan started receiving her monthly payment her palm processing business has started to grow. She is able to support her family better than before and has been able to restart a building project which she previously had to put on hold.

Ema is a 39 year old widow with four children. She lives about 25 km from the nearest city. Her eldest child has finished secondary school and is learning a vocation, but the training has been cut short for the time being. Ema has outstanding fees to pay, and her other three children are in primary school.

Thanks to her additional income Ema now buys the food items she trades with her own money, not on credit, and as a result makes a better profit. She also used to suffer from severe pains from a botched surgery but could not afford to go back to the hospital for further treatment. The first thing that she did when she collected her first payment was to seek medical attention and she is now feeling better and fitter than she has for a long time.

Ottobong is 36 years old and married with six children. He lives about 57 km from the nearest city. He is trained as a welder, but he can’t find enough money to invest in the tools he needs.

So far Ottobong has been using his new funds to buy and process palm fruit to sell. He has started purchasing work tools (including an oxygen gas cylinder and metal sheet cuttings) for his welding work and has been able to pay his children’s latest school fees more easily. He hopes to be able to purchase all the basic equipment for his welding business by the end of the program and to then start a full welding service to support his family.

Victoria is a 47 year old widow with six children who lives in a remote village. Two of her children are in primary school, but the other four dropped out of secondary school because she could not afford to pay their school fees.

Thanks to the injection of cash, Victoria’s palm processing and crayfish business is now a profitable venture. She now buys greater quantities of the goods she needs to process and sell. Because she now makes more profit she is able to better support her family. Crucially, she is now able to purchase her crayfish at a good rate because she does not require credit.

Josephine is a widow in her fifties with three surviving children. One of her daughters went missing two years ago. She now lives with her small family in a remote village a few dozen kilometres from the state capital.

Josephine is now gradually putting her life back together after the recent collapse of her house. She is back in business making her local snacks to sell. She has also started moulding concrete blocks to begin the process of rebuilding her house, and believes that with the progress she is making so far she will be able to have a roof over her head soon.

Bessie is a widow and grandmother. She lost her husband three years after she was married. Following this, three of her children passed away. She now lives with her daughter and grandchild.

In the short term, Bessie plans to use her new funds to complete concrete work on her house so that she can have a permanent and safe place for her and her family to live. So far she has used the money to mould concrete blocks for the building. In addition, the funds have helped her meet her daily needs, which she says has been a huge help and a big weight off her mind.

Imeobong is 41 years of age and is married with five children. She lives in two rooms with her children in a village located 27 km from the closest city. She faces a huge challenge to take care of her children after her husband abandoned the family.

Thanks to her increased income Imeobong has been able to put hers and her family’s lives back on track. She saved her pay-out for two months and started trading sweet potatoes. All was going well until the last week of November when her daughter was robbed and assaulted taking funds from the cash machine. It was a major setback for the family but she has been able to keep going, and used her most recent pay-out to start trading again.

Further reading on some of the thinking behind the project can be found here. If you’re interested in what we’re doing, or can help with our research needs, feel free to comment or get in touch.