The “Give Directly” Hypothesis

A man checks his phone to confirm that the charity GiveDirectly has transferred a cash grant to his account. (Nichole Sobecki for NPR)

In 2013 Daniel Handel, an economist with USAID—the U.S. government’s main agency for foreign assistance—had just moved to Rwanda when he heard about a charity that was testing a bold idea:

Instead of giving people in poor countries, say, livestock or job training to help improve their standard of living, why not just give them cash and let them decide how best to spend it?

Handel had been mulling this exact question. Aid programs were spending enormous sums per person to boost poor people’s income less than the cost of the program. At this rate, Handel thought, why not just hand over the money to people directly? This program called GiveDirectly was doing just that.

So Handel went to his bosses at USAID’s Rwanda office and proposed an experiment:

Take one of USAID’s typical programs and test it against cash aid. For the comparison, he selected a program to improve child and maternal health in Rwanda by teaching families about nutrition and hygiene.

A pool of families from nearly 250 villages was selected based on typical criteria and randomly assigned to one of four groups.

  • Those in the first were the “control” and received no help.
  • Those in the second group were visited by the nutrition and hygiene education teams.
  • Families in the third group were given small cash grants by GiveDirectly equivalent to the per-person cost of the nutrition and hygiene program, an average of $114.
  • In the final group, families got a much larger cash grant of around $500 – a figure chosen because this was the amount that GiveDirectly estimated was more likely to make an impact.

Following the experiment, the government released the results of the first study in the series.

The experiment found that the program met none of its main objectives. Teaching Rwandans about nutrition did not improve their nutrition or health. Neither did giving Rwandans the cash equivalent of the cost of the education program — about $114.

“Our hearts sank.”

The program’s focus on trying to change behaviors is one of the world’s major strategies for ending malnutrition. And, at least in this example, it had failed to achieve any of its primary goals.

A year on, the children who had been targeted by the nutrition and hygiene program were no more likely to eat a better or more diverse diet, and no less likely to be malnourished or anemic than children who had gotten no help at all. But providing a much larger cash grant of about $500 did make some difference.

Supporters of such “cash-benchmarking” exercises are heralding this particular one as a milestone. For years, anti-poverty advocates and researchers have complained that the U.S. government doesn’t do enough to make sure its aid programs actually work. “But when you talk about giving money to people straight up, with no conditions, people at USAID look at you kind of like you’re a crazy person. There’s ‘an inherent sense’ that they can’t be trusted to spend it wisely.” said Daniel Handel’s associate James Carbonell.

  • In this case, people who were given the cost-equivalent grants used much of the money to pay down their debts.
  • It remains unclear what, if any, material changes USAID is planning to its nutrition efforts based on the study’s findings.
  • At the time of this writing (FEB 2019), USAID remains reluctant to discuss the experiment and did not grant the authors of the NPR story permission to speak directly to Daniel Handel about the results.


  1. Did the authors of the study Fail?
  2. Would proving that cash-equivalent grants were as beneficial as the education program have qualified as Success?
  3. Or did the authors succeed by proving that simply handing recipients money without any stipulation was the wrong way to achieve a particular goal?
  4. Could the authors conclude that poor people really DON’T know “what to do with the money”?


Heavily edited from an original story by NPR.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit

Link to the original:

Further Reading

The Planet Money story:

From Nonprofit Chronicles:

Brief Exercise

  1. In the Reply field below, briefly answer any or all of the Discussion Questions, then discuss how you would respond to finding that your “My Hypothesis” proposal cannot be supported by the initial evidence.
    • (Assume in your Reply that you did not wait until the last week of the semester that the evidence did not support your Hypothesis. 🙂

About davidbdale

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30 Responses to The “Give Directly” Hypothesis

  1. littlecow24 says:

    1. The authors did not fail, because they figured out what would actually happen when they give them money.
    2. Yes, because this is what they were trying to figure out in the first place.
    3. This is also a success for them, as any information gathered from the experiment is a good step.
    4. No, because even giving them $500 had some success which shows us that parents want to feed their kids well and nourish them but they do not have the money to do so. Healthy food like vegetables and fruit are usually much more expensive, which prohibits them from eating healthier too.


  2. ilovedunkinoverstarbucks says:

    The authors study had a good idea behind it but did fail due to the fact that the last group that was given $500 did not seem to go towards food but towards debt the family was in and those that were given academic support on nutrition is unclear on if that education helped. Considering the families with the grants were able to do something beneficial with the money it would be a success considering we do not know the outcome of those that had nutrition education. Since the families took the grants they were given and paid off debt it could be said that they do know what to do with money because now they are debt free and although they have no money now they could still find ways to get the food they need.


  3. mossmacabre says:

    – I don’t think they really “failed”, I think they got different results than they had been expecting.
    – In the eyes of the people running the study, I am sure they would have considered that kind of change successful.
    – I do not believe the author succeeded or failed in their study. They just got a result they hadn’t been expecting.
    – I think rather than saying poor people don’t know what to do with money, you could say that in a country ravaged by poverty and debt, families will need more consistent benefits in order for there to be any real change.

    If I found that the evidence did not support my hypothesis, I would adjust my hypothesis so that the evidence did support it.


  4. zzbrd2822 says:

    1) The authors of the study did not fail since they learned something from the outcome of the experiment.
    2) Proving that cash-equivalent grants were as beneficial as the education program would not be qualified as the only success. It would be considered a success of the program, but it is not the only successful outcome of the experiment.
    3) The authors did succeed by proving that simply handing recipients money without any stipulation was the wrong way to achieve a particular goal. People being given the money have other obligations they might need the money for.
    4) The authors cannot conclude that poor people don’t know “what to do with the money” because they do know what the money can be used for, it just might not be aligned with the interests of the aid program.
    5) If my hypothesis cannot be supported by the initial evidence, then I must modify my hypothesis to fit the evidence I do find.


  5. neferpitou626 says:

    1) The authors of the study did not fail since it was a slightly complicated experiment.
    2) Yes and no. No because it didn’t do what they were expecting but yes because they made that deduction.
    3) It was wrong because they didn’t think about the demands the people had. They didn’t put into account the people’s way of living.
    4)No they cannot. Simply because that outcome only happened in that country \.


  6. levixvice says:

    1. The experiment worked as it should have; whether or not the result were satisfied for the author wanting the people to get better nutrition from the received money they got.
    2. No, the program would’ve been a success if the people were able to use the money given by the program to get better nutrition and hygiene.

    My hypothesis proposal might be out of place; due to the idea in action might never work by how much of the amount to get the government or trading officials a lot of time. Including my evidence that I need to know about the invasive species being transported unknowingly via trading ships carrying materials.


  7. gingerbreadman27 says:

    The authors of the study did not fail because their goal was to test a hypothesis and to see if it worked or not. Sadly it did not work but now they can move on and try different approaches to answer the same problem. Providing cash equivalent grants that were as efficient to the education programs would be a success because they could reach more people in a shorter amount of time. If my proposal cannot be supported by initial evidence I would try to shift it towards a direction or spin it where I could find something to support it my revised hypothesis.


  8. Lunaduna says:

    The authors of the study did not fail. They learned that handing people money is not the best way to achieve their goals. Education programs would be more beneficial than just handing people money. Granting money to people is not the solution to the problem, the main problem would be the people’s education. It is not necessarily that “poor people” do not know how to use money, rather than uneducated people.

    I would test my hypothesis many times before my final essay. I would research more than once to achieve my goal. If my evidence does not support my hypothesis, I would either change my hypothesis or search from a different angle.


  9. anonymousgirl116 says:

    1. The authors’ study didn’t fail, the program did
    2. Yes
    3. They had received a different result but didn’t fail
    4. It proves that if the parents had the money they would want to feed their children healthy food.


  10. lokiofasgard24 says:

    1. The study was a success. They learned what didn’t work to solve the issue of malnutrition and how it didn’t work.
    2. If the technique they used actually worked as well as the education the experiment was a success, considering they have found new way to help these people.
    3. Finding that giving these people the money for food with out stipulation does not work is very helpful in finding a concluding solution to this problem.
    4. The author cannot conclude that the poor people do not know what to do with their money. Many of these poor people have certain priorities they could be more beneficial to them.


  11. toastedflatbread22 says:

    The authors of the study did not fail-they learned that the government aid programs are not effective, and neither is giving families a small amount of cash. This still provided valuable information even if it doesn’t seem like it is. Proving that cash grants are as equal as the programs would still be a success because it proves that those two approaches have the same outcome and will have the same expected results. The authors proved that it requires a certain amount of money to make a difference, other amounts cannot make the same difference-so giving money is not a failure by any means. It cannot be concluded that poor people don’t know what to do with money-it can be proved that they need large amounts of money. Only $114 will not do enough for the families, however, $500 will allow them to spend it on nutrition. If my hypothesis could not be supported by evidence, I would consider that research a success and then alter the hypothesis after learning more about the topic. I would examine the new perspectives I gained and be willing to find new hypotheses embedded within.


  12. kingofcamp says:

    1. The authors of the study did not fail, their programs did. The study itself was successful because knowledge was acquired.
    2. Proving the cash-equivalents were as beneficial as the education programs would be successful because, as said previously, there was something to be learned.
    3. The authors did not initially set out to prove that the idea of handing out money was wrong but they did succeed because they proved something.
    4. The authors can not prove that the people do not need money. If the authors do not know what the recipients do with their money besides spend it on food then they cannot prove that they do not need it.

    If my hypothesis was not supported by initial evidence then I would continue to research and look for a solution.


  13. comatosefox says:

    The article did not fail, but the program failed
    Yes and no, the test was to see if just giving money would benefit them more, if the money had zero impact in their lives it would have failed, whether or not the education helped was just to see what worked better.
    They did not expect the result they got for this experiment but it is not like they did not benefit from the cash, just benefitted differently.
    People of different cultures will never truly see eye to eye on how to go about things. the people did what they thought was right, it may go against what the program wanted them to do but they saw it as an opportunity for something else.

    “Poor people” handel money differently than others.


  14. imaspookyghost says:

    1. They did not fail because they learned something from the experiment.
    2. Yes because they are still learning more and more about the hypothesis at question.
    3. They also succeeding by learning the successes from this experiment. Any information learned about the given question is a success.
    4. They cannot conclude that poor people don’t know what to do with money because when given $500 dollars many of the people being tested spent it to help improve their lives.


  15. Lily4Pres says:

    1. No, the authors of the study did not fail. They came to a conclusion and found new information regarding their issue.
    2. Yes, any new information gained would be considered a success.
    3. With the results shown, giving recipients money without stipulation seems to be the only proper way to achieve their goal. So I would not say that’s the “wrong way” to achieve their goal.
    4. No, it should be the opposite. With the results of the experiment shown, the only people that achieved an improvement in nutrition were the people with the $500 grant. Showing they do, infact, “know ‘what to do with the money.'”


  16. chickendinner says:

    The author of the Rwandan study did not fail, he succeeded in finding and publishing information, even if it wasn’t the information he was hoping for.
    Any evidence relating to the hypothesis would qualify as a success, as long as it was legitimate.
    The author did succeed, as he provided valuable information that could inform decisions.
    He couldn’t decisively say they don’t know how to spend the money, but the evidence does support the argument that the money wouldn’t be entirely spent on superior nutrition.


  17. sunshinegirl457 says:

    Did the authors of the study Fail?
    The authors of the study did not fail because they found the effectiveness of many different strategies of helping families in Rwanda.
    Yes, any time new information is gained is success. You can look at it like a trial and error, and the education seminars were not successful but in the end it helped them find out what was.
    The authors proved that money is more value than education in these cases because even if they have the information, they will not be able to follow through with it due to lack of money.
    The authors cannot conclude that the people really don’t know how to spend it because they satisfied all of their basic/survival needs first, which is very instinctual and you can’t blame them. Then with the excess they started to improve upon their health, showing that they do actually know what to buy and what not to buy when they can afford it.


  18. ziggy026 says:

    The article did not fail because the hypothesis was proven even though it did not work out in the intended way.
    Proving the grants were as beneficial as the education program would have qualified as a success because it means they would be better off.
    The authors did not predict the outcome they had originally hypothesized, although this does not mean that they failed. They proved their hypothesis still, just not in the way they had thought.
    Authors could not conclude that “poor people really don’t know ‘what to do with the money'” because the hypothesis was not tested in a way that could prove this to be true or false.


  19. tyblicky2001 says:

    No, because they learned something from the experience.


  20. disneylover2002 says:

    No, the study did not fail because it was only a test. But, yes, proving that cash-equivalent grants were as beneficial as the education program is a success because they learned something either way. The results were not the ones they wanted, but again, either way, they learned something. No, they cannot conclude that they need to fix their study and do more research.


  21. tarheel1999 says:

    In this exercise, there was no possible failure for the researchers. If the program succeeded in reaching its goals, they would have successfully found a solution to the problem of world hunger. If the program did not succeed, they would have gotten closer to this solution through the elimination of two non-working solutions. While the experiment seemed to have eliminated the solution of direct aid through the failure of the direct $114, the improvement of nutrition in those who received $500 suggests that this experiment needs another look, perhaps with differing amounts of larger sums. A similar approach should be taken with the semester-long research paper – if a hypothesis is not borne out by the ensuing research, the researcher should then instead follow where the original research lead.


  22. frogs02 says:

    1. The article did not fail. The program did fail.
    2. I know that cash-equivalent grants were as beneficial as the education program that it would have qualified as Success because they would’ve found a new way to help people and it would give new knowledge.
    3. They didn’t fail, but this isn’t the response they were looking for. If the people did not benefit from the cash in a certain way, that can eliminate what people do and don’t need the cash for to get to a conclusion. They proved something even if it wasn’t the point they intended on proving.
    4. I think the authors can conclude the poor people don’t know what to do with money because they most likely don’t have money.


  23. thatwonguyy says:

    1. The author of the study did not fail, the program did.
    2. Yes it would help because the whole reason to have the program was suppose to benefit “poor people.”
    3. They did receive the goal but it did not go the way they wanted.
    4. I believe that it is very hard to say, if there was a constant benefit of giving money to the poor instead of one time. The results can be a lot different.


  24. calamariii says:

    1. They did not fail because they found out the answer to their hypothesis
    2. It would have been the same result in terms of the hypothesis it would be just a different conclusion from the same experiment
    3. They didn’t prove that giving money was the wrong decision as higher amounts of money seemed to be more effective for longer-term quality of life
    4. They couldn’t conclude that as what’s seen from the higher sum is that quality of life improved, so it could be assumed from that that the lower sums were just not enough to help, not that they were spending it wrong


  25. nugget114 says:

    1. The authors did not fail because by testing a hypothesis, you cannot fail

    2. Yes because you’d be proving that they’re equally as beneficial even though the hypothesis was to test if the cash-equivalent grants were more beneficial than the education program

    3. The authors really succeeded either way because anything new they discovered was just more noted information and wasn’t a success or a failure

    4. No, the authors cannot conclude that poor people really don’t know what to do with the money because even though the group with $114 didn’t spend it on health and nutrition, they paid off personal debt which is still something beneficial in society. It also cannot be said because of the group with $500 who spent it on both personal debt along with improving health and nutrition


  26. strawberryfields4 says:

    1. The authors of the study did not fail, although their results were not necessarily positive, they still have a conclusion to analyze.
    2/3. If providing cash equivalent grants proved to be as successful as financing nutrition education programs, the most desirable results would have been achieved, but the experiment was successful regardless. Proving that their hypothesis was false was still a solid and successful conclusion.
    4. The authors could benefit from further research to prove if people really do not know how to properly use the money granted to them. They could study why the families that received the much larger grant showed substantially better improvements compared to those with the smaller grant. Why were their priorities so different? Where did they choose to spend the money first?


  27. venom2929 says:

    1. The author did not fail the program simply failed, however the study was successful because their was some knowledge gained.
    2. Yes because it was what they were trying to prove at the start
    3. It is a success more than a failure because they got a outcome they were not expecting and they gained knowledge from it.
    4. If poor people had the money they need they would feed their children the food they need to be healthy


  28. 1. No, the authors did not fail because they learned what is not helpful in the experiment. The authors didn’t fail but the program did.
    2. No, it would not qualify as a success unless they gave them the money they need for basic nutrition and hygiene.
    3. Yes, it was not was they intended to prove, but they did figure something out
    4. They didn’t prove whether or not they can trust them with the money to buy things that will be good for them.


  29. krackintheneck says:

    The author’s experiment did not fail but the overall program did fail, but they will at least use this information going forward. The overall test was just to see if giving poor people money in Rwanda would result in them purchasing a program on how to properly give their children nutrients, or if they already knew this and would just purchase food by themselves. So not particularly a fail or success in that regard because it really depended on each group, and how badly they needed the money. They did however succeed by proving that they cannot give everyone money without any stipulation because they would not know how to use the money. They could conclude that poor people do not know what to do with money, but you cannot say with full confidence because you would need to use this experiments on different areas.


  30. zeek says:

    1. No because the study had a conclusion, he may have been wrong in his thoughts but the question he presented was answered.

    2/3. Yes because a conclusion would be made and the hypothesis answered.

    4. No, because people given $500 knew to spend it on their kids, with the exemption of people paying of their depts.


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