Unconditional help

Vinaya Patil
Thursday, 25 October 2018

Cash Relief, a project by Rahul Nainwal and Vikas Joshi, gives cash to a particular village in a bid to find newer solutions to alleviate poverty.

What if we are all given some coupons and goodies, basic food, and clothes, instead of money? Sounds weird, doesn’t it? We all want to make our own life choices, and not live by the goods and commodities given to us by someone else; decided for us by someone else. This is exactly the concept behind Cash Relief, a pilot project started by Vivek Joshi and Rahul Nainwal as an initiative to find out of the box solutions for poverty alleviation in India.

This initiative under Agrani India Foundation, a charitable trust working to eradicate poverty and disadvantage in India, began a year ago.

“No one has ever become poor by giving,” said Annie Frank, a German writer, and Cash Relief is no different. Their pilot aims to test if giving ultra poor some money with no strings attached can help them come out of extreme poverty. It is a test to understand if this will change the trajectory of their lives for better.

The money was thus just given. A village with high percentage of the ultra poor was selected in Rajasthan’s rural Udaipur. Once identified, everyone in the village was enrolled for the programme. The district administration and panchayat have been kept in the loop. “Everyone in the village is selected in order to avoid social friction due to selection and non-selection. Targeting is very difficult and the cost of identifying the poor is also higher. Additionally, the hope is that everyone being the beneficiary, it will ignite the village to come together in interesting ways,” explains Nainwal.

A lot of people were initially apprehensive about this idea since people thought they will waste the money on alcohol/tobacco, says Nainwal. Apart from Rajasthan, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh too have been identified as possible places for launching the pilot. The people were not told what to do with this money and there are no conditions attached to receiving the money.

So why and when did such a unique idea conceptualise? “Poor people are real experts of poverty so they are the best judges of what they need. Any expert can’t help them like they can help themselves. Everybody’s needs are unique, and cash is the only thing that can help them make dreams come true,” answers Nainwal.

People are unique and so are their needs. Cash allows poor to use it in ways they think is best. Some will invest in health and education. Others will take risks and start small businesses. “We believe making unconditional cash transfers to ultra poor will help them come out of poverty. This is our hypothesis,” says Nainwal.

India’s latest rural poverty line is at Rs 972 per month. So for a household of an average four people, the amount comes to Rs 3,888 per month. With this calculation, each household was given a sum of Rs 96,000. The money was transferred to the bank account of the eldest working woman in every family with the belief that women will be more responsible with the sum. As of now, the funding for this has come from individuals including founders Nainwal and Joshi. How did funders agree? “One was that we had put in our own money, as also a lot of people liked the idea out of goodwill. They believed in the merit of such direct support,” Nainwal explains.

How do we know this is working? The plan is to engage a principal investigator associated with an institution with experience and interest in this field. A baseline (five months), mid-term (15 months) and final evaluation (three years) on the parameters of assets, consumption and feeling of control over one’s future will be done. 

It’s been around eight months now. The ground level monitoring so far has revealed that people have “levelled their lands, purchased water pumps, bikes for transportation”. An interesting use of the money is also by one family which has put tiles in their house — the idea was that it saves the lady a lot of time that she spent in maintaining the cowdung floors, thus giving her more time for other constructive activities, Nainwal tells us.

Further, the duo plans to go to the government and/or funding agencies to share their reports, and seek help for more such pilots or suggest them to conduct such programmes.
“Our main motivation for this project is to reignite hope into people leading lives of quiet desperation in extreme poverty,” he concludes.

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