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A much-loved English bear points to cash programming that has more impact

  • Sep 25, 2019

From “When We Were Very Young” by A.A. Milne, illustrated by E.H. Shepard; Bear – author’s own
From “When We Were Very Young” by A.A. Milne, illustrated by E.H. Shepard; Bear – author’s own

Cash transfers are widely recognised as an important tool for tackling poverty and fostering human development outcomes. The operational challenge is to ensure that the right people are paid the right amount of money, regularly and reliably. In this article, guest blogger Charlie Goldsmith argues that schools can offer a uniquely effective, entry point for cash transfer programming, especially in fragile and conflict affected states.

‘Every day in every way, I am getting thinner,’ I imagine Winnie the Pooh, the somewhat tubby English bear, saying as he looked in the mirror and remarked on the vigorous stretching exercises he was performing.

Similarly, cash transfers overheads are, for the most part, getting managed fairly steadily downwards proportionate to value amounts: technology for enrolment and targeting, economies of MIS scale, better payment execution, data security measures, even various approaches to overcome where official and street rates diverge are all doing their bit.

But the effects of Winnie the Pooh’s daily “Little Something” for elevenses (in fact a not inconsiderable pot of honey, in which he tended to bury his head for efficiency) outstripped the impact of his physical jerks. And similarly, managing overheads downwards, while important, is nonetheless managing the smaller part of the scope to make cash transfers more useful to the recipients and effective for the ends for which the payers pay them.

The bigger, but rather more complicated issue, is how to use cash programming in such a way that it supports more viable and fulfilled lives now, and sets recipients up to be more resilient, and set in maximally supportive ways, if or when they eventually cease to receive cash.

This short article is intended to highlight one way we believe cash programming can do that – and invite those putting heavy resources into certain kinds of cash programming to experiment with complementing them at the margin in this way.

Schools are a uniquely efficient and constructive ‘touch point’

Schools are a uniquely efficient and constructive ‘touch point’ for cash transfers, in two regards – impact on educational participation, and opportunities to enrol, target, pay and follow up both efficiently and decently:

Impact on education participation:

  • My colleague Naomi Clugston’s 2018 paper in the Cash Learning Partnership’s #Gendercash collection highlighted impact on enrolment of Cash Transfers funded by DFID under the Girls’ Education South Sudan 1 programme of just £18 per annual transfer. Successive papers by Baird, Ozler et al have highlighted the diminishing marginal impact on education enrolment of cash transfers in Malawi above an ultra-low level: in simple terms, cash transfers seem to: i) align with families’ desires to educate their children, and ii) ‘punch above their financial weight’ relative to the direct and opportunity costs to families of the marginal enrolment they deliver.

Efficient and constructive touch point:

  • Schools have the unique quality that the same people are, in principle, present >200 days a year: compare clinics, which might, in a typical Sub-Saharan African context, receive an average of one visit per user population per year, or churches or mosques, where average contact cycle is once a week or below, or targeting based on expensive house-to-house visits: they are, in short, a resilient and cost-effective touch point.
  • Even after allowing for siblings in the same school, each pupil reached gives reach to a household of, on average, five or more; a single-stream school of eight forms of fifty pupils enables reach to 2000 household members. The assurance opportunities of monitoring ongoing school attendance/engagement enables the payer and receiver to build up an assurance picture incrementally, rather than have a high-stakes, and often potentially controversial or unjust, one-off decision point.
  • School management, executive and non-executive, have considerable insight into the family economic situation of those attending, and of some of those who are not, which can be useful for making sure transfers reach those who most need them.
  • Many schools have pre-existing non-executive/public benefit governance structures – PTAs/School Management Committees/Boards of Governors, often with good links with church/mosque/community elders – that might be at least as effective as ad hoc ‘community structures’ created/imposed for the purposes of cash transfer programming.
  • The habit of the school as touch point for accessing services, education and otherwise, is one that may have chances of enduring after cash payments cease – particularly if other services are there too.

Working through the school to offer and execute social cash transfers potentially offers more dignity than “the other way round”

There is no dearth of examples of social cash transfers explicitly conditioned on attendance at various government services (education, health etc), and possibly implicitly on others, in ways that have practically undermined people’s dignity, set ‘unjust conditions’, or simply conditions that don’t add as much value as they should have. Working through the school as touch point offers more overt dignity and less compulsion/’leverage’, particularly if the school can offer a range of services and support – as a kind of social protection and community hub– which many schools already informally are.

The school as social protection and community hub

The same qualities that make the school an efficient touch point for cash transfers programming are often curiously under-exploited by other sectors:

  • A range of evidence shows that personal and family illness is a major barrier to education attendance and attainment (see here for one set of examples); but everyone can think of a village they know where the over-full school and the under-used health post are at opposite ends of town. Base the Community Health Worker  at the school, and they have: infrastructure; patronage on tap; according to context, synergies of access to water, sanitation and communications; are instantly more accountable to the community; and you create an opportunity for universal health culture, not just primary health operations.
  • School teachers and communities sometimes have early indications of a range of social protection needs: joining up social protection and nutrition support at schools is efficient and effective.
  • Investments in infrastructure primarily for the operation of the school – power and light, water and sanitation, school gardens, even internet – can be resources for communities outside, or even alongside, in some cases, teaching hours, and can, in this form, offer cost-effective services to the community, and, in some cases, earn something that makes the school more resilient (as e.g. clinic gardens set up in DRC with the support of IMA World Health’s DFID-funded ASSP project have done for clinics there).

When cash support ceases, the more that social and community services are concentrated at the school, the more likely we believe the habit of accessing them will be sustained – and there is some quasi-experimental evidence of this from the DFID Girls’ Education South Sudan project, where the project ran out of funds before it could pay the 2018 cash transfers, but enrolment and attendance were sustained.

Where there is no civil registry: Schools as ‘quasi-universal’ targeting

Most nights, as he gets his toothbrush, my son and I repeat the following, in the style of the late DUP Leader:

“[Ulster roar] “And on that day, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”

[gummy] “But Mr Paisley, Sir, what about those of us who have no teeth?”

[louder]  “Teeth will be PROVIDED”

In most Fragile and Conflict-Affected States places, there is no civil registry, none in short term prospect, to try to create one would be a massive undertaking, and, in the present conditions could potentially result in pushback (fear of misuse of identification for uncongenial purposes).

But schools offer a resilient approach to ‘quasi-universal’ reach – e.g. even in South Sudan, >80% of school age children at least begin school.

Using school enrolment data for social protection purposes needs to be done in a way which includes credible safeguards and assurances about uses of data: it would be deeply undesirable if school enrolment, or any other service uptake, were perceived to increase the risk that “the powers that be will pick you up”: an issue which is live in the UK and US at the moment.

What ought the donor who has read to the end of this blog do?

  • Talk to host government colleagues, and partners, about ways to trial schools as hubs for social and community services and social protection;
  • Think about, and measure, the education impact of non-education-conditioned cash transfers, and the social protection impact of cash transfers made for education;
  • If you are in a FCAS or other low resource setting, look to build pro-universal provision on top of existing education CTs infrastructure, for humanitarian/crisis-SP purposes, and to deliver education enrolment progress.

About the author

Charlie Goldsmith came to international development work from the British Railways in 2006, working for the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, and then Booz & Company, in Juba, South Sudan. Since 2011 he has been Managing Director of Charlie Goldsmith Associates Ltd, which focuses on building practical management systems in post-conflict and fragile countries.

[1] Useful summary here: Sarah Baird, Francisco H.G. Ferreira, Berk Özler & Michael Woolcock (2014) Conditional, unconditional and everything in between: a systematic review of the effects of cash transfer programmes on schooling outcomes, Journal of Development Effectiveness, 6:1, 1-43