Sibongani Kayola is Country Director of GiveDirectly Liberia, and someone deeply interested in the interaction between psychosocial factors and financial behavior. GiveDirectly is a nonprofit that lets donors like you send money directly to the world’s poorest households. Globally, GiveDirectly delivered $165M+ to over 534K households in 8 countries across 25 different programs in 2021. Sibongani joined the GiveDirectly Liberia program in 2018 and had a goal to deliver cash to ~12,000 people in 2 years. Fast forward to 2021 they enrolled and paid over 100,000 Liberians in a single year! As country director she provides strategic leadership for GiveDirectly’s in-country operations. She is responsible for managing a US$ 70M portfolio (2022-2025), leading in-country fundraising and resource mobilization and managing relationships with entities such as the Liberia Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, USAID and the World Bank. And today, Sibongani shares her learnings of giving money directly in Liberia and how we can end poverty in our lifetime by direct giving, an efficient, proven, and empowering way to help.
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Episode 77 - Sibongani Kayola
[00:00:00] Brandon Stover: Hey, you welcome to evolve the show to help you become a hero and solve the world's greatest challenge. I'm your host brain and Stover founder of Play-Doh university. And I interview social innovators, entrepreneurs, and thinkers about the global problems we face and the solutions that they have created to solve them.
Today's challenge ending global poverty,
his country director. Of give directly Liberia and someone deeply interested in the interaction between psychological factors and financial behavior give directly is a nonprofit that lets donors like you send money directly to the world's poorest households
globally give directly delivered 165 million To over 534,000 households in eight countries across 25 different programs in 2021.
Now Singani joined the give directly Liberia program in 2018 and had a goal to deliver cash to about 12,000 people in two years. But fast forward to 2021 and they enrolled and paid over a hundred thousand Liberians in a single year.
As country director, she provides strategic leadership forgive directly in country operations. She is responsible for managing a 70 million portfolio leading in country fundraising and resource mobilization and managing relationships with entities, such as the Liberia ministry of gender children and social protector. You said, and the world bank
and today is going to share her learning of giving money directly in Liberia and how we can end poverty in our lifetime by direct giving and efficient, proven, and empowering way to help.
Well, where I would like to start with the interview is helping our listeners to understand what the major drivers of poverty and the different parts of the world are.
[00:01:54] Sibongani Kayola: At its core, poverty is a lack of basic assets or a lack of return from what assets of the person does have. There's really no single cause of poverty. In most cases, poverty is a result of a combination of factors and there are independent links between poverty and hunger conflict, a lack of education.
So a whole lot of different factors. When we speak about policy at the top of the list for risks for poverty is. In situations of protracted crises these crisis can, Brind an otherwise thriving economy to a halt. So when you think of Liberia, for example, the 14 year civil war from 1989 to 2003, really decimated the economy with GDP falling by 90%, we think of contexts such as Syria.
For example, millions had to leave their homes often with nothing but the clothes on their back. Before the war, as few as 10% of Syrians lived before the poverty line. Now over 80% of people below the poverty line. So conflict really disrupts several systems, including health education, and in places where these systems were already vulnerable conflict really makes things worse. When we go on and think about education Education lifts people. Most of the adults who live in extreme poverty did not receive a quality education. And if they have children, they're likely passing on that deprivation because they don't have the finances to send their children to school. Similarly, when we think of hunger, poverty is both a cause and the results of hunger.
So if a person doesn't get enough food, they don't have the strength of the energy that they need to work. Or their immune system is weak from mum and they're most susceptible to illness that prevents them from getting to work. When we think of maternal health, if a mother is not malnourished during pregnancy, she can pass this on to her children and the costs of malnutrition.
I felt over a lifetime. And so poverty really interacts with a lot of these risk factors and is really very much a cycle. When we think about where we are in 2022, there are two major things that are driving more and more people into poverty. The first is climate change. One report from the world bank estimates that the climate crisis has the power to push more than a hundred million people into poverty over the next decade.
And climate change is really an acute threat for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, the country, the places where most of the global poor are already concept. So in these places we have large numbers of people who are already vulnerable and even more vulnerable because of the climate crisis.
we think of contexts where people have to farm as a primary means of livelihood. And when we think of climate disasters, such as floods or droughts, it's really stripping the livelihoods of people in this places, pushing them further into poverty and making recovery even more difficult.
The second. Most immediate threat to poverty reduction is really the emergence of epidemics and pandemics, such as COVID-19, which are unleashing disasters whose waves have been felt across borders, really shown us how vulnerable and interdependent we are as human beings. And so all of these things interacting have really pushed global poverty for the first time in over 20 years, because prior to prior to 2020 global poverty had been falling and then COVID-19 came and then just disrupted so many of the gains that we've been able to achieve.
And so no single cause of poverty, which makes it an interesting sector to work in because it almost feels like you don't know where to start. And, and what you can do to, to make things better.
[00:06:05] Brandon Stover: Absolutely. Well, we'll get into the solutions here in a moment, but I'd like to juxtapose what you had just mentioned about these drivers going on globally to how this works inside the U S I know grid directly also works within sectors within the U S so how's this different than maybe other areas such as Africa.
[00:06:23] Sibongani Kayola: I will say poverty looks very different in different places. the us has some safety nets. Even though they don't reach everyone, there are some safety nets and people who are covered by those safety nets. Whereas in many of the countries in which we work in Africa.
safety nets are really just starting to emerge.
And so there, the role of the private sector in really coming in to provide support is much, I would say much larger in countries that we work outside of the U S because the U S has the capacity to provide safety nets through government support programs. A large number of people, which is different in some of the countries in which we work.
[00:07:02] Brandon Stover: Yeah, well, I'd like to zero in on Liberia because you're most familiar with that program, joining the team in 2018 and helping getting that going. You mentioned a little bit about the socio economic situation that was happening during that time, but could you elaborate a little further about, you know, what was happening, Liberian, the status of people during that time?
[00:07:23] Sibongani Kayola: So give direct me, like you said, came to Liberia in 2018, which was just two years after the end of the Ebola epidemic. So even prior to that library, I was already fragile coming out of the war in 2003 on and on this path of path of recovery. And then between 2014 and 2016 Ebola hit affected three countries librarian, Sierra Leone, and Guinea really.
Sold a lot of the progress that had been made. There was a tank in commodity prices. Again, borders were close to these three countries. And a lot of internal support came in to strengthen health systems and really support the system to get back on a path of recovery. When give directly came in in 2019, a number of organizations had tried digital cash transfers in response to the Bola pandemic.
So we were coming in at a time when cash support had been delivered in communities that were severely severely affected by Ebola. And it was, it was a difficult time in that organizations were trying to figure out how to provide support in the context of a pandemic, a highly infectious pandemic.
[00:08:35] Brandon Stover: Yeah.
[00:08:36] Sibongani Kayola: Give directly has, as an organization had already done digital path transfers in east Africa, specifically in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, but librarian was a very different context, really just coming out of the pandemic, as I have said, but also the mobile money network was way less developed than the entries that we had been working in in east Africa.
And there was a particularly important white paper that came out just towards the end of the pandemic written by cash actors who had provided the support to librarian in the wake of the Ebola pandemic. And one of the things that they said was that a solely mobile based cash transfer program in Liberia would be very difficult if not impossible.
And it's the conversations that we had with peer cash actors. They told us 10,000 households, old digital cash transfers. It's going to be involved. And so we really started from a place where we were saying, well, we're going to try it and determine what needs to happen to build a system for this to work.
Also starting from a place of humility, acknowledging to ourselves that it may not work and experimenting and definitively proving what was possible versus not possible. It was also our first country in west Africa. So lots of expertise in east Africa developed over 10 years, and then we come to Liberia where the dynamics are slightly different.
We have more remote communities, less developed infrastructure in terms of roads. Outside of the Capitol Monrovia, 70% of mobile money agents were concentrated in one row via with only 30% of other parts of the country, which were really the places where we intended to work. So it was really, that was the context.
When we, when we started working in librarian 2018,
[00:10:32] Brandon Stover: let's use an example. Maybe you have someone in Liberia. How much do they live on there and how much does when they get cash? How does that increase their quality of life? Once they've gotten that cash?
[00:10:44] Sibongani Kayola: So the purchasing power parity that the adjusted poverty line for Liberia, when you convert the dollar 90 line for extreme poverty, when you convert it to Liberia is $0.82. So 82 cents, basically when you, when you adjust the purchasing power parity in our, in gift directly standard program, we provide a thousand us dollars to each household that we enroll so many, many times What a households would live on in a year about four or five times.
And recipients really make a variety of choices one way in which library is different from the other countries in which we work as well, is that we find smaller villages on average. We have a very interesting blog on our website. It's called one entire village where the village consists of seven households.
So each of these households received a cash transfer. And when you read this stories, even in a village of smaller seven households, people are spending on very different things in very different ways. There's the, the story that sticks out for me as one recipient who started an oil business.
So he would buy, he had never been to the capital of Liberia before. And when he received his cash transfer, he learns about a business where he could buy Palm oil from his rural area and then transport it to Monrovia for business purposes. And when we followed up with him, he said, it is because I received this cash transfer that I ventured outside of this county that I live in to go and see the capital city of my country.
And that's that story has stayed with me for over three years. I still remember that story yet. It's really, really amazing to see.
[00:12:28] Brandon Stover: Yeah.
What was the first steps? You guys mentioned a lot of hurdles and obviously others saying that this is impossible to do. What was the first steps to actually getting these people?
[00:12:40] Sibongani Kayola: So the very first step was having conversations with organizations that had been working in the country to understand what happened to you. Tried what have you tried? What have their results been? And then from those conversations, understanding what the options were. So there was physical cash that was mobile money that was working with banks as an option and then evaluating for each of these options.
What is the recipient experience associated with these of these, with each of these options? What is the spread? How many people will it allow us to reach in terms of operational costs as well? How much will it cost for us to implement each of these options? When we think of interactions with recipients, how much education will the recipient need in order to interact with this system and get to a point where they are comfortable using the system independently, recognizing that we're not going to be there every single day.
So guide them through the process. So it was really an evaluation on these key criteria to find the solution that would work best for our recipients.
[00:13:51] Brandon Stover: Hmm. I know sometimes when you guys go into a country and start talking to individuals there, some of them turn the money down and I'm curious if that happened there and how you overcame that in order to get them there.
[00:14:06] Sibongani Kayola: This is another place where we've seen a very big difference in context. So in east, in Kenya, we've seen some villages where an entire village turned down the cash transfer in Liberia in the first county in which we worked, we sold zero refusals and we were very surprised by that.
And. It was really shocking to see that everybody was open to the concept of receiving a cash transfer, which was great news for us. However, in the second county, in which we entered, we started, we experienced the reverse where some villages were saying, well, we're not entirely convinced about the source of the money.
And so we're not comfortable receiving it. And so what we did in those places, where was to determine if the proportion of re of potential recipients who were turning out down the transfers was big enough to threaten the safety of those who did want to opt in. So we had this, trade-off where we said, well, if it's more than 30% of the village turning down the transfers, we don't want to.
Stretch the fabric of the community relations. We would rather exit give the community time to have a conversation about whether or not they want to opt in and allow them to make a collective decision. Because at the end of the day, we recognize that there, there could be dynamics that we might change, and that is not how it should.
So we, we would exit the village if it was less than 30% of the village refusing, we would go ahead and enroll the people who did want to receive a transfer and leave the possibility of other people changing their mind open. We recognize that sometimes it was it was not knowing what the outcome would be.
So allowing part of the village, those who opted into receive that transfers and. Giving those who were opting out the first time we entered the opportunity to see what would happen
[00:16:13] Brandon Stover: Yeah.
[00:16:14] Sibongani Kayola: and then allowing them the flexibility to go back and enroll those who had refused for a cash transfer.
[00:16:20] Brandon Stover: Yeah. I imagine I'm seeing other people in their community getting these cash transfers and seeing the ways that they're using the money to improve their lives could help bring on those others that may have originally.
[00:16:33] Sibongani Kayola: Yes. Yes. And we, we did see that overwhelmingly, when we went back a couple of months later, the individuals who had refused, referenced the developments or improvements that had occurred in their neighbors lives as a reason for them deciding to opt in as a later stage.
[00:16:51] Brandon Stover: If I were to go on to give direct Lee's website right now and donate a hundred dollars, walk me through how the money is delivered to somebody in Liberia from me, donating it to the I'm actually getting a.
[00:17:05] Sibongani Kayola: So you make your donation on the website. You actually have the choice to tell us where you want that money to go. If you're interested in funding, a refugee program, for example, if you're interested in donating to Africa specific programs, if you would like those funds to be used by our humanitarian team who are currently supporting work in Yemen, for example or in other crisis situations that may arise, we give you the choice about where you want that money to go, or if you would like for it to be unreasonable.
Meaning you're willing for it to go to any of the countries in which they give directly. Once we give you that choice, once you make a choice, for example, you want to give to one of our programs in Africa, your donation is received. We have a pool of. Which we allocate to the countries in which we work based on the capacity that a given country has in a given year.
So in addition to donations that we receive from individuals, we also work with institutions who fund some of our programs. And we run, we run programs funded by institutional. So for example, in Liberia, we are running the government of Liberia social cash transfer program. Reaching 6,500 households.
So we have capacity to deliver that. And we have additional capacity that we can say, well, this year we can absorb X amount and donations and reach X amount of recipients. And so if we've reached the limit on our capacity, that if you have decided, for example, that you would like your, your donation to go to any of the countries in which we work, we will allocate it to places where there is capacity for that.
For that cash to be delivered.
[00:18:50] Brandon Stover: You mentioned working with the social program there in Liberia. What kind of pushback do you get from government? When coming in and trying to distribute funds to these people.
[00:19:00] Sibongani Kayola: Our experience in librarian has really been positive. The government of Liberia run cash as far back as 2020. And so they had a cash program running. And so when we came in as an organization, we were also hoping to learn from the government's cash program. It had achieved some very good work and we were coming in to really learn from that program, but also generate lessons about how it could be improved.
So it was mostly physical cash. And so we came in to. Generate lessons that the government could use to refine their program as well. But also acknowledging that we had a lot to learn from that program because that program existed before give directly, came into Liberia. So our partnership with the government really started as a lesson learning co-learning exercise.
And we first worked with the government in 2020, just after the emergence of COVID-19 within Liberia support us to deliver cash transfers in urban areas in Liberia. This was a first for the government and also at first for us as well. And the government felt that based on the expertise we had developed doing digital capacity transfers in rural areas, we could scale up pretty quickly in urban areas and entrusted us with getting cash out to 15,000 households over 11 slump communities. So we have a very warm relationship and this year the government decided to transition their rural program to give directly as well. Really recognizing that we've made a lot of strides in our delivery model and could deliver much faster just given the capacity that the government had in this year.
And going forward in 2022, we're very excited to be partnering with the government on a much larger scale program, which pulls in different aspects of different arms of the government. So for example, getting identification cards out, citizen identification, parts out, working with the regulators, such as the central bank to ensure that there's liquidity, but building a model for what a successful and.
Social protection system looks like and really leveraging the strength of public funding, but also private funding and public knowledge to make sure that we're getting the best of both worlds and demonstrating what it looks like to end poverty. When the private sector works with the government
[00:21:33] Brandon Stover: Right. Yeah. That's amazing. We've mentioned it, you know, what, how this change really affects an individual, but what changes have you seen at the community level, or even going further up to the, you know, the government level.
[00:21:45] Sibongani Kayola: at a community level, it's things like people improving their houses. So I, I pick that one as the biggest one because it rains for six months of the year in Liberia. And so. After every rainy season, people are rebuilding their houses. They need to replace their batch and the monsoon rain. So very heavy rains.
People were, are molding bricks out of months. So when it rains, their houses get washed away, the fascia is worn down. When you make a cash transfer when you provide a household with a cash transfer, many people spend on building materials to build more durable homes. And then after the next rainy season, they don't have to spend another two months rebuilding their house before the rain start again in three months.
And that's two months is really being invested in ways in which allow them to make, to basically prepare themselves for shocks that may arise later down the line. So they have more time to spend on their farms or to pursue a small business. We've seen investments in health and education on one, on one of the first programs we ran in Liberia over there was over a 15% increase in the number of children being enrolled in school before cash transfers versus after cash transfers, households re reporting, eating three times three meals a day more frequently than they did before transfers those meals, including.
A lot more frequently than they did before transfer. So those are, those are really the changes that we've seen. At community level,
[00:23:24] Brandon Stover: Have there been any downsides or negative consequences that you've seen in the Liberia program over the last.
[00:23:30] Sibongani Kayola: I will say no
cash. This is not to say we fixed all of the problems. There are still areas where still need help. One cash transfer improves the lives of recipients. Definitely. Does it take them all the way out of poverty? The answer is no. There is still a lot more work that needs to be done, and that is work that we're starting to think about.
How do we determine what it takes to really lift someone above the poverty line and keep them at that level. So now our recipients have been able to make improvements in their lives and they've been able to make a step up. But that doesn't mean all of their problems are solved.
[00:24:15] Brandon Stover: Sure.
Could you talk about give directly as an organization and how it may be more efficient than other nonprofits that are giving goods and services rather than just cash directly?
[00:24:26] Sibongani Kayola: So for us as an organization, There are certain contexts where goods and services may be more appropriate than cash. Our argument is in all places where it is appropriate to do so where it is safe to do so and where the evidence shows that it can work, we should be giving cash. We think about contexts where markets are in distress, for example, or borders have closed.
there's nothing in the market. A cash transfer is only useful in that somebody can use it at market. And so if there is no market, for example, and a recipient cannot travel within a recipe route within a reasonable amount of time to get to a market or their safety is threatened. For example, it may be more appropriate in such a situation to give them a good or a service.
So as an organization, our stance is really where it is appropriate, feasible things. To do so cash is the right choice. Because cash by nature is less expensive to deliver than goods and services, which require roads infrastructure, a lot more personnel than delivering cash does, but also Pash empowers recipients.
It allows them to make a choice on what they need most at that moment in time. But like I said, cash is only useful in that that cash can be spent. And so it's really about assessing the context and knowing what is appropriate in a given context and ensuring that we are delivering interventions that are evidence-based and are shown to really improve people's lives.
[00:26:17] Brandon Stover: Yeah.
you guys do a, quite a bit of research and tracking, you know, how effective this actually is. What are some of the long-term considerations that you guys are tracking over the long-term for things like universal basic income and doing these cash transfers.
[00:26:32] Sibongani Kayola: So there's over 300 studies on Pash. Give direct these work represents only a fraction of those about 15 RCTs have been done on give direct these work. And this large body of evidence really shows that unconditional cash transfers.
can more than double income increased school enrollment, entrepreneurship increase hours, worked by adults.
And one of, one of the key findings from our work in Kenya is that for every dollar that is given it amounts to a growth of 2.6 additional dollars and the economy, and even three years after the transfer recipients are still earning more still best educated. The open questions are really how much time does it take?
W for sort of this convergence tore occur between people who receive cash and those who do not, but also what happens when you give cash such as a basic income to everyone. So currently our unit, but our universal basic income trial in Kenya has 12,000 recipients, which is rather small. When you start to think about lifting people out of poverty and tie on me.
And so as an organization for us, the next learning point is what are the intermediate steps to ending extreme poverty. We've taken a number of villages out of poverty, providing a universal basic income. What happens when we cover an entire geographic region, for example. So. Sense of vintages comprise the district.
What happens if we give cash to an entire districts, a set of districts comprises a county. What happens when we gift cash to an entire county and really trying to answer the question of what is the magic number?
[00:28:20] Brandon Stover: Yeah.
[00:28:20] Sibongani Kayola: How many years of transfers should it be? What is appropriate in this context? So those, those are some of the open questions that were, that we're looking forward to answering, but also creating a momentum for cash as a movement, delivering cash, where it is appropriate and feasible Noosa.
[00:28:40] Brandon Stover: Yeah, well, another parts that we have recently in, you know, 20, 20 coming to 2022 is the crypto community starting to get very large in 17% of your guys's operating budget in 2021 came from the crypto community. We've also seen a lot of countries like Ukraine, especially as the war is going on.
They're adopting that as the currency to help things get going there. What role do you see crypto playing in the coming decade? In terms of your universal basic.
[00:29:10] Sibongani Kayola: That's an interesting question. Brandon recognizing that our work really depends on the growth of the markets and what is feasible and it's in places. So when we think about crypto at a basic level, there must be a certain level of readiness. Before we start to talk about possibly using crypto as a means to deliver funds, to recipients in many of the countries in which we work, the markets are not yet fully developed in terms of awareness and understanding of crypto, but there's also an additional layer, which is government regulation around what currencies are accepted in a given country.
And our first value is really recipients first. So crypto as a movement might be growing. The key question is, are our recipients ready to receive crypto? What will their experience be in interacting with crypto? If a recipient was to receive crypto, where can they spend it or where can they use it?
Those are really the determinants of. Whether or not, we can deliver a crypto as an organization. And when we, when we've looked at the countries in which we're working so far in places such as east Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, they're awesome crypto actors in the economy. But looking at the recipients that we work with who are overwhelming the poor, there's really a steep learning curve in terms of getting them ready to interact with crypto as a product.
I'm not sure if a decade is the right timeframe that could be ready in, in the next decade. It could be even shorter than a decade. And I will say the openness for us as an organization to leverage the growth in that, in that sector is that but it's really a matter of determining when the right time is.
[00:31:04] Brandon Stover: Well, you mentioned also like some people may not be ready. They don't understand there's a part of education around crypto being done. I think the with cash in general, like there's education that sometimes needs done for financial literacy. Do you guys provide that as you're giving out cash?
[00:31:20] Sibongani Kayola: We do so in a very light touch way. financial literacy is on a spectrum And when we enroll our recipients, we are providing financial literacy in that we are creating awareness about a product, specifically mobile money. So we're working with recipients and saying to them, there is this product that allows you to hold money safely.
That allows you to access your money when you need to. So it's not a bank account. So in that sense where we're promoting financial literacy in that we're promoting mobile money awareness as a product. So at a very basic level, that's what we're doing for some other people. Financial literacy means telling people about savings or planning and.
In some of our programs, we are doing that. So on our program with the government of Liberia, for example, we have a financial planning intervention, which is co-facilitating financial planning with couples who have been enrolled on the program. And when I say co-facilitating, it is not led by gift directly, it's a collaborative process.
So the gift directly field offices will speak to couples and say, well, what are your plans? For your money. And so even in the absence of the field officer, that planning might have taken place, we are simply there as co-facilitators and helping with documentation of those plans. So we'll help the couple, once the couple tells us that plans, we provide them with a template saying, okay, for Kranz, for one, this is my goal.
This is the portion of the transfer that I intend to spend on this, on this particular goal that I have. And so this is a first for us as a country office in many ways. There's actually an RCT accompanying this intervention to really determine what the outcomes of planning are on the relationship dynamics between the couple.
So yes, we do work with our recipients and provide financial education, but we are not providing financial education in the sense of telling our recipients how they should use that money. How much they should save or what they should do with their money in any way.
[00:33:38] Brandon Stover: I really enjoyed that about the organization that you guys go in there with a sense of humility and understanding that these people most likely know what's best for their lives and you were there to help and be support when you can. It's like during the financial literacy, but largely you're coming in there to understand them their lives understand their Mo their market, even if money will work in that area.
And not saying that your guys's solution will be the best, but if you know, it will work effectively here, then you will.
[00:34:08] Sibongani Kayola: Yeah.
[00:34:08] Brandon Stover: I'd like to transition and actually talk a little bit about your story because working in give directly and, you know, trying to solve poverty I would imagine is a very fulfilling career.
And we'd like to hear a little bit how you got there. So you started in college getting a degree in psychology and mental health, but now are helping to solve poverty. What happened that made you switch? Focus?
[00:34:34] Sibongani Kayola: Yeah. So I, I ended up in psychology almost by accident.
[00:34:38] Brandon Stover: Yeah.
[00:34:38] Sibongani Kayola: In my second year of university, I had wanted to major in economics and I felt. I felt like it wasn't the right place for me. And I had also some personal issues that I was going through. And I felt I would, I, I wasn't enjoying economists as much, so I decided to switch my major to psychology.
And so often, often my undergraduate degree, I started working with with an organization providing psychosocial and mental health supports to children and families affected by HIV aids, conflict and poverty. And it stood out for me how poverty B got poverty. I overwhelmingly felt that. Working with children who were going back into very vulnerable situations and they remained poor despite the fact that they were receiving psychosocial support services, they needed additional support.
And so that was really the impetus that drove me in the direction of international development. So I decided to look into evidence-based social intervention. What is the evidence on basically specializing? Assessing and evaluating social interventions and the development space and really decided to zero in on interventions that are evidence backed.
So after I received my post-graduate degree, I moved to Liberia to work on a health system, strengthening evaluation and give directly was just coming into the country. And I thought, this is something I want to do. I've been trying to get into the poverty space and help people. And cash has an intervention is evidence-based and there's this really great organization doing really great work and giving people the choice about how to improve their lives.
And recognizing that I had skills that I thought would be useful. But that would also allow me to interact with young people and communities. That was really what led me to get directly.
[00:36:39] Brandon Stover: You mentioned that the organization that you wanted to work for, that the solutions were actually evidence-based. Was there anything else that w called you forth to give directly in particular or when you were looking at different places to launch your career in any others key things that you were looking out for?
[00:36:58] Sibongani Kayola: I knew for sure that I wanted to work on poverty intervention. So the organization I worked for?
before give directly was working on evaluating social programs. I myself was on a health program. And I felt I wanted to be directly involved on a program that was more focused on poverty.
And so that's why I really decided to, to make the switch, to, to give directly.
[00:37:23] Brandon Stover: Well, many young people are looking for meaningful work to have a career that gives them meaning and purpose to their lives. How did you find that within give directly or how has that helped with that portion of.
[00:37:37] Sibongani Kayola: Give directly these first value as recipients Preston, to be quite honest, I never understood what it meant to be recipients first until I came to give directly really centering the recipient in every single decision that we make. It can be something as small as what day of the week transfers are sent.
What time of day transfers sent. So our payments team sits in New York and there, they will hit send on transfers at a particular time of.
day when their approvers are available. For example, and then a recipient might receive that past transfer. Let's say. 6:00 PM in the evening, depending on which time zone they're in, we've had internal conversations about watch time transfers go out for particular countries because the recipient might need something on that particular day.
And can't wait an additional two hours. If it's nightfall, for example, they may try and risk getting to a market. So that, that first thing in the morning and small, what appear to be small decisions like that have a very big impact on the quality of life of recipients. And so the fact that we've gone out and had conversations with recipients, about what time of day would you like your transfer to, to hit your wallet?
This year there's a recipient choices study that we're going to be running internally, which will allow recipients to decide. How many times they want to receive that cash transfer. So if I, if give direct these design is that it should be in delivered, delivered in four monthly installments. For example, asking recipients, whether they want four to one, really allowing them to determine what they feel is best.
And for me, centering the recipient is what it's really overturned. A lot of the assumptions that I had before I joined give directly. And it's really shown me that I feel like I know nothing. I've, I've gotten to that point where I don't assume that I know what a recipient will want or need or prefer.
And the best thing is always to ask.
[00:39:47] Brandon Stover: could you share some of the assumptions that you've maybe had before that have changed now?
[00:39:51] Sibongani Kayola: Off the top of my head One of the focus group discussions we had with recipients. When we first started working in Liberia, we assumed that when we send cash transfers to recipients, they will go to the markets that is closest to their village to exchange their mobile money cash transfer to their mobile money for cash.
And so when we were organizing the supply of cash at markets, we were assuming that recipients would want to go to these small markets because these small markets are closer to their houses. And so we, we got to one month where we were late in organizing the cash out event and we organized it a week later and we found that only five or six people showed up and we were expecting 500 to 600 people.
Of course it, a week later, we were late, but we wondered what happened. And so we went and had conversations with recipients and they said, Like once we have the first cash out event, we understand how mobile money works. But also we don't like the markets that give directly sense agents to, and we said, well, the market is close to your house.
And they said, yes, but that market is small. And I can't buy the things I want to buy with my transfer at that market. I would rather go to a bigger market. That's further away cash off my cash transfer, immediately purchase my goods and come home rather than go to a small pocket, cash out my cash transfer and then start traveling to a bigger market with cash in my pocket, which exposes me to risk.
And so for us, it was like, oh, wow, that makes sense. Yeah. Yeah.
So that's, that's one of the places where I was like, oh, okay. I know nothing.
[00:41:43] Brandon Stover: Yeah, no, thank you for sharing that example, because I think it points out greatly like the importance of going in talking to these people, understanding their lives before, you know, you make an intervention so that you understand, okay. Yes. Actually they want to travel to the larger market instead of the market near the.
[00:41:57] Sibongani Kayola: Yeah,
[00:41:58] Brandon Stover: Well, the goal of the program when it first started in Liberia was to give cash to around 12,000 people in two years. And in 2021, you guys have done over a hundred thousand librarians in a single year, which is fantastic. It's amazing. How did your team accomplish such a feat? I mean, that's a big number difference from when you started.
[00:42:19] Sibongani Kayola: it's really required a number of innovations to get to that point. So first and foremost, like I said, when we started.
in Liberia, 70% of mobile money agents were based in the Capitol with only 30% of rural markets. And so for a program like. To work. We had to work with the private sector to really increase agent coverage in rural markets.
So that recipients wouldn't have to travel all the way to the country's capital to come and access their cash. And this has looked different in each of the years that we've been in working in Liberia. So in 2018 officer, we sent out cash transfers. Give directly, like I said, would plan a cash out event at a market close to recipients.
And then the mobile money agents would be in would basically cart around all of this cash to these small rural markets recipients would cash out. After this experience that I just shared about recipients wanting to go to bigger markets. We identified that at bigger markets, they were traders who were carrying out significant volumes of trade on a daily basis.
And so if we gave the mobile money agents a week and each time these traders could start to hold physical hash for recipients that they could access cash up markets, we've done really robust community engagement to really enhance recipient, comprehension and safeguarding. In other countries where give directly works, post transfers, ups are done over the phone.
In Liberia, we found that people will tend to keep their phones off in order to save battery power or because their village has no network. And so we've pivoted to a fully in-person model after transfers are sent out to give directly field officer will have to go out in person to follow up with the recipient and make sure that everything was fine.
In Liberia librarian Was the first country where life jackets became a standard part of the field office like kids, because Liberia has so many rivers. So in other countries, in other countries, our field offices are moving over land within the library, or we're crossing rivers a lot of the time. We had to invest in life jackets to make sure that our staff were safe.
So really a lot of small innovations to make sure that we're setting ourselves up for, up for success, but also making sure that our recipients receive a pleasant experience, but also that we keep our staff safe.
[00:44:49] Brandon Stover: Was there any during the, that time any challenges that you personally came up with during the end and how did you overcome.
[00:44:56] Sibongani Kayola: I would say the biggest challenge for me personally, was the distances covered. In my previous work, going to the fields was something you could do in one day. So you could go and come back in one day. And when I joined give directly, I understood what the words remote means because we were walking in one direction for three or four hours working and then having to walk back.
So it was really, that was the biggest, biggest challenge. And it continues to be a challenge today. Many of the communities that we work are quite cut off and so we continuously adapt and figure out ways to. Make sure that we are able to reach these communities and not exclude them at all because in other, in other programs, the trade off is, well, it's too far.
We can't get there. We'll just exclude them entirely. We say, well, yes, it's far, what can we do to make sure that they're included, but at the same time that we are, that we are creating a model that is replicable for other organizations that may want to reach similarly remote populations.
[00:46:08] Brandon Stover: Yeah. And sometimes those are the people that need it most are the ones that aren't getting it from the other organization.
[00:46:14] Sibongani Kayola: Exactly.
[00:46:15] Brandon Stover: Well, you mentioned that in your work, like each task that you can, you do, you can see how it improves another person's life. How can an everyday ordinary person help them make a small change towards solving big issues?
[00:46:29] Sibongani Kayola: I would say. The first thing is give to high impact cost-effective charities backed by evidence and analysis. And it's easy now to know which charities these are, thanks to places like give well so there, the evidence is already there, for each dollar that you give, you know, how it is helping.
Second it's estimated that we have 80,000 hours in our, over the lifetime of our careers, this is really an individual's best opportunity to have a positive impact on the world. But also in our day-to-day lives, we should make choices that less than our personal impact on the environment. Just going back to thinking about climate change and.
The people who are going to be hit the hardest are the people who are already the most vulnerable. And so making these small choices to limit our impact on the environment, because it's a lot of small things that add up to big changes,
[00:47:30] Brandon Stover: Yeah. And well, you mentioned the 80,000 hours and if someone listening wanted to find a career like yours in helping people, what steps should they take towards that
[00:47:38] Sibongani Kayola: Started the at 80,000 hours website.
[00:47:43] Brandon Stover: fantastic resource.
[00:47:45] Sibongani Kayola: Yes. Yes. That's a fantastic resource. Definitely. I actually learned about give directly on GiveWell. Yeah, and then I found it on 80,000 hours as well later, so yes, I definitely 80,000 hours. Fantastic resource. But also looking into careers with the, the GiveWell recommended charities, I think is also a good idea.
[00:48:05] Brandon Stover: And was there anything special when you started your career search that you did when reaching out to these.
[00:48:10] Sibongani Kayola: I was very fortunate in that. A friend introduced me to the country director of give directly at the time that said people at give direct ne are very open. Our profiles are all on our websites. Feel free to reach out to us on LinkedIn. That remains true of a couple of people. I know who've joined give directly, they'll say, oh, I saw some somebodies profile on the website.
I hit them up on LinkedIn and I reached out and expressed interest. People are always, always willing to have a conversation and we're always looking for people who want to do great things and make, make a change in the world. And we have over 40 vacancies open on our website as Well so would encourage your listeners to head over and reach out if there's anything that's of interest, always happy, happy to have a chat and talk more.
[00:48:59] Brandon Stover: Well, we will put links to those vacancies in the show notes as well. Is there anything else you would like to leave listeners with today before I get to my last question?
[00:49:07] Sibongani Kayola: Trusting people, living in poverty to make decisions is always the right thing to do. Yeah, that's, that's the biggest thing.
[00:49:16] Brandon Stover: Well, my last question is how can we push the world to.
[00:49:20] Sibongani Kayola: Rather than spending money on what we think works, we need to.
give money directly and only spend on into that essence. Once we are sure that they work better give them cash or something else.
[00:49:39] Brandon Stover: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing your expertise and your stories. I think what you guys are doing is fantastic and I'm excited to see where it grows.
[00:49:49] Sibongani Kayola: Thank you for having me, Brandon. It was a pleasure.
[00:49:52] Brandon Stover: Thank you for listening to the evolve. Podcasts links to everything we discussed today are available in the show. Notes. Transcripts are also available in the show notes and everything can be viewed on our website at evolve. The doc world that's evolve the.world.
My one ask for you is to share this episode with others. If you know someone who is interested in social impact, social entrepreneurship, or just making a difference in the world, please share this episode. The challenges in our world need all of those who can contribute to existing solutions or create entirely new ones. so please share the show with those kind intelligent people who are just like you until next time my friend keep evolving.