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Targeting Aid Better
May 2021 Newsletter

Caption: MobileAid's end-to-end process of identification, enrollment, and payment delivers cash to recipients quickly and contactlessly.

Introducing "MobileAid": a new paradigm for delivering social protections

How might we create a safety net that leverages the power of AI and new technologies to include more of the world’s poorest? Can we do so while complementing the elements of social protection systems that work, while also filling in the gaps? And what have we learned from COVID-19 about delivering social protections quickly and contactlessly?

In this blog, Han Sheng Chia (Director of Innovation, GiveDirectly) and Anya Marchenko (Senior Associate, CEGA) propose a new paradigm for delivering social protections called MobileAid. This approach combines (1) machine learning-based targeting with (2) recipient self-enrollment and (3) contactless delivery via mobile money. They discuss the lessons learned from deploying MobileAid in Togo, and describe how governments and NGOs can use MobileAid to complement their existing social protection systems.

Read the full blog here.

If you are a researcher or implementer doing targeting or social protection work and would like to be featured in our next newsletter, contact Anya Marchenko (

From around the neighborhood

Below, you'll find working papers, blog posts, policy briefs, events, and other opportunities related to the targeting of aid and the broader data science and global development research community.
  • Targeting vulnerable households in pastoralist Kenya and Ethiopia with index insurance policies (that pay out according to rainfall or crop yield) helps prevent poverty, cutting the number of poor families by half. While subsidies are needed to boost take-up of the insurance, the cost is justified: preventing vulnerable families from falling into poverty is cheaper than targeting those families with cash transfers once they are in poverty.  
  • In a new working paper, Bertrand, Crépon, Maguerie, and Premand evaluate the impact of a workfare program in Côte d'Ivoire that was randomized among self-selected urban youths. The program provided seven months of employment, and authors find limited impacts 15 months after its end. Changing the targeting of the program improves short term effects, but benefits from improved earnings remain below the cost of the program even with improved targeting.
  • Banerjee, Hanna, Olken, Satriawan, and Sumarto released a paper studying the impacts of providing vouchers instead of in-kind food aid to households in Indonesia. Transitioning to vouchers improved the targeting of the program, leading to substantial improvements in the allocation of aid: targeted households received 45% more food in voucher districts than in-kind districts. As a result, for households in the bottom 15 percent at baseline, poverty fell by 20 percent.
  • The World Bank released its World Development Report 2021, "Data for Better Lives". The report recommends 5 steps to ensure the data works to improve the lives of the poor: forge a new social contract for data, increase data use and reuse to realize greater value, create more equitable access to the benefits of data, foster trust through safeguards that protect people from the harm of data misuse, and work toward an integrated national data system (INDS).
  • This month, The Economist and Fast Company covered Josh Blumenstock's (CEGA Faculty co-Director) work constructing poverty maps, which help NGOs and governments identify pockets of poverty to prioritize for aid.


NOW OPEN: French Development Agency launches a Fund for Innovation in Development

The French Development Agency has now launched their first call of the Fund for Innovation, chaired by Esther Duflo.

Grants: Focus primarily on Francophone countries in sub-Saharan Africa
Eligibility: Public and private sectors, including universities and researchers

USAID Development Innovation Ventures

DIV supports development innovations and rigorous research that improve the lives of people living in poverty around the world The DIV program is now actively seeking proposals. Although the opportunity is rolling, we encourage you to apply soon!

Deadline: Rolling
Grants: Pilot, test, and scale grants
Eligibility: Businesses, not-for-profit organizations, researchers, and governments, in all countries and development sectors in which USAID operates, including education, water, energy, economic development, and health.

About Targeting Aid Better

CEGA’s Targeting Aid Better (“Targeting”) Initiative, launched in 2020 with support from an anonymous donor, facilitates the use of novel methods (including those leveraging artificial intelligence and big data) to improve the targeting of social protection programs in low- and middle-income countries. We are prioritizing work with government and NGO partners that facilitates rapidly delivering financial resources to the most vulnerable households and small businesses in the wake of COVID-19.

About CEGA 


Research. Inspire. Change.

CEGA is the West Coast hub for research on global development. Headquartered at UC Berkeley, CEGA’s large, interdisciplinary research network—including a growing number of scholars from low- and middle-income countries—identifies and tests innovations designed to reduce poverty and promote development. Our researchers use rigorous methods as well as novel measurement tools—including wireless sensors, mobile data, and analytics—to evaluate complex programs. Through careful matchmaking, competitive grantmaking, and research dissemination activities, CEGA ensures that the research we produce is relevant, timely, and actionable to policymakers.
Copyright © 2021 Center for Effective Global Action, All rights reserved.

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