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Targeting Aid Better
June 2021 Newsletter

Caption: Flooding in Bangladesh is expected to worsen due to ciimate change. Credit: DFID,

Aid before disaster hits? Anticipatory cash protects households in Bangladesh during floods

A new study shows that development practitioners targeting aid should not only think about who they target, but also when.

Bangladesh experiences monsoon flooding every year, but the 2020 floods were expected to be some of the most severe in recent decades. In anticipation, the World Food Programme delivered ~$53 (about two weeks' local food expenditure) to over 20,000 of the households most vulnerable to this severe flooding.

A new paper by Ashley Pople, Ruth Hill, Stefan Dercon, and Ben Brunckhorst evaluates the impact of this anticipatory aid. The authors find that households spent the cash mostly on food and water. Households that received cash were 36% less likely to go a day without eating during the flood, and had higher food security and earnings potential three months after the flood.

Crucially, the authors find that these positive effects were realized before a traditional cash transfer or aid response would be delivered, highlighting the benefits of delivering aid early. The authors write that the novel approach allowed for a much faster response: "in 2020, the anticipatory cash transfer reached affected households 100 earlier than previous WFP interventions in the same context"

In light of a worsening climate crisis and stretched aid budgets, anticipatory cash could be an effective way to support vulnerable households before the disaster strikes.

Read the full working paper.

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.
  • Gentilini et al. have released an updated overview of global social protection responses to COVID-19 living paper. See the latest version as of May 2021. Some interesting facts include:
    • Since the start of the pandemic until May 2021, a total of 3,333 social protection measures have been planned or implemented in 222 countries or territories, an increase of nearly 148% since December 2020.
    • The total number of beneficiaries of COVID-related social assistance is a little over 1.5  billion,  or  one-fifth  of  the  world’s  population.
    • Most of these beneficiaries received cash. Cash transfers reached a planned number of nearly 1.6 billion people and an actual number of over 1.3 billion people, meaning that almost 17% of the world’s population has been covered with at least one COVID-related cash transfer payment between 2020 and 2021.
    • Those cash transfer programs are relatively generous. Among 125 countries with available data, the average cash transfer  size  is  31%  of  monthly  GDP  per  capita. This ranges  from  18%  in  North  America  to  52%  in  Sub  Saharan  Africa.
  • Does World Bank aid actually flow to the poorest people? In his VoxDev blog, Ryan Briggs finds that World Bank aid projects tend to be implemented in richer areas (as measured by night lights and population density data). To understand why, Briggs surveys World Bank aid managers, asking about how different project characteristics would affect project execution (such as how easy it is to get approval for a project, implement it, whether it would get better internal ratings, or generate more results per dollar, etc). Briggs' findings indicate that implementation is a key constraint, as aid managers believe it is hard to oversee implementation in poorer or rural parts of recipient countries, and so are less likely to direct aid there.
  • Dr. Sania Nishtar is Pakistan's prime minister’s special assistant on poverty alleviation and social protection. In a new interview with McKinsey, she describes rolling out emergency payments through Pakistan's Ehsaas, the 4th largest cash transfer program in the world by coverage. The method Dr. Nishtar describes below - having recipients self-enroll through SMS - is analogous to the MobileAid approach CEGA / GiveDirectly uses to enroll beneficiaries in Togo.
    • "We asked people to send us their identification numbers [...] largely we sought requests through an SMS short code. Once the identity numbers arrived on our servers, they would dip into different databases, and messages of eligibility would automatically generate. Individuals who were considered eligible would be sent SMS messages asking them to go on particular dates to payment sites to collect their money."


Call for participation: Conference on Equity and Access in Algorithms, Mechanisms, and Optimization

EAAMO ‘21 will take place on October 5-9, 2021, virtually. The goal of this event is to highlight work where techniques from algorithms, optimization, and mechanism design, along with insights from the social sciences and humanistic studies, can improve access to opportunity for historically underserved and disadvantaged communities.
Deadline: June 14th, 2021, 5pm ET / 9pm GMT

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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