12:00—1:30 PM
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Zap It to Me: Impacts of a Mobile Phone-Based Cash Transfer Program in Niger

Jenny Aker
Tufts University

With Discussant
Jessica Goldberg
University of Maryland
Center for Global Development

Paper Abstract: Conditional and unconditional cash transfers have been effective in improving development outcomes in a variety of contexts, yet the costs of these programs to program recipients and implementing agencies are rarely discussed.  The introduction of mobile money transfer systems in many developing countries offers new opportunities for a more cost-effective means of implementing cash transfer programs.  This paper reports on the first randomized evaluation of a cash transfer program delivered via the mobile phone.  In response to a devastating drought in Niger, households in targeted villages received monthly cash transfers as part of a social protection program.  One-third of targeted villages received a monthly cash transfer via a mobile money transfer system (called zap), whereas one-third received manual cash transfers and the remaining one-third received manual cash transfers plus a mobile phone.  We show that the zap delivery mechanism strongly reduced the variable distribution costs for the implementing agency, as well as program recipients’ costs of obtaining the cash transfer.  The zap approach also resulted in additional benefits: households in zap villages used their cash transfer to purchase a more diverse set of goods, had higher diet diversity, depleted fewer assets and grew more types of crops, especially marginal cash crops grown by women. We explore the mechanisms and cost-effectiveness of these effects.

*The Massachusetts Ave. Development Seminar (MADS) is a ten year-old research seminar series that brings some of the world’s leading development scholars to discuss their new research and ideas. The presentations meet an academic standard of quality and are at times technical, but retain a focus on a mixed audience of researchers and policymakers.


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