What types of aid are more respectful? Giving cash, it turns out, is more respectful than other forms of in-kind aid, because it grants more autonomy to the recipient.

Jeremy Shapiro’s 2019 World Development article, ‘The Impact of Recipient Preferences on Aid Effectiveness’, compares the impact of different aid goods, and particularly whether it matters that recipients get to choose what they’ll receive. One of the outcome variables is an early set of questions around dignity and autonomy.


Jeremy summarises the results:

‘Regardless of recipients’ valuation of, or preferences for, specific interventions, I do find that cash transfers increase feelings of autonomy and produce more favourable views of the implementing organisation than non-cash interventions. Cash transfer recipients score 0.13 standard deviations (CI = 0.05 to 0.20 standard deviations) on an index of autonomy-related questions. They are more likely to believe they are trusted by the implementing NGO, that the aid they received was tailored to their needs, and that they were treated as an individual. They are less likely to report being treated with contempt by the implementing organisation, that they were persuaded to make a particular choice, but report that they feel less able to ask the NGO for what they need.’

Suggesting questions for this study was the first bit of work that set us on the path to the Dignity Project. It’s also a major finding: in our quest to find ways of being more respectful, one simple one is to switch to cash. It is yet more evidence in favour of making cash the default form of aid.