We’re already using a dignity frame to learn more about respectful development.

Some of our headline results so far:

  • Cash transfers increase feelings of autonomy among aid recipients, compared to other types of aid.
  • People up their promised donations by 60%, when offered the chance to give to a charity that recognises people’s individuality (by addressing them by name).
  • If a charity wants to be more respectful, but warns that this will mean they can serve fewer people, donors up their donations to cover the difference.
  • 26% of Kenyans say no, their leaders do not put in enough effort into being respectful towards them.
  • Residents of Mathare, Nairobi, have a unique definition of dignity – more focused on the purpose of respectfulness and on the capability to be respectful.

Of course, we’re not the only ones working on this. Other research is discussed here. These results come from two studies so far, with more to come – read on for details!


The Impact of Recipient Preferences on Aid Effectiveness

Jeremy Shapiro’s draft working paper, ‘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 favorable views of the implementing organization 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 organization, that they were persuaded to make a particular choice but report that they feel less able to ask the NGO for what they need.”

Jeremy Shapiro’s

Charitable Donations and Respectfulness

In an Mturk study, we asked 660 people how their donations would change in response to various efforts by a charity to be respectful. Read our 1 page briefing here. This is what they said:

  • Participants are willing to donate more if the charity mentions investing in efforts to recognise individuality, equality or autonomy (p=0.07).
  • Treatment 1 – Individuality – drives greater donations compared to control (p=0.02) . Participants donate a mean of $31 extra when a charity mentions efforts to recognise individuality.
  • If a charity wants to invest in an initiative to be more respectful, participants are less likely to say a charity should invest in the initiative, if it reduces the number of people it serves by 500 (T1) or 250 (T2). However, if the charity goes ahead and does so, they are willing to up their donations in response (p=0.1).  There is a sweet spot here: if the costs of the respectfulness initiative mean the charity serves 5% fewer people, they up their donations from $64 to $93. If the initiative means serving 10% fewer people, donations rise from $64 to $82.



Resources for this research: 1 page briefing. Questionnaire. Dataset (CSV). Stata analysis code. All charts.

Suggested citation: Wein, T. (2018). ‘Briefing: Charitable Donations and Respectfulness’. The Dignity Project, https://dignityproject.net/learning/


Sauti za Wananchi

Do Kenyans feel they are treated with respect?

  • 26% of Kenyans say no, their leaders do not put in enough effort into being respectful towards them.
  • 33% of Kenyans say yes, their leaders do put enough effort into being respectful towards them. 35% say somewhat.

Twaweza runs regular polling of public attitudes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. They kindly agreed to include this question about respectfulness of leaders in their most recent round of polling.

The question reads:

In your opinion, do leaders in your community put enough effort into being respectful towards the people? [Yes, Not sure, No, Prefer not to say]


Sauti za Wananchi


More reflections on this finding, and the numbers driving it, soon.


Defining dignity in Mathare

How does dignity get defined in Mathare, an informal neighbourhood in Nairobi?

  • Mathare residents say that: “We all have dignity. That is why we show respect to those in our groups. We communicate well and work together. There is a purpose to this: it lets us discharge our God-given duty to care for one another. But fully respecting people isn’t something everyone can do. Some stuff we can all do, like being polite in our speech and observing social codes. We may win recognition by showing our unique qualities. But to be truly respectful, you need more: self-respect, a firm foundation, and autonomy. To get that, you need a lot of things – many of which are denied by a government and society is abusive and sometimes murderous. In that situation, you get derailed. You find other ways of winning respect: money, power, and violence.”
  • This approach to dignity is different from the philosophical literature in two ways: Western philosophers simply assume that everyone has the capability to be respectful, and do not discuss a purpose to dignity.
  • This is based on a focus group and participatory photo competition we ran in February-March 2019, in partnership with the Mathare Social Justice Centre.

Read our poster here.


Other research

Lots of exciting work is being done in this area by many different people, including Remy Debes, ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group and others. And of course, there are many scholars to whom we are indebted.

The Dignity Project has also contributed articles for various venues about the work. Take a look at the Other Writing page for more.


Future Research Agenda

This is just the early stages. We mean to keep developing this work, and extend this research. If you’d like to collaborate or have suggestions, please get in touch!

You can also read the latest draft of Tom’s PhD Research Proposal – this lays out how he plans to continue the work during his PhD research.