TACOMA, Washington — Togo is a country in West Africa with a population of 8.1 million and a GDP per capita of just $629. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Togo is significant. According to the World Bank, 62% of jobs in Togo have been affected by COVID-19, mostly in the informal sector. In order to address increasing poverty due to decreased unemployment and income, the government of Togo set about creating a social assistance program targeting the most impoverished people in the country.
The Novissi Program
The Novissi program is a cash transfer initiative designed to provide urgent monetary relief to the most vulnerable people in the country and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Togo. The government of Togo implemented the first phase of the initiative from April 7, 2020, until September 1, 2020. The second phase of the initiative was developed and implemented in partnership with GiveDirectly and is supported by researchers from the Center for Effective Global Action and Innovation for Poverty Action.
The Program’s Target Population
The first challenge of the Novissi program was how to determine which areas and individuals were most in need of assistance as the government only had enough funds to aid 57,000 people. The plan was to first identify the 100 most impoverished cantons in Togo, and from there, identity the most impoverished individuals in the cantons. Satellites were able to identify markers of wealth, such as the prevalence of metal roofs and certain kinds of terrain, to estimate poverty levels.
Surveys were then conducted and metadata from mobile phones helped researchers determine daily monetary consumption levels. The researchers were then able to take the metadata and create consumption estimates from the 5.7 million mobile users in the country. The combined findings identified 57,000 individuals who would receive funding.
The program provided cash transfers of $13 to men and $15 to women once a month for five months. Women are generally the primary caregivers, and thus, they received more money. All participants had to do was dial #855 on their mobile phone, and using the data collected, the government was able to determine whether the individual fits the criteria. If eligible, the beneficiary receives the money via mobile phone transfer.
The Impact of Cash Transfer Programs
Research has found that the impact of cash transfer programs is significant. With the cash transfers received from Novissi, many people in Togo have already been able to pay for their children’s school fees, buy fertilizer for their crops and support their families. Studies have found that cash transfer programs have the potential to improve nutrition, increase education completion and increase income in adulthood for children whose parents receive cash transfers.
Furthermore, these programs can stimulate the local economy. Those who were once unable to participate in the local economy are now becoming consumers and local businesses are able to thrive. In Kenya, researchers found that for every dollar of assistance provided, the overall economic activity of an area expands by $2.60. Another study conducted in Uganda found that one-time cash grants were able to significantly increase the income and employment of recipients even four years later.
Alleviating Poverty in Togo
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Togo is significant, but programs like Novissi have the potential to mitigate its effects and improve the lives of many. While the full effects of the Novissi program are yet to be seen, given past research, it is clear that there is significant potential for the Novissi program to stimulate Togo’s economy in the short term and increase the prospects of children who benefit from the program in the long term. The program can help Togo recover from the COVID-19 pandemic more quickly and could become the basis for future assistance programs in Togo and beyond.
– Harriet Sinclair