Oxford University – Research on Spillover Effects of Cash Transfers


GiveWell made1 a $121,626 discretionary grant in June 2021 to Oxford University to support research evaluating spillover effects from a variant of GiveDirectly's cash transfer program in Kenya.

Published: February 2022

Table of Contents

Grant activities

This grant will support research by Dr. Natalie Naïri Quinn, Professor Salome Bukachi, and Dr. Rossa O'Keeffe-O'Donovan2 into the size and nature of spillover effects from GiveDirectly's cash transfers program. (We've written more about this topic here.)

This team of researchers will use existing data from this randomized controlled trial (previously discussed by GiveWell here) of a GiveDirectly program to estimate the magnitude of spillover effects from cash transfers. To inform their estimates, the researchers will also conduct qualitative fieldwork to understand the patterns of trade and production in local communities and markets.


Dr. O'Keeffe-O'Donovan (a former GiveWell research consultant) reached out to GiveWell to request funding for this research and shared a research proposal and context to support the case for the grant. GiveWell CEO Elie Hassenfeld recommended this grant via our policy for small discretionary grantmaking. As a small discretionary grant, this funding opportunity did not receive the same scrutiny as larger grants we recommend. Instead, we more minimally evaluated the case for the grant and any potential risks or downsides.

Case for the grant

Three key ideas support the case for this grant:

  1. We think this research may lead to a material update to our view of the cost-effectiveness of GiveDirectly, potentially on the order of a 2x difference.3
  2. We don't believe this research would be completed without additional funding.4
  3. Dr. O'Keeffe-O'Donovan worked as a research consultant for GiveWell in 2017, so we know his work well.

We note that the case for the grant is subjective, relying partially on our positive opinion of Dr. O'Keeffe-O'Donovan. We intuitively think it's plausible that this grant is as cost-effective or more cost-effective than funding we direct to our top charities, but we haven't done any formal analysis on that question. We haven't explicitly compared it to other opportunities, and are funding it because it's a promising opportunity that came across our path.

Risks and reservations

We don't see meaningful downsides or risks to funding this research. See here for a few examples of the types of risks and reservations we would consider in deciding whether to make small discretionary grants.


We expect to see drafts of the results of both the quantitative and the qualitative pieces of this research by June 2022, based on the original timeline the researchers shared with us as well as an update from the researchers in January 2022.5


Document Source
GiveWell, Cost-effectiveness analysis, 2021, Version 3 Source
GiveWell, "GiveDirectly," 2020 Source
GiveWell, "Innovations for Poverty Action — Mindset Engagement in Cash Transfers," 2016 Source
GiveWell, "Spillover Effects of GiveDirectly's Cash Transfers Program," 2018 Source
Orkin et al. 2021 Source
  • 1

    Funding for this grant came from GiveWell unrestricted funding that had been designated by GiveWell's Board for granting.

  • 2

    Drs. Quinn and O'Keeffe-O'Donovan are affiliated with Oxford University; Professor Bukachi is affiliated with the University of Nairobi.

  • 3

    We currently account for potential spillover effects by incorporating a 5% discount into our cost-effectiveness model. This adjustment is based on our uncertain best guess (more discussion here), and new information like this research could lead to a substantial update, which could lead us to model cash transfers as significantly more or less cost-effective than we currently do. Intuitively, we think the difference could be on the order of 2x

  • 4

    Source: Emails from Dr. O'Keeffe-O'Donovan (unpublished).

  • 5

    Source: Proposal and Budget from the researchers (unpublished). Note that the timeline for receiving qualitative results will depend on the extent to which COVID-19 restrictions affect fieldwork.