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Felicia Jegede, a 71-year-old widow, was elated when she received her first unconditional cash transfer of USD $32. She described the cash transfer program as “the best thing to have happened to us, the elderly, in Ekiti state.”​ After spending most of her life working as an informal street vendor, she could finally use this modest amount of money to supplement her income, thereby reducing the financial burden for her relatives.

The cash transfer was provided through the Nigerian Ekiti State Social Security Scheme, the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. Implemented between 2012 and 2014, the non-contributory pension scheme targets the elderly in poor households in Ekiti state, where the majority of the population live in rural areas and work in the informal sector. A team of researchers led by Dr Damilola Olajide, with the collaboration of the State Ministry of Labour, Productivity, and Human Development, conducted a study to measure two outcomes of the cash transfer scheme: quality of life and household vulnerability.

The Partnership for Economic Policy

To ensure the quality of the research, Olajide and his team applied for support from the Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP). Founded by IDRC in 2002, PEP trains and builds the capacity of developing-country researchers to conduct cutting-edge research and disseminate and transform these findings into  policies.

More than 800 researchers (46% women) have benefited from PEP, now a legally incorporated global organization based in Nairobi, Kenya. The program has supported 256 projects in 58 countries — most in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but also in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

PEP’s approach to research funding is unique and very important, as it aims to build the expertise of local researchers rather than require this expertise as a condition for funding, Olajide said.  This approach results in both long-term and potentially large-scope effects, especially through junior researchers.

From methodology design to research dissemination, the PEP program ensures continual support and guidance throughout the various stages of research.  As a result, PEP-supported researchers not only publish in top international scientific journals, but they also gain considerable exposure at the national policy level. According to PEP, approximately 34% of PEP-supported project findings have had a direct influence on national development policy decisions within a year of publication.

From fieldwork to policy

Olajide’s team found that cash transfer recipients reported being less depressed and feeling happier and more capable. The positive impacts were also felt throughout the household: children were less frequently street hawking and the number of times any household member had no food to eat was reduced. The benefits for the elderly poor and their households in Ekiti state were clear, but the next challenge lay in convincing the Nigerian government to expand cash transfer programs to other states, or even at a national scale.  Between 2015 and 2016, Olajide and his team participated in multiple conferences, workshops, and stakeholder meetings in Nigeria and abroad to discuss their findings. With PEP support they also organized their own national policy conference to discuss the findings with media and policy stakeholders. It was there that the Nigerian government stated that it would use the team’s findings to inform the development of the National Priority Agenda for the Vulnerable. 

A few months later, the federal government announced a plan to provide social security to 50% of vulnerable population groups, starting with unemployed youth. The national scheme was based on the Ekiti state model, and the research team provided active consultation during its implementation and discussed potential future evaluations of the new program. The Nigerian government started the first round of monthly allocation payments (USD $15) in January 2017.

“I am happy that for the first time, the federal government has subscribed to making development-related decisions based on evidence from rigorous research,” said Olajide. “It is hoped that future policies and interventions will continue to be evidence-based. This will ensure accountability to taxpayers and that scarce resources are being put to efficient use.” The PEP model is working, Olajide says, and “it has had a very positive influence on the informed development of national policies.”

Top image: UN Women