Young guys in dusty polo shirts. New moms holding their babies. Grandmas in bright head wraps. They've all gathered in a clearing for one of the village meetings when something remarkable happens. Practically every person's cellphone starts tinkling.
It's a text alert from an American charity called GiveDirectly. Last fall, GiveDirectly announced that it will give every adult in this impoverished village in Kenya an extra $22 each month for the next 12 years—with no strings attached. The money is wired to bank accounts linked to each villager's phone. The alert is the signal that the latest payment has posted. Everyone starts cheering. Some of the younger women break into song.
The payouts are part of a grand and unprecedented experiment that is motivated by an equally sweeping question: What if our entire approach to helping the world's poorest people is fundamentally flawed?