TIFF Doc explores the global basic income experience – Deadline

TIFF Doc explores the global basic income experience – Deadline

In rural Kenya, $22 a month can go a long way. We’re talking about a life-changing amount of money.

This number is, in fact, the amount that the nonprofit aid organization GiveDirect calculates directly as necessary to conduct an experiment in alleviating extreme poverty in the developing world. In 2018, the NGO launched a test case in a few hand-picked Kenyan villages, offering adult residents $22 a month in free cash transfers, without restrictions, to do what they choose. Not just for one year – for 12 years.

documentary free money, at its world premiere Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival, explores the real-world impact of that experience on the villagers of the small village of Kogoto. American director Lauren DeFilippo has joined forces with Kenyan director Sam Soko to produce the film. DeFilippo created the project with permission from GiveDirectly to depict their daring endeavour.


‘Free Money’ directors Lauren DeFilippo and Sam Soko
Insignia Films / LPX Africa

“I went to Kugutu and I was there at the beginning when they were pitching all of this and pitching the idea,” DeFilippo told Deadline. “I quickly realized that it was going to be more than a movie about an idea – the idea of ​​a universal basic income – but rather a personal story that I wanted to make, and I didn’t quite get to do it in a rural Kenyan village as a white lady. I started really early on in the search for Collaborator and I was lucky enough to find Sam Soko and somehow linked him to this.”

The film follows a number of villagers who overcome initial doubts about a show that sounded too good to be true. Money, for example, allowed 18-year-old John Omondi to attend university in the capital, Nairobi.

He says in the film, “I can cover my basic costs, transportation to school, some school fees and other things.”

John Omondi in Nairobi

John Omondi in Nairobi, Kenya
Insignia Films / LPX Africa

One person used windfall profits to drill a well; He bought another cow, then another cattle. Someone else has made improvements to their home. All good, right? Yes – in some ways.

“In the short term, we see very positive effects from UBI,” DeFilippo notes. “When you talk to the people in the village who are receiving the money, they say it’s turned out a lot…And as skeptical we’ve been, we’ve seen the effects and we’ve seen people’s lives change.”

But this is not the end of the story. free money He investigates the fascinating and often unsettling implications of the GiveDirectly experience. A basic income gives beneficiaries a measure of control over their own destinies. However, from one point of view, participants could be viewed as guinea pigs in a scenario set up from afar.

Gael Rael Acing Sonja in the movie Free Money

Gael Rael Acing Sunga, Young Woman Rejected Universal Basic Income Benefits in ‘Free Money’
Insignia Films / LPX Africa

“The people you choose to change their lives end up lacking agency,” Soko asserts. “If they have a problem [with the program]They have nowhere to go. Since you’re trying to approach and solve a problem from above, it’s all too easy to forget that the people below might have some important questions that they might choose not to ask you because of the power you give.”

There may have been unintended social consequences of the experiment. You quickly created a small world of haves and have-nots. Kugutu’s choice suddenly became “possessed”. But the people in the neighboring villages remained in the “no” camp. These separate villages often have members of the same family.

“He’s someone coming in and drawing a line and saying, ‘You guys on this side are going to develop faster than the people on this other side. “It’s your brother we’re talking about,” Soko says. “It is very interesting and curious to see how these relationships will turn out in the long run.”

In nearby villages that were excluded from the universal basic income program, some residents became miserable and questioned their belief in God.

Aid workers from the charity GiveDirectly

Employees of the charity GiveDirectly
Insignia Films / LPX Africa

“It was really painful, frankly, to hear from neighbors like Milka, the woman in the movie. [She was] Like, “We just don’t know what we did wrong…” DeFilippo recalls. “I felt like they had an opportunity and they blew it up somehow. It’s hard to hear this regret.”

GiveDirect first-hand imagines itself as an evidence-based analytical organization dedicated to studying the effectiveness of its program. It doesn’t seem, at least from the movie, that anyone in the organization is losing sleep due to a Kenyan villager having a crisis of faith.

Soko comments, “This level of consequences – it’s not something they care about, because the experience works for them. [Their attitude is]Let’s move on to the next thing. “

GiveDirectly has an A+ rating from CharityWatch.org, which describes itself as “America’s most assertive and independent charitable organization.” Charity Watch evaluates according to several criteria, including how well a charity is using donations. But DeFilippo argues that these types of monitoring groups don’t think the whole picture.

“It’s all from the donor’s perspective on exactly how the money will be used. And none of it takes into account the recipients.” “That’s kind of an ulterior motive that we have — we’d like to change around that and these issues of ethics and accountability.”

The GiveDirectly website says that since 2009 it has given more than $550 million “in cash to more than 1.25 million families living in poverty” and adds cheerfully (in the context of a presentation for more donations), “and no, people don’t just blow it up in booze. All is well. A lot of people thought that at first.”

Michael Fay, CEO and co-founder of the NGO, appears in the documentary and makes a strong case for doing things the GD way, in contrast to previous attempts to alleviate poverty that sometimes backfired (Kenyan journalist Larry Madowo comments in free money“[T]Here’s a long history of NGOs causing so much havoc.”) On their website, GiveDirectly says, “We believe that people living in poverty deserve dignity to choose for themselves the best way to improve their lives – criticism enables that choice.”

free money It constitutes neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of GiveDirectly and its experience of social and economic transformation.

“I feel like we’re really making this movie for audiences who have been watching it from different sides of the spectrum,” DeFilippo says. The western point of view is that these are the philanthropists who fight in the good fight. The African Kenyan view is like, ‘We’ve seen this before. This will not end well. And we really wanted to tell a story that could speak to both sides.”

free money It is an acquisition title in TIFF. Dogwoof handles international sales; CAA is the US sales agent. It’s a movie that came at the right time because Universal Basic Income is becoming a topic of increasing discussion all over the world. Arguably, the Trump and Biden administrations essentially experimented with universal basic income during the Covid shutdown and its aftermath when they provided unrestricted cash grants, i.e. “stimulus checks,” to Americans. This came as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed on an emergency basis in late March 2020. Studies have shown that economic aid has made a significant difference.

According to a TV show front line Report, “Researchers at the Urban Institute… examined the effects of pandemic-era benefits and stimulus measures. Looking at 2021 as a whole, they predicted that government assistance programs—both those that existed before COVID and those created in response to the pandemic—will reduce the poverty rate in in 2021 by 67% compared to what would have been without government assistance.”

Soko notes: “Over the past five years, what has happened is that global basic income has wobbled its way into a lot of conversations. There are a lot of experiences happening around the world — in Europe, in Africa, in America. In fact, you wonder Governments honestly about how to implement a universal basic income … even [in] Partial form as a means of dealing with poverty. So she is with us.”

Soko adds of the documentary, “We feel this film is a very urgent part of this conversation and becomes a very important part of this larger space and the very spirit of the universal basic income and cash transfers spirit.”

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