Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) were first piloted in Mexico in the late 1990s. From there, they spread throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and Central Europe, becoming a popular tool for international development organisations. But CCTs have been imperfect tools, clumsily applied and have often shown limited success in bringing about desired behaviour change among their recipients.
The problems with in-kind aid and CCTs are numerous. Firstly, they lack flexibility and respect for the basic agency of the recipient. When goods or cash are given conditionally, it is assumed that the beneficiary is incapable of making sensible decisions for themselves. Give them cash without conditions and there’s no guarantee that it won’t be used to purchase “temptation goods” like alcohol and tobacco.
“It’s a very imperialistic attitude towards giving,” says Martin Simonneau, programme manager at Cool Earth, a climate charity supporting indigenous communities to fight climate change and deforestation. “We think we know best because we come from the global north and we’ve studied in very big universities and so we can give you the knowledge to enhance your life. That's completely the wrong attitude.”
Not only is it the wrong attitude, it’s an attitude that’s ineffective. In his 2007 book Does Foreign Aid Really Work?, Roger Riddell (a member of the British government's Independent Advisory Committee for Development Impact) concludes that, “Aid works, but not nearly as well as it could,” largely because donors function as gatekeepers with almost total control of their aid. Therefore, “the aid which is provided is not allocated in any systematic, rational or efficient way to those who need it most.”