07 June 2017, 16:30
Blavatnik School of Government, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 6GG

A discussion hosted by the Centre for the Study of African Economies.

The prospect of a substantial expansion of social assistance programmes based on cash transfers is generating great enthusiasm across Africa and beyond. Much of the recent research in this area has used randomized control trials to document the short-term impacts of these interventions, or focused on the relative efficacy of different modes of delivery (for example, if transfers are conditional or unconditional, large once-off wealth transfers or small payments over the long term, given to men or women, or means-targeted). However, a broader discussion on the opportunities, challenges and priorities related to the development of social assistance through cash transfer is often missing.

In this event, we will engage two visionary thinkers in a discussion on the future of social assistance through cash transfers. The discussion will be centered on three key questions:

  • Do cash transfers raise material standards of living at the cost of political and social capital?
  • Who supports cash transfers, and why? 
  • Which actors should provide social assistance and who will pay for it, and how? In particular, can a sustainable welfare “state” be created by non-state actors?

After an initial discussion moderated by Professor Chris Woodruff, we will invite pre-selected audience members to ask questions. If you would like to participate in the audience question session, please send your question in advance to suzanne.george@economics.ox.ac.uk with the subject line ‘Ferguson/Niehaus discussion’.


James Ferguson is the Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. Professor Ferguson’s latest work analyses the political possibilities created by the recent expansion of the welfare state in Southern Africa.

Paul Niehaus is Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at UC San Diego and co-founder of GiveDirectly and Segovia. GiveDirectly is a nonprofit organization that has pioneered the use of new technologies to transfer money directly to people living in extreme poverty.

Chair: Professor Chris Woodruff, Oxford Department of International Development.

Organisers: Drs Stefano Caria, Mahreen Mahmud, Kate Orkin

The event is now full. 

The event will be live streamed and recorded on the Blavatnik School of Government YouTube channel.