Founded in 2008, GiveDirectly has since become one of the fastest-growing non-profit organisations of the 21st century. Their radical idea is to innovate how charity works by giving the donations raised by their supporters directly to their beneficiaries, giving them a Universal Basic Income (UBI). This scheme has been carried out across different parts of Africa, including the small village of Kogutu in Kenya. Despite some scepticism when the organisations inform the residents that they’ll essentially be receiving free money, those who register for the scheme are thrilled when they get their first payment.
At first, this method seems like a fantastic idea. These people now have the funds they need to pay for food, school fees and invest in their own businesses; this money quite literally has the power to change their lives. However, Sam Soko and Lauren DeFilippo dig deeper into this concept throughout documentary Free Money to highlight that the solution to world poverty may not be as simple as GiveDirectly’s charismatic CEO makes it sound.
Following the stories of some of those impacted by the scheme, this film uses these people’s experiences to illustrate how this economic model works in practice. While the directors show the immediate benefit the new wealth has upon the village, they’re just as diligent about exploring the current problems with this model. For one hopeful student, for example, this income looks to be their ticket to Nairobi where they fulfil their dreams of going to university. When they arrive, though, they discover that the income isn’t enough to cover rent. Meanwhile, a mishap during the initial registration sees a hopeful youngster made illegible to qualify for the scheme.
The filmmakers likewise raise an eyebrow when it comes to the long-term effects of the experiment, particularly concerning what could happen after the 12-year trial period comes to an end. By maintaining a position that never fully goes in favour or against UBIs, Soko and DeFilippo provide an engaging exploration of a subject that, because of Covid-19, has recently found itself in the public spotlight.
Humanity is at the core of this documentary, which ensures that Free Money remains an eye-opening introduction to the benefits and shortcomings of a system that has the potential to change lives forever.
Free Money is released in select cinemas and on demand on 21st April 2023.