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The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Social cash transfers, generational relations and youth poverty trajectories in rural Lesotho and Malawi

Research Partners:

(cropped): Malawi.
Photo credit: Travis Lupick/Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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Principal Investigator: Nicola Ansell. Lead Organisation: Brunel University

Co-investigators: Evance Mwathunga; Thandie Keromamang Hlbabana; Elspeth Robson; Flora Hajdu; Lorraine Van Blerk

Youth poverty is important, not least because of its implications for the future, yet rural youth poverty in particular has received little attention from researchers or policy makers. The major recent innovation in policy responses to poverty in sub-Saharan Africa has been social cash transfer (SCT) schemes which disburse cash to poor people.

There is growing evidence that these address symptoms of poverty among their target populations, particularly children and the elderly. However, impact evaluations have paid minimal attention to their effects on young adults or generational relations. Researchers increasingly recognise that poverty is produced through structural power relations including political and economic relations, and relations within and between social groups (based on social categorisations such as gender, age, generation and class). If the impacts of SCTs are to be fully understood, it is necessary to examine how they intervene in and are negotiated through these structural relationships. Rather than examining the impacts of SCTs on youth as an age-based category, the research focuses on their effects on the power relationships that structure young lives. Drawing on recent calls for a 'generationing' of development, it examines how SCTs shape generational relationships (between older and younger people; between members of an age cohort; between life phases; and between young people and their wider structural contexts). As generational relations intersect with other social relations, effects of SCTs on relations of age and gender will also be examined.

The proposal addresses the call question: What factors shape pathways into and out of poverty and people's experience of these, and how can policy create sustained routes out of extreme poverty in ways that can be replicated and scaled up? It focuses on two countries that have instituted contrasting SCTs in the past decade: Lesotho (social pensions and child grants) and Malawi (SCTs to ultra-poor labour constrained households).


1. To identify how specific structural power relationships shape young people's poverty trajectories, focusing particularly on generational relations

2. To identify how SCTs operating in Malawi and Lesotho intervene in these structural power relationships, and the consequences for young people's poverty trajectories

3. To examine how political and economic power relationships between national and international institutions are implicated in the design and implementation of SCT schemes

4. To develop an analysis of young people's poverty trajectories and policy responses that conceptually connects national and international political economic processes with social relations of generation, age and gender

5. To develop and refine a methodological approach that facilitates the involvement of young people in the identification and analysis of the structural relations at the root of their experiences of poverty

Methods: The research will augment a rich dataset from a previous project (2007/8) which detailed the life histories and aspirations of 80 young people, then aged 10-24, in two villages. Follow-up interviews will be conducted with these young people, some of whose households will have since begun to receive SCTs, to map their poverty trajectories and explore influencing factors. In depth interviews will also be conducted with members of five households per village in receipt of SCTs to explore further the impacts on relations of gender, age and generation. Subsequently, participatory workshops with groups of young people will examine in greater depth the processes that produce and perpetuate poverty, and how SCTs intervene in these processes.

Meanwhile, a PhD student will undertake research with policy makers, focusing on Objective 3. And finally, workshops with representatives of agencies, NGOs and government will engage in further analysis of the findings to address Objective 4 and identify key policy lessons.

Further Resources:

Who will benefit from the research? -Government ministries, NGOs and agencies involved in initiatives relating to youth and to social protection in Lesotho and Malawi -International agencies involved with youth policy / social protection -Academic researchers in Lesotho and Malawi, notably the co-investigators and research assistants, and a PhD student -Academic researchers in development studies, African studies and human geography internationally -Ultimately, young people affected by poverty in rural Africa How will they benefit? -Improved understanding of: --the structural causes of youth poverty --how SCT schemes affect young people over time --how SCTs can be designed or adapted to best support young people to escape poverty --Research capacity building What will be done to ensure that they have the opportunity to benefit? -A virtual international advisory group including representatives of relevant NGOs will be consulted regularly and kept informed. -Stakeholder workshops will be held at the outset of the project and of fieldwork Components 1 and 5. Key participants will be senior personnel from the bodies promoting, funding and implementing SCTs (see Pathways to Impact for details). Representatives of youth-focused organisations and local academics will also be invited. The team has successfully used stakeholder groups with earlier projects and has an extensive contact list. The workshops will raise awareness of the research, secure commitment to it, ensure it is locally relevant and that the team is cognisant of the policy context and of optimal modes and moments to influence policy. The workshops will inform the design of both the research and the engagement plans. -The research and emerging findings will be publicised in formats tailored to diverse audiences in Lesotho, Malawi and internationally, using inter alia a project website, briefing papers, internet-based resources such as the Southern African Regional Poverty Network and social protection forums, conventional popular media such as newspapers and radio in Malawi and Lesotho and social media. -Policy workshops (Component 6) have proven effective in previous projects; it is worth investing effort to recruit influential personnel from key organisations. The workshops will engage with preliminary findings and develop policy applications and recommendations. The resulting co-produced knowledge should be both relevant and acceptable to research users in Malawi, Lesotho and beyond. The workshops will take place four months before the project ends, informing further analysis and development of policy recommendations. -An international dissemination workshop in London will target NGOs and agencies interested in social protection in Africa. -The team includes two southern African early-career researchers who have been fully involved in developing the proposal and will gain experience in research design, in depth interviewing, participatory research and academic writing (through co-authoring papers). Through mentoring, participation in international conferences and networking opportunities, they and their institutions will be better equipped to gain funding for academic and policy-related research. -A PhD student will be recruited; the Project Student Request outlines how they will benefit. -Findings will be disseminated to academics from diverse disciplines through conference presentations and articles in international and African peer reviewed journals. -The impact strategy will be evaluated on an ongoing basis. Levels of participation and seniority of participants attending stakeholder workshops will be monitored. At each stakeholder workshop we will seek feedback, then review and update our strategy. A year after the project ends, we will ask the stakeholder groups to complete an online open-ended questionnaire to report how they/their organisations have used the research and any other impacts they are aware of.

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Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Clinical Sciences
Fund Start Date: 
October 1st, 2015
Fund End Date: 
May 31st, 2019
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