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When cash alone is not enough: the transformative power of cash plus programmes

Two new reports from UNICEF Innocenti provide further evidence on the potential for cash plus programmes to improve youth well-being - today, tomorrow and in the future.
14 May 2018

(14 May 2018) Research has shown that cash transfers promote economic empowerment. The direct payment of cash to the poorest households contributes toward improved social outcomes and sustainable livelihoods, while making local economies more dynamic. However, despite the benefits, cash alone is not a silver bullet. For example, evidence suggests that cash alone is not always sufficient to secure the safe transition of adolescents to adulthood. Results from several countries suggest that external conditions, such as the labour market or access to quality services, impact the success of cash transfers. Where adolescents are concerned cash alone has not always been successful in reducing significant risks such as violence, early marriage and sexually transmitted diseases. How then can we use cash transfers to more effectively protect and prepare adolescents for healthy productive adulthoods?

A group of Cash Plus livelihood and health training course participants discuss an assignment in Ikama Village in the Rungwe District of Tanzania.

The Transfer Project

‘Cash plus’ may provide the answer. Leading social protection partner of UNICEF Innocenti, The Transfer Project, has gathered extensive evidence on the effects of social protection programmes on adolescent well-being. They are now engaged in examining the potential for additional key interventions and linkages to services – a ‘cash plus’ component – targeting youth. These initiatives examine whether a package of adolescent-focused interventions can improve future economic opportunities for adolescents and facilitate healthy transition to adulthood. Interventions include life skills training, sexual and reproductive health education, HIV treatment, peer support groups, and mentoring.

Cash Plus in Action: Tanzania Results

The Transfer Project’s most recent studies from Tanzania help illustrate the scale of the programme and the potential for cash plus to improve adolescent well-being and empowerment. Yet for adolescent boys and girls, transitioning to adulthood means facing significant social, health and economic risks. To mitigate these risks the Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF), along with UNICEF and other key stakeholders, are implementing an intervention where social protection and economic empowerment interventions are combined with adolescent training in business and livelihood skills, sexual and reproductive health education and support services as a core part of Government cash transfer schemes.


“We met close to a hundred adolescent trainees, peer educators and mentors actively involved in the cash plus training in three villages in Rungwe district of southern Tanzania,” said Dale Rutstein, Communication Chief of UNICEF Innocenti, recently returned from a cash plus filmmaking mission. “In the mornings, young people delivered impressively detailed long-term business plans – for dairy production, dress-making and farming – and in the afternoon they practiced how to use male and female condoms.

“We met one 19-year-old peer educator who had given birth to a child at age 17 who said if she had had the training at a younger age her life would have been dramatically changed.”

Recent cash plus research studies

A recently completed18-month mixed methods study, Tanzania Youth Study of the Productive Social Safety Net, provides evidence on the effects of Tanzania’s cash transfer programme: ‘Productive Social Safety Net,’ or PSSN, on youth well-being and transition to adulthood. Results of this study reveal certain positive effects that cash transfers have on youth education outcomes, participation in economic activities, and material well-being. Importantly, results also highlighted the limitations of cash to positively impact mental and physical well-being, sexual behaviour, or experiences of violence. The findings confirm that cash alone is not always sufficient to reduce the broad, interrelated social and economic risks that vulnerable populations face.

Another new study, A Cash Plus Model for Safe Transitions to a healthy and Productive Adulthood, carried out in 2017, and recently presented to the Tanzanian government, establishes baseline findings required for conducting a 24 month impact evaluation of Tanzania’s current ‘cash plus’ programme, exploring how cash combined with training and linkages to other support services enable youth to benefit more efficiently from household participation in cash transfer programmes. The findings reveal insights into young people’s lives and behaviour, particularly around accessing health services, economic activities, and education.

What Next?

Adolescence is an intense period of physical transformation and brain development, representing a unique window of opportunity. Investments in adolescence are often referred to as having a “triple dividend” with benefits today, in adolescents’ future adult life, and in the next generation of children.

An adolescent girl from Makandana Village in the Rungwe District of Tanzania presents her future business plans during the closing ceremony of the Cash Plus livelihood and health training course.


The second phase of this study looks to amplify the impact of cash to fully benefit from this window of opportunity. At the end of the two-year cash plus randomized cluster trials, it is envisioned that Tanzania will have robust evidence on the impact of the “plus” component targeted to adolescents, layered on top of the existing social protection scheme. The findings should indicate which aspects of the cash plus programme work well and which need refinement, as well as considerations for scaling up the programme, to give more young people in Tanzania the chance to reach their full productive potential as healthy adults.

With a projected 35 million Tanzanians aged between 15 and 34 in the year 2035, investments made today present immense potential for Tanzania’s prosperity. Given its implementation within an existing large scale government social protection programme, cash plus may be a scalable solution to intergenerational poverty, empowering adolescents - both now and in the future - to reach their full potential.


You can read the Cash Plus Project Brief here.

Access FAO's book, From Evidence to Action: The story of cash transfers and impact evaluation in sub-Saharan Africa, here.