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Luisa Natali

Social Policy Specialist (Former title)

Luisa Natali is a Social Policy Specialist at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti where she first joined as a Consultant in 2011. Luisa’s main research fields are Development Economics, Economics of Gender and Policy Impact Evaluation. Her research interests lie in social policy and social protection, and in particular in the evaluation of cash transfer programmes on children’s and overall household’s well-being. Most of her research is based on sub-Saharan Africa but she is also interested in the evaluation of cash-based programmes in refugee-hosting settings. Luisa has previously worked as a research consultant for the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), and UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). She has gained field experience in Zambia, South Africa, Bangladesh and Jordan. She holds a PhD and Master’s in Development Economics from the University of Sussex, UK.

Publications

The Difference a Dollar a Day Can Make: Lessons from UNICEF Jordan's Hajati cash transfer programme
Publication

The Difference a Dollar a Day Can Make: Lessons from UNICEF Jordan's Hajati cash transfer programme

What difference does a dollar a day make? For the poorest households in Jordan, many of whom escaped conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, UNICEF Jordan’s Hajati humanitarian cash transfer programme helps them keep their children in school, fed and clothed – all for less than one dollar per day. In fact, cash transfers have the potential to touch on myriad of child and household well-being outcomes beyond food security and schooling.
Cash Transfers and Child Nutrition in Zambia
Publication

Cash Transfers and Child Nutrition in Zambia

We examine the effect of the Zambia Child Grant Programme – an unconditional cash transfer (CT) targeted to rural families with children under age five – on height-for-age four years after programme initiation. The CT scheme had large positive effects on several nutritional inputs including food expenditure and meal frequency. However, there was no effect on height-for-age. Production function estimates indicate that food carries little weight in the production of child height. Health knowledge of mothers and health infrastructure in the study sites are also very poor. These factors plus the harsh disease environment are too onerous to be overcome by the increases in food intake generated by the CT. In such settings, a stand-alone CT, even when it has large positive effects on food security, is unlikely to have an impact on long-term chronic malnutrition unless accompanied by complementary interventions.
Exploring the potential of cash transfers to delay early marriage and pregnancy among youth in Malawi and Zambia
Publication

Exploring the potential of cash transfers to delay early marriage and pregnancy among youth in Malawi and Zambia

There is increasing interest in the potential of cash transfers to facilitate safe transitions to adulthood among vulnerable youth in low-income settings. However, little evidence exists that analyses these linkages from at-scale government-run programmes. This brief summarizes the impacts of two government-run large-scale unconditional cash transfers on outcomes of early marriage and pregnancy among youth in Malawi and Zambia after approximately three years. Results indicate limited impacts on safe transitions for both males and females. However, the programmes were successful in reducing poverty and improving schooling outcomes—two main pathways for safe transitions as reported in the literature. Research implications include the need to study transitions over longer time periods, including tracking of youth as they transition out of study households. If reducing early marriage and pregnancy is among policy makers’ primary priorities, then dedicated programming via cash plus or services specifically targeted at addressing the needs of adolescents and youth should be considered.
The Transformative Impacts of Unconditional Cash Transfers: Evidence from two government programmes in Zambia
Publication

The Transformative Impacts of Unconditional Cash Transfers: Evidence from two government programmes in Zambia

Unconditional cash transfers are on the rise in Sub-Saharan Africa, with recent estimates indicating a doubling of programmes between 2010 and 2014. This brief provides an overview of the comprehensive impacts across eight domains of two unconditional cash transfer programmes implemented by the Zambian Government: The Child Grant Programme (CGP) and the Multiple Category Targeting Programme (MCP). Although the primary objective of these programmes is poverty mitigation rather than economic empowerment, we document protective and productive outcomes in order to assess whether these programmes generate transformative effects and have the potential to offer a sustained pathway out of poverty for poor households.

Blogs

Fast access to cash provides urgent relief to those hardest hit by COVID—19
Blog

Fast access to cash provides urgent relief to those hardest hit by COVID—19

COVID—19 is wreaking health and economic turmoil worldwide. These impacts are all the more pronounced in low-income or crisis-affected countries, where the economic crisis caused by the pandemic may hit harder than the virus itself. This is the case for Jordan which, in addition to 15.7% of its population living below the poverty line, hosts 650,000 registered refugees who fled the conflict in neighbouring Syria. Since 2017, UNICEF Jordan has been supporting vulnerable households with  monthly direct cash payments (known as ‘Hajati’). This cash is ‘no strings attached’ but recipients are encouraged to use it to support children’s schooling. Forthcoming UNICEF Innocenti research reveals how Hajati positively impacts children’s lives. But how can social protection be expanded rapidly to support families made even more vulnerable by a global pandemic? The case of Hajati provides some valuable reflections. To counter the spread of the virus, the government of Jordan declared a state of emergency, implementing a stringent lockdown and deploying the army to enforce a strict curfew. While these containment measures slow the spread of COVID—19, many already vulnerable people have suddenly found themselves without an income. UNICEF Jordan quickly started working with the government and other partners to offset the impact of the lockdown for children. New vulnerable households were added to the Hajati cash transfer programme. This expansion provides urgent support to households that cannot count on savings to cope with the shock. Saleh, the eldest sibling of eight children, is 13 years old and in 8th grade at a UNICEF-supported double-shifted school in Wadi al-Sier. He is considering going back to work as, even with the Hajati support, the family continues to struggle with high living costs and rent.Following the closure of all schools on 15th March, UNICEF Jordan is helping to provide distance learning to children, fulfilling Hajati’s primary aim of supporting children’s education. Using TV and online platforms, as well as providing information on age-appropriate lessons through Hajati communication networks, UNICEF Jordan continues to support the most vulnerable children during this particularly challenging period.   Four factors to get cash to those who need it, fast Time was of the essence as the lockdown immediately impacted people’s livelihoods and included an imminent bank closure. In just two weeks, UNICEF Jordan scaled up Hajati to include 18,000 additional vulnerable children. Four factors made this possible: 1. Comprehensive data on potential recipientsUNICEF Jordan maintains a database with information on 38,000 of the poorest and most vulnerable households. This was used to rapidly identify households not receiving Hajati but who were in urgent need of financial support. 2. Efficient and safe payment systemsUNICEF Jordan leveraged existing systems to transfer funds. Under a partnership with 26 humanitarian organizations (Common Cash Facility), households registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) can quickly and safely access Hajati cash using an iris scan. Furthermore, by coordinating with other cash providers, payment dates are staggered to avoid overcrowding and to reduce the potential transmission of the virus at ATMs. 3. Direct communication with recipients UNICEF Jordan has three channels to communicate with beneficiaries: SMS for one-way communication; RapidPro for two-way SMS communication at no cost to beneficiaries; and a helpline for direct communication. These allow UNICEF to quickly update people about Hajati and inform them of basic safety measures to avoid contracting the virus while collecting the cash. 4. Readily available fundsBolstered by research (forthcoming) on the positive impacts of Hajati for children, UNICEF Jordan had already secured funding for the programme through to December 2020. This financial buffer allowed UNICEF to scale-up its cash response rapidly, without immediate fundraising. Despite this recent expansion, even more children could benefit from Hajati. If sufficient funds are raised, 50,000 more children could quickly be included, in addition to the 18,000 now benefiting from the recent scale-up. To achieve this, UNICEF Jordan has issued a funding appeal.   Jacobus de Hoop is manager of humanitarian policy research at UNICEF Innocenti. Luisa Natali is a Social Policy Specialist at the UNICEF Innocenti. Alexis Boncenne is Programme Officer in UNICEF Jordan’s Social Protection section. Angie Lee is a Communications Specialist with UNICEF Innocenti. Discover more about UNICEF Innocenti’s research on Social Protection and Cash Transfers, as well as work on Social Protection in Humanitarian Settings. Readers interested in more detailed discussion of shock-responsive social protection can read a literature review by Oxford Policy Management (2017). Those interested in UNICEF’s approach to shock-responsive social protection and humanitarian cash transfers can find out more here and here.
Administrative Data: Missed opportunity for learning and research in humanitarian emergencies?
Blog

Administrative Data: Missed opportunity for learning and research in humanitarian emergencies?

The use of administrative data for learning and research purposes in humanitarian emergencies is a relatively unexplored field. How can we make better use of these rich pools data in humanitarian settings? And what are the potential pitfalls? It is a stylized fact that in more severe emergencies, more administrative data is available from donors, NGOs and authorities, especially when compared to the availability of standard survey data.First a brief definition: While survey data are usually collected for research or M&E purposes, administrative data are typically collected for programming purposes as part of regular activities (e.g. recording children’s weight and height in routine health checks). Administrative data are collected by any institution involved in service delivery, be they government, development agencies or service providers.The main strength of administrative data is their immediate availability, at zero additional cost for analysts: administrative data already exist and can be used for research and learning.Examples of administrative data collected in fragile, conflict or humanitarian settings include infant growth monitoring during mother-baby health clinics, family composition and employment status for safety net programs, school attendance and grade progression for education programs, or refugee status for civil registration programs.We see several strengths of using administrative data for learning and research:The main strength of administrative data is their immediate availability, at zero additional cost for analysts: administrative data already exist and can be used for research and learning. The potential of such data is even greater in humanitarian and fragile settings where collecting (research) data per se often presents a number of difficulties and there is pressure to act quickly.While surveys may ask many questions, they typically only sample a fraction of all program beneficiaries. Administrative data, in contrast, collect fewer variables but do so for all program beneficiaries and indeed perhaps also for all applicants to a program to assess eligibility.While survey data collection often requires an “extra” effort (and hence cost), administrative data collection is “built into” a program. Its collection is, of course, also costly but it is typically deemed a necessity and readily budgeted. A health worker consults with Angelina Michael and her daughters, one of whom is suffering from severe acute malnutrition, in an emergency stabilization centre in South Sudan.A few weaknesses permeate the use of administrative data in fragile contexts:In an emergency setting, development agencies at times tend to collect data in the process of implementation without a clear learning purpose in mind. This translates into a weak data collection design and finally into poor data quality. At times, such weak administrative data then gets recycled as a “baseline” months after the program has started, further weakening the learning opportunities.It can be hard in practice to link administrative data about the same person or household from different sources, even within one agency. For example, different programmes may use different unique identifiers. In addition, privacy and security concerns may well prohibit such linking of administrative data across different datasets.By design, administrative data does not typically include a control (i.e. non-beneficiary) group, as administrative data are collected as part of the program implementation to serve the beneficiaries. The lack of a control group may impede the design of an impact evaluation. Having said that, some programmes also collect data on all those applying for a specific service, thereby establishing data on the rejected applicants or on members of a waiting list. Such data can then be used for impact evaluation designs based on a dis-continuity design, which compares otherwise similar beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries.Data quality can be a concern. Understanding how administrative data is collected might help to assess whether data are accurate, reliable and valid. At the same time, realizing that administrative data matter for learning also may help elevate their role and standing and may lead to more training being provided for its correct collection.Sometimes data are not immediately available, as they are collected by pen and paper, without being collected or transcribed in an electronic format. Very often these data relate to understudied themes such as nutritional outcomes. Adopting real-time monitoring using electronic devices and software may have clear benefits both for programming and for learning. Nonetheless, we identified exciting opportunities to use administrative data for learning during a humanitarian emergency:As administrative data are often routinely collected, there are very low marginal costs to adding a few variables that may serve the purpose of specific learning questions.When precise location data are available, through (e.g.) GPS coordinates, it can be relatively easy to match administrative data with weather data or data on shocks (such as conflict event data). This can be a very powerful avenue for the analysis of natural disasters and of forced displacements.Beneficiaries’ registries may reveal a high level of heterogeneity of programme implementation (dosage, frequency, modality among others). This diversity of programme execution can be potentially quite relevant for both a process evaluation and for an impact evaluation. Even the absence of a “pure” comparison group may be compatible with the latter analysis, as it allows to measure impacts with respect to a base group.Census data are one possible source of information that has not been properly exploited for evidence generation in humanitarian emergencies. Understanding who was where before the onset of an emergency can help reveal a lot of about social structures and dynamics of relevance in the emergency and the recovery phases.[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M9sUZm42Wo[/embed]Finally, we highlight some threats to the use of registries for research purposes.Setting up an information management system takes time, planning and requires a definite skill set for the organization collecting the administrative data. Many such data are routinely collected by organizations, but standards will vary and so do the quality of the data collected. Yet sub-standard administrative data is not just a threat to good learning – it is a threat to good implementation in the short term. Hence implementers have an incentive to collect good administrative data – perhaps more so than with research data.Another threat are concerns of privacy and security. These data, in their raw form, can be used to identify individuals and households. Abuses can arise and become more pronounced when various datasets are combined and more information on these subjects is retrieved. The role played by the dataset manager as well as discussions with stakeholders becomes fundamental to overcome ethical concerns. As does the need for a clear data policy by implementing agencies, our next point.Finally, we believe that the largest threat to the use of administrative data for learning and research in humanitarian settings is the absence of clear data policies by many implementing agencies on this topic. How do implementers choose to use administrative data for learning and research? There may be many “right” answers to this question but we believe it is important that agencies and governments, agencies and NGOs are able to explain how they use administrative data for improving their service delivery and our understanding of the complex environments in which we work and live. Administrative data can do much more than help deliver services or provide inputs for monitoring. We can use administrative data also for learning and research in humanitarian emergencies if agencies make available their data for analysis as part of an ethical, secure and deliberate strategy. The treasure chest is ready to be opened! Suggested Further Reading:“Can Rigorous Impact Evaluations Improve Humanitarian Assistance?”“New Developments in Measuring the Welfare Effects of Conflict Exposure at the Micro-Level” This blog was written by participants at the recent Workshop on Evidence on Social Protection in Humanitarian Situations, hosted by UNICEF Innocenti. For more information on UNICEF's research on children in humanitarian settings, visit our dedicated Research Watch page. Tilman Brück is a development economist at Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops and at the International Security and Development Center in Germany. He conducts micro-level research on how people cope with crises and emergencies. @tilmanbrueckElisabetta Aurino is a development economist at Imperial College London and research associate at Young Lives, University of Oxford, UK. Her research focuses on food insecurity, child and adolescent development and social protection in low- and middle-income countries. @elisabettaurinoSilvio Daidone is an applied economist in the Social Protection team at the Food and Agriculture Organization. His research focuses on social protection programs and rural development interventions. @DaidoneSilvioLuisa Natali is a social policy consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research —Innocenti. She specializes in social policy and social protection, and in particular dynamics of child labor, education, and gender within evaluation of cash transfer programs in Sub-Saharan Africa. @luisanataliDr Benjamin Schwab is a development and health economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University. He has collaborated on several large scale impact evaluations, and currently researches a variety of topics related to food security, agriculture and rural poverty in developing countries.
Opening the black box: Cash transfers and post-intervention research
Blog

Opening the black box: Cash transfers and post-intervention research

Last Fall I visited three of the most poverty-stricken rural districts of Zambia: Kaputa, Kalabo and Shangombo. Each location took two days’ travel by car from Lusaka. We drove up to Kaputa, near the border with DRC, with a stock of jerry cans filled with fuel, passed through the Kafue National Park and crossed the mile-wide Zambesi river and then crossed the soft sands (and mud) of Western Province, approaching the Angola border, to reach Kalabo and Shangombo. The objective of the mission, with dozens of national researchers, was to collect data from over 2,000 women as part of the evaluation of the Government of Zambia’s Child Grant Programme. The Child Grant Programme is an unconditional cash transfer scheme, targeted to mothers in households with a child under the age of five which provides beneficiaries a flat transfer of approximately 24 USD on a bi-monthly basis—a substantial amount, representing an increase of 27 per cent of the household’s pre-programme monthly consumption. Beneficiary of the Social Cash Transfer Programme in Zambia - Makalanguza Village. Likezo Maingolua opened a little shop in the local market thanks to the support received by the Government.This was not the first time we had visited these women. The evaluation project which had been initiated in 2010 via a randomized control trial, has up to the present collected four follow-up rounds of data to show impacts over four years. The findings have been impressive. Results have shown both productive and protective impacts, as well as a sizeable multiplier effect, demonstrating that household spending has increased at levels higher than the value of the transfer received. The positive results witnessed in Zambia are not an anomaly. Cash transfers have gained a prominent role in the international debate around poverty and inequality, based on extensive evidence of their many positive outcomes: increasing consumption and food security, improving schooling and even fostering productive investments for the poor. They have even been suggested as a benchmark against which to compare other programs and interventions (see here and here). Do the positive impacts persist once payments end, or do they dissipate?Most of the literature however, reports on short- or medium-term impacts, thus we know little about long-term impacts. For example, do impacts accumulate exponentially with additional transfers, or do they plateau over time (or even decrease as households become accustomed to support)? Even more interesting: Do the positive impacts persist once payments end, or do they dissipate? Do households strengthen their livelihoods, to sustain consumption and “graduate” out of poverty or do they bounce back to their pre-programme living standards? How much support is needed for the ultra-poor to boost them out poverty and place them on a higher wellbeing trajectory? These are some of the questions we went back to find out in Zambia. The study, led by the University of North Carolina, in collaboration with us at the UNICEF Office of Research—Innocenti and Palm Associates, takes advantage of the fact that in 2015, the Government of Zambia decided to modify their cash transfer targeting. The new target group, consisting of labour-constrained households, is currently being implemented via nation-wide scale up aiming to cover over 700,000 households in 2018. An interview in the Shangombo District in Zambia with a Child Grant Program beneficiary.This means that households in the evaluation pilot districts kept receiving transfers up until 2016, when the re-targeting process was carried out. The fact that beneficiary households stopped receiving the grant in 2016, provides a unique opportunity to rigorously examine whether cash transfers can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty after the intervention has ended, seven years after collection of baseline data. The findings have been impressive. Results have shown both productive and protective impacts, as well as a sizeable multiplier effect,... household spending has increased at levels higher than the value of the transfer received.Why are we so excited about these findings? Too often, we miss the opportunity to evaluate whether impacts are sustained post-intervention, and thus the literature is scant and inconclusive on whether cash transfers can lead to longer-term welfare improvements. Despite the paucity of evidence, there are a number of studies which have tackled these questions. Encouraging findings come from Stoeffleret al. (2016) who shows that an 18 month unconditional transfer pilot in rural Niger showed sustained impacts on assets and productive activities 18-months after transfers end. Positive long-lasting effects were also found for two conditional cash transfers in Nicaragua which show that impacts on child development outcomes persist even after the transfers end (two and seven years after respectively, see here and here). Sustained effects, albeit mixed, are also found by Roy et al. (2017) who studied the 6 to 10-month post-intervention impacts of cash or food transfers delivered for two years (both with and without nutrition behaviour change communication), on intimate partner violence in Bangladesh. Whereas there is no impact for women receiving transfers only, physical violence was reduced in the behaviour change communication arms. Similarly, Baird et al. (2016) investigate the durability of impacts from two-year conditional and unconditional transfers targeted to adolescent girls and young women in Malawi, returning more than two years after the termination of the program. Most impacts dissipated over time in the unconditional cash transfer treatment arm, however the conditional arm had some long-lasting effects, including on educational attainment and total number of births—interestingly, only for girls who were out-of-school at baseline. Evidence on the post-intervention effects of a one-year scholarship combined with a conditional cash transfer on schooling and child labour outcomes in Nepal is less positive, indicating no permanent impacts 17 months after the final disbursements. Therefore, although we have some evidence from post-intervention studies, it is mixed and with few examples across geographic regions, program types and outcome domains. There are several key factors in understanding if effects persist beyond the intervention. Cash transfers should either: 1) permanently improve beneficiary households’ financial position (by allowing the household to access credit, save money or accumulate wealth), 2) lead to productive and human investments or 3) catalyse significant behavioural change in other relevant domains. These factors facilitate returns to be maintained or even increase over the long-term. So, what happens when the money runs out? This is an extremely important question for the development community, relevant not only given the rise of cash transfers worldwide, but also because of related policy implications. Answering this question allows us to understand whether the effects of cash transfers are only short-lived or sustained after the transfers end. It also contributes to the contentious debates around graduation, by helping to shed light on whether benefits from cash transfers are only good for coping with chronic vulnerability or consumption smoothing, or whether they can bring transformative effects and help beneficiaries lift out of poverty. Once the latest round of evaluation in Zambia is completed it will be the longest ever panel of post-intervention impacts in the African region, and the only one to our knowledge examining the longevity of a Government operated cash transfer. At UNICEF Innocenti we are thrilled to have the opportunity to examine this important issue and are looking forward to analyzing the incoming data. Stay tuned for results!   Luisa Natali is a Social and Economic Policy Consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, where she works on social protection, mainly on the evaluation of cash transfer programmes in Sub-Sahara Africa. Explore the UNICEF Innocenti research catalogue for new publications. Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter and sign up for e-newsletters on any page of the UNICEF Innocenti website. For more information on cash transfers visit the Transfer Project. Check out this infographic on ‘Cash transfers myths vs reality’ for quick facts. Follow Luisa on Twitter at @luisanatali and The Transfer Project at @TransferProjct. The Principal Investigators of the long-term follow-up are Sudhanshu Handa of UNC and Gelson Tembo of Palm Associates with funding from UNICEF Zambia, 3IE and Sida via research grant to the UNICEF Office of Research—Innocenti. Thanks to Amber Peterman for her contribution to this blog.  

Journal articles

Opening the black box: Cash transfers and post-intervention research
Journal Article

Cash Transfers, Early Marriage, and Fertility in Malawi and Zambia

Opening the black box: Cash transfers and post-intervention research
Journal Article

More evidence on the relationship between cash transfers and child height

Opening the black box: Cash transfers and post-intervention research
Journal Article

Income transfers, early marriage and fertility in Malawi and Zambia

Opening the black box: Cash transfers and post-intervention research
Journal Article

Does money buy happiness? Evidence from an unconditional cash transfer in Zambia