Pilot Project

From January 2008 to December 2009 the BIG Coalition implemented the world-wide first Basic Income Grant pilot project in Otjivero - Omitara, Namibia. After the conclusion of the Pilot Project a monthly bridging-allowance (N$ 80) to all who participated in the pilot was paid regularly until March 2012.

History and Background of the Pilot Project

At the end of 2006, the understanding in the BIG Coalition grew that the BIG campaign needs to be taken a step further by starting a pilot project of the BIG in Namibia. The background is that a pilot project might be able to concretely show that a BIG can work and will indeed have the predicted positive effects on poverty alleviation and economic development. Spearheaded by Bishop Kameeta this idea has been inspired by the concrete (or from a theological perspective "prophetic") examples, like e.g. English medium schools or township clinics during the apartheid era. In fact, also more recently, this has happened with a project run by the Treatment Action Campaign and 'Doctors without borders' and the provincial government in Cape Town. They started a treatment project in a township in Cape Town at a time when it was said that a rollout of Antiretroviral (ARV) therapy is good but certainly not practical in a developing country. The pilot project was successful and has subsequently changed the opinion on ARV rollouts in developing countries.
The BIG Coalition argues that while it is the ultimate goal to lobby Government to take up its responsibility to implement such a grant, the Coalition should lead by example. The BIG Coalition fundraised in order to pay a Basic Income Grant in one community. Thereby it set an example of redistributive justice through concrete action to help the poor, and to document what income security means in terms of poverty reduction and economic development.
The BIG Coalition hence at the end of 2006 to implement a BIG pilot project. The BIG pilot project started in January 2008 and was the first of its kind, to concretely pilot an unconditionally universal income security project in a developing country.
The BIG Coalition implemented a BIG in one Namibian community, namely Otjivero - Omitara settlement (about 1,000 people, some 100 km to the east of Windhoek) for a limited period of time (2 years, from January 2008--to December 2009) to practically prove that income security indeed works and that it has the desired effects. The BIG Pilot Project abided to the following principles in line with the BIG proposal it is advocating for:
Individuals and congregations have contributed to the fund, and support on international level has been received (Bread for the World, Lutheran World Federation, United Evangelical Mission, Evangelische Kirche im Rheinland, Evangelische Kirche von Westfalen, Friedrich Ebert Foundation etc.). The fundraising built on the Coalition's various networks and stakeholders.

The Pilot Project--an executive summary

In January 2008, the Basic Income Grant (BIG) pilot project commenced in the Otjivero-Omitara area, about 100 kilometres east of Windhoek. All residents below the age of 60 years receive a Basic Income Grant of N$100 per person per month, without any conditions being attached. The grant is being given to every person registered as living there in July 2007, whatever their social and economic status.

The Research:

The effects and the impact of the BIG pilot project were evaluated on an on-going basis. The research was carried out by Rev. Dr. Claudia and Rev. Dr. Dirk Haarmann from the Desk for Social Development of the ELCRN and Mr. Herbert Jauch and Ms. Hilma Shindondola-Mote from the Labour Resource and Research Institute with the help of committed and trained part-time researchers. A high profile external advisory group of internationally renowned experts accompanied the entire research. The internationally experts' team came twice to Namibia to evaluate the research methodology, to check the data and the calculations as well as to interview the participants of the pilot in Otjivero, thereby ensuring a high academic and scientific standard of the findings. The advisory group consisted of:
The research used four complementary methods: First, a baseline survey was conducted in November 2007. Second, panel surveys were conducted in July and November 2008. Third, information was gathered from key informants in the area. Fourth, a series of detailed case studies of individuals living in Otjivero was carried out.

The findings:

The key findings after the implementation of the BIG for a period of 12 months. include the following:

The way ahead after the Pilot Project

The BIG Coalition has noted with disappointment that despite the impressive results of the BIG pilot project in Otjivero-Omitara, the Namibian Government has not yet committed itself to the introduction of the country-wide BIG. The results of the pilot project have proven the effectiveness of a BIG to fight poverty, foster social development and kick-start local economic development. The impact of the BIG was nothing short of spectacular: poverty levels and child malnutrition declined dramatically while school attendance and utilization of the local clinic improved. Likewise, economic activities increased significantly while crime levels dropped.
Based on the findings in Omitara the Coalition is convinced that a national BIG will benefit Namibians in all regions of the country. It is both beneficial and affordable and its implementation is thus a question of political will. As a direct means to alleviate the plight of the poor and to enable them to work themselves out of poverty, a national BIG is needed more than ever! The delay in the national implementation is hurting the poor in general and the residents of Otjivero-Omitara in particular.
The participants of the pilot project have inspired not only the BIG Coalition, but the numerous visitors from all walks of life, the politicians, journalists and TV reporters who came to the village and witnessed the changes and the renewed hope. Furthermore, the pilot project has gained worldwide publicity and is part of the global discussion on new approaches in development. In fact, Namibia has been put on the world map because of the people of Otjivero-Omitara. They have shown the world what can be done with very little money, but which is based on a human rights approach, a philosophy of equality and a theology of dignity. It is the sincere hope of the Coalition that this experience and the positive example will encourage others to demand what is rightfully theirs, namely “A BIG for all”!

© 2020, Claudia & Dirk Haarmann - BIG Coalition