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CEGA Initiative - Targeting Aid Better

Targeting Aid Better


As COVID-19 spreads in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), economic disruptions have left hundreds of millions without work or income. To offset the pandemic’s most devastating effects, governments around the world are quickly rolling out new measures for humanitarian aid and social protection. However, many LMICs lack reliable information regarding economic conditions on-the-ground, especially for the large number of individuals working in the informal sector. In this context, governments are asking, How do we get emergency assistance to those who need it most?

Groundbreaking research by CEGA faculty has shown how high-frequency data from mobile phone operators and satellite networks, combined with machine learning approaches, can be used to fill this information gap and rapidly identify the households most in need of support. Ongoing projects explore how alternative sources of administrative data can be used to supplement standard government registries. These and other innovative targeting methods carry enormous potential to help policymakers quickly and effectively target assistance to people in direst need.



CEGA’s Targeting Aid Better (“Targeting”) Initiative – launched in 2020 with support from an anonymous donor – facilitates the use of innovative approaches to improve the targeting of social protection programs in LMICs. We are prioritizing work with government and NGO partners that facilitates rapidly delivering financial resources to the most vulnerable households and small businesses in the wake of COVID-19.

You can sign up for our Targeting newsletter to learn about future funding opportunities, latest targeting research, and keep up with featured projects.



1. Support ongoing research activities. CEGA is supporting ongoing efforts to deploy frontier AI technology to help our government partners in Togo to target COVID-19 aid precisely, rapidly, cheaply, and at scale to vulnerable households, with important lessons for other countries and contexts. We are working closely with colleagues at IPA, J-PAL, and Y-Rise on these projects.

Read in-depth executive summary (1) or a non-technical overview (2) of the work in Togo.

  1. Using Mobile Phone and Satellite Data to Target Emergency Cash Transfers
  2. Using AI to Target Emergency COVID-19 Assistance in Togo

2. Competitively award funding to new projects. We have competitively awarded grants of $50-100k to research teams that are improving targeting approaches in LMICs. See the below “Targeting Initiative Research” section for details on each of the funded projects.

3. Coordinate knowledge-sharing and collaboration across an international community of practice. The Targeting initiative facilitates the efficient exchange of practical knowledge, evidence, and collaboration opportunities to researchers, policymakers, frontline providers, and donors invested in the effective targeting of humanitarian assistance at scale.

See our Featured Projects List for a running list of prospective and active projects related to targeting aid.

As the initiative evolves, we will share resources and information with our network through an online hub, regular webinars, and strategic matchmaking activities.

Scientific Directors

Targeting Initiative Research

Data Science for Development

Combining satellite imagery and machine learning to target social protection in Pakistan

Sean Fox | Pakistan
Data Science for Development

A new index of poverty to target government cash transfers in Ghana

Ethan Ligon | Ghana
Data Science for Development

Quantifying the benefits of better targeting employment programs for Syrian refugees

Simon Quinn | Jordan
Data Science for Development

Using AI and digital data to target cash transfers in Togo

Joshua Blumenstock | Togo
View More Targeting Initiative Research

Targeting Initiative Resources

Data Science for DevelopmentTechnology

Video: RECOVR Webinar | Cash Transfers for COVID-19 Relief

Presentations   |   Technology
Data Science for Development

Ugo Gentilini's weekly social protection links

Courses & Toolkits
Data Science for DevelopmentTechnology

(Machine) Learning What Governments Value

Working Paper   |   Technology
Data Science for DevelopmentFinancial InclusionTechnology

Video: Josh Blumenstock | Targeting Anti-Poverty Programs Using Mobile Phone Data

Presentations   |   Financial Inclusion
Data Science for DevelopmentTechnology

Video: Josh Blumenstock | Fighting Poverty with Data

Presentations   |   Technology
Data Science for DevelopmentTechnology

Video: Josh Blumenstock | COVID in the Global South 2020

Presentations   |   Technology
View More Targeting Initiative Resources


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