Greater good guides generosity

Can the government communicate more effectively with people to encourage them to contribute more to initiatives such as the Solidarity Fund? By better understanding the factors that will nudge citizens into action, it can.

A sustainable post-COVID recovery for South Africa will be easier if citizens are willing to work together and share resources. This is particularly important given the high level of inequality in the country.

Dr Nicky Nicholls, Dr Carolyn Chisadza and Dr Eleni Yitbarek of the Department of Economics at the University of Pretoria are undertaking a three-year study to understand the factors that increase people’s willingness to contribute to public goods such as the Solidarity Fund. They are using incentivised behavioural economics games to see how varying the size of the beneficiary group influences people’s willingness to contribute to a public good. They also vary the effectiveness of contributions in the games to determine whether people are more willing to contribute if they believe that their donation will have a greater impact.

Initial results are positive: across the different scenarios, respondents were willing to contribute more than half of an amount of money given to them in the experiment to a fund that they assume will benefit others.

The 900 respondents were given four questions about their willingness to contribute to different scenarios, each with different incentives. The amounts varied between R300 and R600 per respondent. Two of the questions were based on a public goods game set-up: placed in teams of four, any money that they were willing to donate was pooled into a group investment that doubled the group’s return. This pooled money was then divided equally among the four participants. The other two questions involved the option to donate some of their money to the Solidarity Fund, where donations to the fund were either doubled or quadrupled.

The result suggests that people were willing to forgo their own benefit for a common cause. Moreover, people had high expectations: on average, the respondents assumed that others would contribute about half of their money to a shared resource.

With these encouraging preliminary results, the team will now be investigating the data further to identify ways to increase willingness to contribute to common resources or public goods. Such findings would facilitate informed policymaking, where the government might leverage the generosity of many citizens to reduce inequality and work towards a more sustainable future for all.

Watch the webseries episode in the sidebar to learn more.

Dr Nicky Nicholls, Dr Carolyn Chisadza and Dr Eleni Yitbarek

April 14, 2022

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  • Dr Nicky Nicholls
    Dr Nicky Nicholls has been a senior lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Pretoria (UP) since 2017. She studied Psychology (MA) at Stellenbosch University, and Economics at the University of the Witwatersrand (MCom) and UP (PhD).
    Dr Nicholls enjoys collaborating with and learning from colleagues in the Department of Economics. “The department gives me the freedom to focus on investigating research questions that are both interesting and important,” she says.

    She uses surveys and economic experiments to better understand how people make decisions in different contexts. Her research has considered, among other topics, race and gender bias; trust in social media; belief updating; and factors influencing the willingness to give.

    In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Nicholls has been involved in various research projects that investigated predictors of people’s willingness to adopt behaviours that reduce the spread of COVID-19, students’ adjustment to online learning and people’s willingness to contribute to public funds.

    Her advice to school learners or undergraduates who are interested in her field is to read as much as they can. “The more you understand what other people are contributing to this field, the more you will be able to see where you can make a difference.”
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  • Dr Carolyn Chisadza
    Dr Carolyn Chisadza completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Zimbabwe and obtained her PhD in Economics from the University of Pretoria (UP). She has been lecturing in UP’s Department of Economics since 2017.

    Dr Chisadza says that UP is an excellent research-focused institution and that her department provides her with the resources, environment and latitude to conduct research in her field of expertise.

    Her field of research contributes to the betterment of the world because understanding the dynamics of institutions within economies – such as political (democracies), social (gender, ethnic, racial) or historical (slave trade, colonialism) institutions – may provide valuable insights that can inform policies and contribute to economic development
    Within her academic discipline, Dr Chisadza is involved in the following research studies, to name a few: openness and quality of life in South Africa; ruggedness and child health outcomes in Africa; social connectedness and well-being; social capital and protests in the US; and access to technology and women empowerment.

    A recent highlight for Dr Chisadza was having research that she had conducted with two colleagues included in a meta-analysis that made waves on social media in Europe and the US. The study focused on government effectiveness during COVID-19 lockdowns and reduced mortality. “We received several calls and emails from various media houses abroad!” she says.

    Dr Chisadza hopes her research will make a difference to the well-being of society.
    Her advice to school learners or undergraduates who are interested in her field is to consider pursuing a postgraduate degree and to read as much as possible about their field of interest.

    In her free time, she loves walking in nature, travelling and baking.
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  • Dr Eleni Yitbarek
    Dr Eleni Yitbarek is a senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria and a junior fellow at the Pan-African Scientific Research Council. She obtained her PhD in Development Economics from Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

    Dr Yitbarek has a strong background in quantitative analysis, with extensive experience in designing and analysing household survey data for poverty and inequality analyses.
    Her interest is primarily in economic development, especially the role that social and economic policies play in it. Dr Yitbarek is particularly interested in answering these central questions, among others: why do some people remain poor while others become prosperous; and what drives social mobility in developing countries?

    She collaborates widely with international development organisations such as the World Bank, the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), European Investment Bank, Global Development Network, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the African Climate Policy Centre.

    In her relatively young academic career, Dr Yitbarek is contributing to applied research in poverty dynamics, the socioeconomic effects of idiosyncratic and transient shocks, and gender-based social mobility in the African context.

    She has published papers in international peer-reviewed journals such as Economics Letters, Contemporary Economic Policy, Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, Journal of Development Effectiveness and African Development Review.

    Dr Yitbarek hopes her research will make a significant and concrete contribution towards informed policymaking that aims to improve the lives of the poor.
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