Bangladesh’s primary education stipend has traditionally been disbursed in the form of cash distributed from a designated school in the vicinity of the beneficiary’s residence. From June 2017, the government of Bangladesh decided to transfer the stipends for nearly 13 million children currently enrolled in the program directly to the mobile banking accounts of their nearly 10 million mothers. This is a significant change driven by the policy objective of increasing the efficiency of program implementation through digitization of government payments, leveraging the spread of MFS in Bangladesh over the past decade.

How has this move from cash to digital affected beneficiaries? How do they perceive the new system vis-à-vis the previous one? What challenges do they face in accessing the stipends? Do mothers have more control over the funds than before? Are they able to navigate the new digital environment, especially those who do not own mobile phones and have limited digital literacy?

To answer these questions, we conducted a field survey using both a quantitative questionnaire and qualitative assessments, with separate modules for school headmasters and mothers with children enrolled in the program. The objective of the survey was to understand the perception and experience of the disbursement of PESP through mobile financial services. A similar survey carried out by CGD in Rajasthan, India provided interesting insights on broader social goals of financial inclusion, digital literacy, and gender empowerment. This model was adapted for use in Bangladesh.

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