Kenyan bank notes and coins of different denominations juxtaposed with a TED stage
Kenyan bank notes and coins of different denominations juxtaposed with a TED stage

Kenyans are among 200 recipients of $10,000 (Ksh1.09 million) each to spend however they want as part of a social experiment facilitated by TED, the organization best known for its talks on different topics.

Participants selected for the experiment hail from 7 countries – the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Kenya and Brazil. When Head of TED Chris Anderson made a call for applicants for a ‘one-of-a-kind’ social experiment on December 7, 2020, details of the project were still a closely guarded secret.

“I can’t reveal in advance what it will require of you. But it will involve an initial dramatic revelation, hours of careful thought, some major real-world decisions, and a willingness to respond to follow-up questions for several months,” he wrote at the time.

Such was the lack of local interest in the project that Anderson later put out a second call for applicants from Kenya.

On February 2, the ground-breaking nature of the project became apparent as participants around the world began receiving emails welcoming them to the so-called Mystery Experiment. The experiment will see 200 individuals given Ksh1.09 million each to spend however they want – including on personal needs or dreams, or by paying some or all of it forward to others.

TED Curator Chris Andersen delivering a past talk

Notably, the participants will only be required to report back to TED on how and when they spend the money over the next three months. 

They were requested for Paypal account details for the funds to be wired to them.

The participants were split into groups, with one group encouraged to share on social media their experiences and discussions on how to spend the money. Business Today independently verified that Kenyans including a developer and a photographer were among those selected.

A quick glance at many of the international recipients documenting their experiences revealed widespread shock over the project.

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Many of them noted that they had ignored the all-important email for days, while others admitted to assuming it was just another marketing message before opening it. Some participants had even dismissed the email as a scam before verifying Andersen’s credentials.

Participants were required to be at least 21 years of age and fluent in English.

A significant number of them revealed that they were yet to make up their minds on how they would spend the unexpected cash.

“I received an email from TED’s #mysteryexperiment today and am very much still processing it… It’s a lot of all-the-things. I need a day or so to think,” wrote Australia-based marketer Brent Hodgson.

“My email was in the inbox since 2 Feb, and I only just read it this morning. I’m definitely still processing it,” wrote Indonesian business woman Veny on Friday, February 5.

The experiment is funded by an anonymous donor couple in the TED community, and is being undertaken in collaboration with leading university researchers.

According to Andersen, the project is expected to shed insights into human nature. Results are to be published after at least six months.

“There’s never been an experiment quite like this at this scale, and we’re excited that TED has been given the chance to oversee it,” TED noted.

The project is sure to fuel global conversations on personal finance and ideas such as Universal Basic Income (UBI), which has gained greater prominence in recent years. UBI proposals have been championed around the world by leaders including former US Presidential aspirant Andrew Yang, who is in the running to become the next mayor of New York.

What would you do if you received Ksh1 million to spend however you want?

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