Future of Aid: Where’s the Impact? | 

This originally appeared in the Brookings Institute blog.

Where's the impact?
Where’s the impact?

A results-oriented aid agenda for Africa has picked up steam in the past few years. Last year closed with excitement about cash transfers. Researchers in Western Kenya found that just giving people money was an effective form of assistance. As the MIT report notes, GiveDirectly recipients increased household asset holdings by 58 percent compared to the mean control group, and did not increase spending on tobacco or alcohol. Thus, the once cast-aside form of aid is making a comeback on the strength of evidence and research. GiveDirectly is only the tipping point for a new way of thinking about aid in Africa and elsewhere.

An era of evidence-based aid is here. GiveDirectly is a new standard because it has proof that evidence-based aid works and what it can actually accomplish. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have often talked about the potential of a given intervention and tell the stories of the people who benefited. Now they will have to talk about evidence. Donors want to know whether a project works and what is actually achieved. The charity evaluator, GiveWell, gives charity recommendations based on cost-effectiveness and whether there is proof that what is being done has an impact. It has analyzed 136 charities and has recommended only four: GiveDirectly, Deworm the World, the Against Malaria Foundation and theSchistosomiasis Control Initiative.

GiveWell is not alone. AidGrade is employing meta-analyses of existing research to learn what different programs actually accomplish.  Users can see how effective interventions are at achieving a given target (i.e., increasing school attendance, eliminating stunting, or creating business profit) and donate to an organization that is effective at creating such impacts. GiveWell’s recommended charities are listed there, as well as the microfinance organization Kiva and the clean energy organization the Global Village Energy Partnership. Continue reading

Donors wants to know which charities make the grade | 

It’s the giving time of the year. When a combination of the emerging winter and holiday season converge into a moment of fleeting caring in the US. It also happens to be the end of the tax year.

Charities make a significant amount of money during this time. An estimated 18% of all money raised during the year happens in December, that is more than double nearly every other month.

American University student Scott Weathers wants to know that his donations have the greatest impact possible.

The second year student (he shuns the label Sophomore since he plans to graduate in three years) began his philanthropic journey in high school.

His teacher would email leading humanitarians in order to engage his students. One such outreach to Howard G Buffett, son to Warren Buffett and agriculture philanthropist, led to an invite for Weathers and sixteen fellow students to fly out and discuss poverty with Buffett in person.

The experience of charitable giving inspired him to raise money for groups like Partners in Health. It also led to some questions about why he was supporting certain organizations. He wondered whether he was making an informed decision about his giving.

“I want people in high school to give the charity and do it to places that work,” he said. Continue reading

Easterly-GiveWell Debate Is Good for Aid | 

An interesting conversation took place in mid-July between Bill Easterly of NYU; Holden Karnofsky and Stephanie Wykstra of GiveWell; and an unnamed funder. Easterly and Karnofsky penned a pair of blog posts that shared some of the highlights of the conversation. It is interesting in terms of how the two sides perceived the conversation in light of their disagreement on whether or not to make recommendations based on academic research.

Easterly, who has emerged as one of the critics of the much lauded randomized control trial (RCT) explains his point of view at the start of the conversation.

As Angus Deaton has repeatedly emphasized, RCTs give an average result. Treatment effects vary a lot depending on the context. When we average over a lot of them it’s almost certain that we’re getting some negative treatment effects, even when the average is a positive and significant result. You want a safeguard against having one enormous beneficiary with everyone else losing. You want a safeguard against harming a lot of people unacceptably. Continue reading