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

Splash founder explains why he wants to kill off his charity | 

Eric Stowe wants to kill off his charity. The founder of Splash, a Seattle-based organization that brings clean water to communities, defines the success of his work as reaching a point where everyone has access to clean water.

His TEDxSeattle talk this June explains how Splash is working to spread clean water in countries like Nepal, China and India.

Stowe says that Splash will soon provide clean water in every orphanage in China. The organization’s community based approach means that they will collaborate with local schools and community leaders to ensure that clean water coverage extends to every person. A map illustrates the way he hopes clean water spreads across China in a way that looks almost like the outbreak of an infectious disease.

Quoting Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Stowe says that aid work is rooted in justice. That means working with communities to find solutions that not only work, but can bring an end to Splash.

“Cause keeping myself in a job and keeping whole communities dependent on us for their own solutions are dying models of self importance. They are at their core unjust. Because our work is not about us,” he says in his concluding remarks.

Indian slum activists are Revolutionary Optimists at Melinda Gates TED talk | 

ted_talksToday, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was another one of those TED franchise talks.

For this latest spin-off of the popular by-invitation-only main TED talks, this one known as a TEDxChange, Melinda Gates hosted a talk given in Seattle and webcast online on positive disruption – on challenging time-worn assumptions, prompting creative solutions to entrenched problems and inspiring even the most disenfranchised to recognize their personal power.

Speakers included a clever young poet from Nigeria, a theologian who claimed it was progress for the Catholic Church to officially consider the possibility that condoms are not immoral, a social media expert who claimed social media is changing the world, journalist Roger Thurow (an expert on hunger and agriculture in Africa) and an inspiring young woman Melinda met on a trip to Niger.

Like most TED talks, it was fun with a lot of broad and encouraging statements without too many complicating details. The webcast itself was ‘negatively disrupted’ (lots of jokes on Twitter about this) when the TED live stream dropped just as Melinda was making her opening statements. It was restored minutes later.

Of all the featured speakers, there may be no better examples of positive disruptors than 14-year-old Sikha Patra and 15-year-old Salim Shekh, along with their revolutionary Bengali community activist and mentor Amlan Ganguly. Salim and Sikha spoke with Melinda at the event. I talked with them earlier. Continue reading

Bono says Yes We Can end extreme poverty while UN reports Why We Might Not | 

Flickr, Phil Romans

Bono loves data and said so in his February TED talk, which was recently released in video. He says the promise of ending extreme poverty turns him on.

“If the trajectory continues we get to the ‘zero zone.’ For number crunchers like us, that is the erogenous zone,” says Bono. “And it’s fair to say, by now, that I am sexually aroused by the collating of data.”

Extreme poverty has been halved from 43% of the world in 1990 to 21% by 2000. The current trends show that extreme poverty could end by 2030, say the World Bank, ONE and CGD.

However, the most recent data (aka UNDP’s Human Development Report (HDR) 2013) suggests that ending extreme poverty will get harder if we don’t take more action:

“Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress. The number of people in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless environmental disasters are averted by co-ordinated global action,” says the report. Continue reading

Radical Charity: Dan Pallotta at TED | 

One reason I’ve never been asked to talk at a TED conference may be due to the fact that I regularly make fun of the talkfest as a gathering of the self-important furthering the mind-melting trend of sound-bite philosophy. Or maybe it’s because I have little to offer, even as a sound bite.

That said, I would like to say this TED video of activist, humanitarian and writer Dan Pallotta is Totally Awesome.

Pallotta starts out by castigating the popular notion that we should abandon typical charitable or humanitarian efforts in favor of more socially attuned business enterprises. The reality, he says,  is the marketplace will always neglect the poorest of the poor. Trying to fool ourselves into believing that a more perfect market strategy will make charity unnecessary is wrong.

Trying to force charites to take on the typical business mindset is equally wrong-headed and will only serve to further undermine humanitarian endeavors, Pallotta says.

“You can’t monetize love and compassion.” But, as he explains, we can still do it better.

Did media ignore Melinda Gates’ TED talk on family planning? | 

Chris Kleponis, AFP/Getty Images

Melinda Gates

The data is clear: Improved family planning worldwide could have almost incomprehensible benefits on many fronts:

That last point — about how saving kids’ lives also reduces population growth and increases family incomes — may seem counter-intuitive to some, especially all you Malthusians, but it makes sense of you think about it.

Most poor families have kids to help out on the farm and have, say, ten because five will die. If kids stop dying, families have fewer kids. It’s a documented phenomenon worldwide.

So holy cow! What a three- or four-for-one deal this family planning could be for us!

That was the message Melinda Gates was putting out to the world last week, in a TEDxChange talk as well as through several posts on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s blog Impatient Optimists.

Yet it appears hardly anybody in the media paid much attention.

AllAfrica.com ran an op-ed from Melinda and my former Seattle PI colleague Joel Connelly wrote about it as well — from the perspective of a devout Catholic (like Melinda) who thinks his church is missing the boat when it comes to contraception and family planning.

The aid and development blogosphere also covered Gates’ talk, such as at UN Dispatch — which noted how poorly the international community is doing on this front — and the PSI blog Healthy Lives. I watched the TED talk but didn’t write about it. Mea culpa. But I have written about Melinda’s message on this front many times before.

I’m curious to know if, as it appears by doing a Google news search, the mainstream media almost totally ignored the talk. And why?

Join Melinda on TEDxChange re the MDGs | 


The what?

Melinda Gates took questions today from journalists about her upcoming TEDxChange presentation next week aimed at increasing awareness of and support for the Millennium Development Goals.

“We’re inspired by the progress in global health and development since the MDGs were ratified 10 years ago,” Gates said. “Child mortality has dropped … polio is almost eradicated … MDG 1 is on track to cut poverty in half ….”

If you don’t know what the Millennium Development Goals are, you’re not alone. Most Americans are clearly unaware of these goals that were set in 2000 by the UN aimed at reducing poverty and improving health. We have until 2015 to achieve them, some of which are possible — and some which likely are not. Continue reading