Results for “givewell”
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GiveWell

GiveWell, by far the best charity evaluator working today, has a new top ranked charity, the Against Malaria Foundation. Why is VillageReach, their best ranked charity for several years, no longer at the top? First, GiveWell is ranking more charities and charities are now more willing to provide GiveWell the kind of detailed information on outcomes that GiveWell demands. Thus, more charities are vying for the top spot. Even more important is this:

VillageReach was our top-rated organization for 2009, 2010 and much of 2011 and it has now received over $2 million due to GiveWell’s recommendation. We do not believe that VillageReach has short-term funding needs…

When was the last time that a charity or evaluator told you that due to successful fund-raising there are now more urgent needs elsewhere? Impressive. As I have for several years, I will be following GiveWell’s advice and donating to the Against Malaria Foundation and several of GiveWell’s other top charities.

Givewell on Giving to Japan

I agree with this advice from Givewell the most analytically tough of the charity ratings agencies.

* Those affected have requested very little, limited aid. Aid being offered far exceeds aid being requested.
* Charities are aggressively soliciting donations, often in ways we feel are misleading.
* Any donation you make will probably be used (a) by the charity you give it to, for activities in a different country; (b) for non-disaster-relief-and-recovery efforts in Japan.
* If you’re looking to pursue (a) and help people in need all over the world, we recommend giving to the best charity you can, rather than basing your giving on who is appealing to you most aggressively with images and language regarding Japan.
* If you prefer (b), a gift to the Japanese Red Cross seems reasonable.

Overall, though, a gift to Doctors Without Borders seems to us like the best way to effectively “respond to this disaster”. We feel they are a leader in transparency, honesty and integrity in relief organizations, and the fact that they’re not soliciting funds for Japan is a testament to this. Rewarding Doctors Without Borders is a move toward improving incentives and improving disaster relief in general.

Donate to Doctors Without Borders.

Advice on Choosing a Career

One branch of the effective altruism movement emphasizes the rigorous evaluation of charities. A second branch is focused on a different but related aspect, career choice. Choosing a career to benefit others actually strikes me as a bit of a downer–get out the sackcloth and ashes, repent, renounce your sins and all that.

The 80,000 hours research charity, co-founded by William MacAskill, can be a bit preachy but they have assembled and reviewed a large amount of research on careers–not just on what makes a career useful but also what makes it enjoyable. Young people spend surprisingly little time thinking about a career. There’s a lot more advice about choosing and getting into a college than there is serious advice about choosing a major let alone figuring out a practical plan towards a career.

The 80,000 hours career guide, offers quite a bit of practical, scientifically-based advice and it’s not the usual join the Peace Corp kind of thing.

Here’s two lovely hard-headed graphs that skewer common wisdom and give a taste of their approach:

Follow-your-passion-1024x749

Passion-vs-jobs

If you know a young person nearing college, the career guide is well worth a few hours of their time.

Doing Good Better

William MacAskill is that rare beast, a hard-headed, soft-hearted proponent of saving the world. His excellent new book, Doing Good Better, is a primer on the effective altruism movement.

Doing Good Better opens, just as you would expect, with an uplifting story of a wonderful person with a brilliant idea to save the world. The PlayPump uses a merry-go-round to pump water. Fun transformed into labor and life saving clean water! The energetic driver of the idea quits his job and invests his life in the project. Africa! Children on merry-go-rounds! Innovation! What could be better? It’s the perfect charitable meme and the idea attracts millions of dollars of funding from celebrities like Steve Case, Jay-Z, Laura Bush and Bill Clinton.

Then MacAskill subverts the narrative and drops the bomb:

…despite the hype and the awards and the millions of dollars spent, no one had really considered the practicalities of the PlayPump. Most playground merry-go-rounds spin freely once they’ve gained sufficient momentum–that’s what makes them fun. But in order to pump water, PlayPumps need constant force, and children playing on them would quickly get exhausted.

The women whose labor was supposed to be saved end up pushing the merry-go-round themselves, which they find demeaning and more exhausting than using a hand-pump. Moreover, the device is complicated and requires extensive maintenance that cannot be done in the village. The PlayPump is a disaster.

MacAskill, however, isn’t interested in castigating donors for their first-world hubris. MacAskill, a frugal Scottish philosopher, doesn’t like waste. Money, time and genuine goodwill are wasted in poorly-conceived charitable efforts and when lives are at stake that kind of waste is offensive. MacAskill, however, is convinced that a hard-headed approach–randomized trials, open-data, careful investigation of effectiveness–can do better. As MacAskill puts it:

When it comes to helping others, being unreflective often means being ineffective.

Of course, there are systematic problems with charitable giving. Most importantly, the feedback mechanism is never going to work as well when people are buying something to be consumed by others (as Milton Friedman explains). That problem, however, doesn’t explain why people do invest large amounts of money and their own time on wasteful projects. A large part of the problem is cultural. MacAskill asks us to consider the following thought experiment:

Imagine, for example, that you’re walking down a commercial street in your hometown. An attractive and frightening enthusiastic young woman nearly assaults you in order to get you stop and speak with her. She clasps a tablet and wears a T-shirt displaying the words, Dazzling Cosmetics…she explains that she’s representing a beauty products company that is looking for investment. She tells you about how big the market for beauty products is, and how great the products they sell are, and how because the company spends more than 90 percent of its money on making the products and less than 10 percent on staff, distribution, and marketing, the company is extremely efficient and therefore able to generate an impressive return on investment. Would you invest?

MacAskill says “Of course, you wouldn’t…you would consult experts…which is why the imaginary situation, I described here never occurs” Actually it’s even worse than that because what he describes does occur. It’s what the boiler rooms do to sell stocks (ala the Wolf of Wall Street). Thus, charities raise money using precisely the techniques that in other contexts are widely regarded as deceitful, disreputable and preying on the weak. Once you have seen how peculiar our charitable institutions are, it’s difficult to unsee.

Fortunately, effective altruism doesn’t require Mother Theresa-like levels of altruism or Spock-like level of hard-headedness. What is needed is a cultural change so that people become proud of how they give and not just how much they give. Imagine, for example, that it becomes routine to ask “How does Givewell rate your charity?” Or, “GiveDirectly gives poor people cash–can you demonstrate that your charity is more effective than cash?” The goal is not the questioning. The goal is to give people the warm glow when they can answer.

Nerd Altruism is Becoming Cool!

GiveDirectly, the non-profit started by economists that gives money directly to the poor in the developing world, has grown tremendously in recent years and Bill Gross, the billionaire bond investor and now major philanthropist, just announced that he is interested in the model:

More recently, Gross said he’s taken an interest in GiveDirectly, an organization that makes targeted donations via mobile payments to the extremely poor in Africa.

“Most Africans have cell phones, which is hard to believe,” Gross said in the interview. “So if you can do that and contribute $25 or $50 to someone in Uganda that of course you haven’t met, that’s almost as good as outperforming the market.”

It’s exciting to see randomized trials, measurement and data science applied to philanthropy. Groups like GiveDirectly, GiveWell and The Center for Effective Altruism are creating a new culture of giving, they are making Nerd Altruism cool. We have a long way to go but it says something when billionaires are mocked for giving millions to Yale. In contrast, entrepreneurs like Dustin Moskovitz, Elon Musk and Bill Gates are making it cool to evaluate charities with the same rigor that business people use to evaluate business investments.

Here’s an interview with Paul Niehaus, one of the founders of GiveDirectly.

GiveDirectly

Consider GiveDirectly this holiday season for your charitable giving. As you may recall, GiveDirectly was started by four economists and it gives money directly to the very poor in Kenya and Uganda. GiveDirectly is a top-rated charity by GiveWell. The founders are committed to providing independent, randomized controlled trials of its process. One RCT has already been conducted with positive results and 3 others are under way. GiveDirectly publicizes the trials of its process before the results are produced. Impressive–the drug companies had to be forced to do this. Check out their website, they even provides real-time performance data. Here’s a bit more on their process.

GiveDirectly

Ebola markets in everything

Ebola plush toys have been selling so fast in response to this year’s outbreak that a Connecticut manufacturer, Giantmicrobes Inc., can’t keep them in stock.

The company, which was founded a decade ago, makes stuffed toys based on the appearance of microbes like Ebola, Chicken pox, bed bugs, and even non-harmful microscopic organisms things like brain and red blood cells.

The items are meant to be educational tools for young children, Laura Sullivan, vice president of operations, told CBS News.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank James Lynch.  Via Tim Harford, here is GiveWell on whether you should donate to Ebola response causes.  Here is how Nigeria and Senegal beat back Ebola, let’s hope we can do the same.  It is a good example of how developing economies can innovate based on cheap labor costs and lots of available labor resources.

The Case for Open Borders

Dylan Matthews summarizes the The Case for Open Borders drawing on an excellent interview with Bryan Caplan. Here is one bit from the interview:

Letting someone get a job is not a kind of charity. It’s not a welfare program. It’s just the government leaving people alone to go and make something out of their lives. When most people are on earth are dealt such a bad hand, to try to stop them from bettering their condition seems a very cruel thing to do to someone.

My elevator pitch has no economics in it, because the economics is actually too subtle to really explain in an elevator pitch. If I had a little bit more time, I would say, “What do you think the effects for men have been of more women in the workforce?”

Are there some men who are worse off? Sure. But would we really be a richer society if we kept half the population stuck at home? Isn’t it better to take people who have useful skills and let them do something with it, than to just keep them locked up someplace where their skills go to waste?

Isn’t that not just better for them, but better for people in general, if we allow people to use their skills to contribute to the world instead of keeping them shut up someplace where they just twiddle their thumbs or do subsistence agriculture or whatever?

On the economics, David Roodman has a characteristically careful and comprehensive review written for Givewell of the evidence on the effect of immigration on native wages. He writes, “the available evidence paints a fairly consistent and plausible picture”:

  • There is almost no evidence of anything close to one-to-one crowding out by new immigrant arrivals to the job market in industrial countries. Most studies find that 10% growth in the immigrant “stock” changes natives’ earnings by between –2% and +2% (@Longhi, Nijkamp, and Poot [email protected], Fig 1; @Peri [email protected], Pg 1). Although serious questions can be raised about the reliability of most studies, the scarcity of evidence for great pessimism stands as a fact (emphasis added, AT)….
  • One factor dampening the economic side effects of immigration is that immigrants are consumers as well as producers. They increase domestic demand for goods and services, perhaps even more quickly than they increase domestic production (@Hercowitz and Yashiv [email protected]), since they must consume as soon as they arrive. They expand the economic pie even as they compete for a slice. This is not to suggest that the market mechanism is perfect—adjustment to new arrivals is not instantaneous and may be incomplete—but the mechanism does operate.
  • A second dampener is that in industrial economies, the capital supply tends to expand along with the workforce. More workers leads to more offices and more factories. Were receiving economies not flexible in this way, they would not be rich. This mechanism too may not be complete or immediate, but it is substantial in the long run: since the industrial revolution, population has doubled many times in the US and other now-wealthy nations, and the capital stock has kept pace, so that today there is more capital per worker than 200 years ago.
  • A third dampener is that while workers who are similar compete, ones who are different complement. An expansion in the diligent manual labor available to the home renovation business can spur that industry to grow, which will increase its demand for other kinds of workers, from skilled general contractors who can manage complex projects for English-speaking clients to scientists who develop new materials for home building. Symmetrically, an influx of high-skill workers can increase demand for low-skill ones. More computer programmers means more tech businesses, which means more need for janitors and security guards. Again, the effect is certain, though its speed and size are not.
  • …one way to cushion the impact of low-skill migration on low-skill workers already present is to increase skilled immigration in tandem.

Plaudits are due to Givewell. While others are focused on giving cows, Givewell is going after the really big gains.

The story of GiveDirectly

Paul Niehaus, Michael Faye, Rohit Wanchoo, and Jeremy Shapiro came up with a radically simple plan shaped by their own academic research. They would give poor families in rural Kenya $1,000 over the course of 10 months, and let them do whatever they wanted with the money. They hoped the recipients would spend it on nutrition, health care, and education. But, theoretically, they could use it to purchase alcohol or drugs. The families would decide on their own.

…Three years later, the four economists expanded their private effort into GiveDirectly, a charity that accepts online donations from the public, as well. Ninety-two cents of every dollar donated to GiveDirectly is transferred to poor households through M-PESA, a cell phone banking service with 11,000 agents working in Kenya. GiveDirectly chooses recipients by targeting homes made of mud or thatch, as opposed to more durable materials, such as cement or iron. The typical family participating in the program lives on just 65 nominal cents-per-person-per-day. Four in ten have had a child go at least a full day without food in the last month.

Initial reports from the field are positive. According to Niehaus, GiveDirectly recipients are spending their payments mostly on food and home improvements that can vastly improve quality of life, such as installing a weatherproof tin roof. Some families have invested in profit-bearing businesses, such as chicken-rearing, agriculture, or the vending of clothes, shoes, or charcoal.

More information on GiveDirectly’s impact will be available next year, when an NIH-funded evaluation of the organization’s work is complete. Yet already, GiveDirectly is receiving rave reviews.

Here is a good deal more.  Here is one of my earlier posts on zero overhead giving.  Here is Alex’s earlier post.  Just last week I met up with one of the recipients of one of my 2007 donations and I am pleased to report he is doing extremely well as an actor and filmmaker.

Here is the site for GiveDirectly.  Here is one very positive review of the site, from GiveWell.

From the comments, on UID

This is concerning the forthcoming Indian attempt to register individuals through unique eye scans and implement more cash transfers:

The domestic debate in India has largely been around :

1) This is just a sop before elections, a kind of brazen legitimised bribery. 2) The welfare architecture will not simply be migrated, it will be expanded. 3) Is conditionality critical to success? There remains no clear method to establish conditionality. 4) Identification of deserving families remains the problem. Until that is solved, nothing changes. 5) This is basically a turf war between ministeries and the previous operational/financial failures of the UID program are being hidden through the hasty implementation being planned now. 6) Getting in-kind subsidised goods through regular intervals during a month is superior cash flow management for a poor family than a lump-sum cash transfer at the end of the month

All the criticisms could be partially true. But the operational costs of the welfare delivery infrastructure will surely go down. Food and fertilizer have not yet been shifted – too politically sensitive – but amazingly, fuel has been. The biggest no-distortion gain is likely to come from there – the consumption of kerosene will most likely take a massive beating. It reduced by about 90% in a pilot.

The other corollary benefit – of using an Aadhar card as a means of establishing identity and for KYC norms in banks – is also absolutely tremendous.

It is indeed a top 5 most important economic policy issue in the world. But India is generally a low-trust society and in particular this gov’t is distrusted in most policy circles. Hence the rabid skepticism all around. I tend to be a lot more optimistic than that.

The great public choice question is – will they ever manage to bring food under this? For one, the PDS system was showing signs of an organic improvement. Second, the popular imagination has always conceived of the ‘man of the house’ frittering away hard earned money on country liquor if the woman of the house is not given grains directly. Third, giving away PDS distributorships has been an effective method of giving favours to those who the dirty work for national politicans at local levels – it is perhaps the longest running and biggest scam in India.

If they actually conclude that the greater ease for a poor family will convert into more votes than the losses they might take on the previous three fronts, it would be absolutely amazing. My sense is, like most great policy decisions, this will go through simply because it’s an idea whose ‘time has come’, and we will invent post-facto justifications of how it was politically rational to go through with this.

That is from Ritwik, who started off his comment with this sentence:

Privacy is actually a non-issue for most Indians.

Here is a good survey of what we know about cash transfers.

Update on the Millennium Villages controversy

G., a loyal MR reader, writes to me:

I imagine you may find this interesting…

The blog post: http://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/the-millennium-villages-project-impacts-on-child-mortality

The retraction on the MVP website: http://www.millenniumvillages.org/field-notes/millennium-villages-project-corrects-lancet-paper

The retraction in the Lancet:

http://press.thelancet.com/MVP.pdf

…from the Lancet editors…http://download.thelancet.com/flatcontentassets/pdfs/S0140673612607879.pdf

Related:

http://www.economist.com/node/21555571
http://www.economist.com/blogs/newsbook/2012/05/jeffrey-sachs-and-millennium-villages?fsrc=gn_ep
http://blog.givewell.org/2012/05/18/millennium-villages-project/

Give Directly

Here is Tyler summarizing the principles of charitable giving:

1. Cash is often the best form of aid.

2. Give to those who are not expecting it, and,

3. Don’t require the recipients to do anything costly to get the money.

Loyal readers will recall that Tyler followed through on his advice by sending money to random people in India, as suggested by MR readers (see also here).

A new charity is formalizing Tyler’s system and reducing the transaction cost of efficient donation. GiveDirectly takes donations over the web, locates poor households in Kenya using people on the ground, and then transfers money directly to the recipient’s cell phone (even very poor households typically have cell phones but GiveDirectly provides SIM cards for those who do not.) Transactions costs are low, just 10%.

You will not be surprised to learn that the CEO and founders and are all economists (one MBA/MPA). All the founders also have extensive experience in development. A randomized control trial is under way to evaluate the program.

Transfers, following point #3, are unconditional. The founders write:

GiveDirectly intentionally provides unconditional, rather than conditional, cash transfers. We do this for three reasons. First, empowering the poor to make their own decisions advances our core value of respect. Second, it lets recipients purchase the things they need most, enhancing impact. Third, imposing conditions on the use of funds requires that costly monitoring and enforcement structures be put in place. One detailed estimate put the administrative costs of a conditional cash transfer scheme at 63% of the transfers made over the first three years of the program (Caldes & Maluccio 2005).

Points one and three are excellent. The second point is a bit disengenous, yes it lets recipients purchase they things they need but it also lets recipients purchase alcohol, cigarettes and prostitutes. Even in poor countries, a substantial amount of poverty is caused by poor choices. Still, there is no special reason to think that cash grants will increase the proportion of money spent on “bad goods.” Cash grants could even reduce bad-goods spending. Some people drink to escape depressing circumstances, for example, so if you make things less depressing, drinking can fall. Moreover, even if you give people housing, health care, or food (stamps!) it’s not so easy to get around bad-goods spending because money is fungible.  Thus, I have no problem with donating cash.

Indeed, Tyler and I wish to encourage experimentation in charity and we have therefore made a donation to GiveDirectly.

AddendumGivewell, our favorite charity evaluator, says GiveDirectly is too new to evaluate but they like the idea and they note that GiveDirectly has been unusually forthright in providing them with advance plans on evaluation.