The new GiveWell recommendations are out: here's a summary of the charities

by tog4 min read1st Dec 201417 comments

27

GiveWell
Personal Blog

GiveWell have just announced their latest charity recommendations! What are everyone’s thoughts on them?

A summary: all of the old charities (GiveDirectly, SCI and Deworm the World) remain on the list. They're rejoined by AMF, as the room for more funding issues that led to it being delisted have been resolved to GiveWell's satisfaction. Together these organisations form GiveWell's list of 'top charities', which is now joined by a list of other charities which they see as excellent but not quite in the top tier. The charities on this list are Development Media International, Living Goods, and two salt fortification programs (run by GAIN and ICCIDD).

As normal, GiveWell's site contains extremely detailed writeups on these organisations. Here are some shorter descriptions which I wrote for Charity Science's donations page and my tool for donating tax-efficiently, starting with the new entries:

GiveWell's newly-added charities

Boost health and cognitive development with salt fortification

The charities GAIN and ICCIDD run programs that fortify the salt that millions of poor people eat with iodine. There is strong evidence that this boosts their health and cognitive development; iodine deficiency causes pervasive mental impairment, as well as stillbirth and congenital abnormalities such as severe retardation. It can be done very cheaply on a mass scale, so is highly cost-effective. GAIN is registered in the US and ICCIDD in Canada (although Canadians can give to either via Charity Science, which for complex reasons helps others who donate tax-deductibly to other charities), allowing for especially efficient donations from these countries, and taxpayers from other countries can also often give to them tax-deductibly. For more information, read GiveWell's detailed reviews of GAIN and ICCIDD.

Educate millions in life-saving practices with Development Media International

Development Media International (DMI) produces radio and television broadcasts in developing countries that tell people about improved health practices that can save lives, especially those of young children. Examples of such practices include exclusive breastfeeding. DMI are conducting a randomized controlled trial of their program which has found promising indications of a large decrease in children's deaths. With more funds they would be able to reach millions of people, due to the unparalleled reach of broadcasting. For more information, read GiveWell's detailed review.

Bring badly-needed goods and health services to the poor with Living Goods

Living Goods is a non-profit which runs a network of people selling badly-needed health and household goods door-to-door in their communities in Uganda and Kenya and provide free health advice. A randomized controlled trial suggested that this caused a 25% reduction in under-5 mortality among other benefits. Products sold range from fortified foods and mosquito nets to cookstoves and contraceptives. Giving to Living Goods is an exciting opportunity to bring these badly needed goods and services to some of the poorest families in the world. For more information, read GiveWell's detailed review.

GiveWell's old and returning charities

Treat hundreds of people for parasitic worms

Deworm the World and the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) treat parasitic worm infections such as schistosomiasis, which can cause urinary infections, anemia, and other nutritional problems. For more information, read GiveWell's detailed review, or the more accessible Charity Science summary. Deworm the World is registered in the USA and SCI in the UK, allowing for tax-efficient direct donations in those countries, and taxpayers from other countries can also often give to them efficiently.

Make unconditional cash transfers with GiveDirectly

GiveDirectly lets you empower people to purchase whatever they believe will help them most. Eleven randomized controlled trials have supported cash transfers’ impact, and there is strong evidence that recipients know their own situation best and generally invest in things which make them happier in the long term. For more information, read GiveWell's detailed review, or the more accessible Charity Science summary.

Save lives and prevent infections with the Against Malaria Foundation

Malaria causes about a million deaths and two hundred million infections a year. Thankfully a $6 bednet can stop mosquitos from infecting children while they sleep, preventing this deadly disease. This intervention has exceptionally robust evidence behind it, with many randomized controlled trials suggesting that it is one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives. The Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) is an exceptional charity in every respect, and was GiveWell's top recommendation in 2012 and 2013. Not all bednet charities are created equal, and AMF outperforms the rest on every count. They can distribute nets cheaper than most others, for just $6.13 US. They distribute long-lasting nets which don’t need retreating with insecticide. They are extremely transparent and monitor their own impact carefully, requiring photo verification from each net distribution. For more information, read GiveWell's detailed review, or the more accessible Charity Science summary.

How to donate

To find out which charities are tax-deductible in your country and get links to give to them tax-efficiently, you can use this interactive tool that I made. If you give this season, consider sharing the charities you choose on the EA Donation Registry. We can see which charities EAs pick, and which of the new ones prove popular!

27

17 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 7:15 AM
New Comment

I find it... weird that DMI made the list. I've scanned through the GiveWell review -- it consists mostly of caveats and qualifications attached to a single study run by the charity itself with explicit goal of making the study produce the required results at any cost. Moreover, the data deals mostly with "desirable behaviors" and not with actual changes in mortality.

I don't want to second-guess GiveWell, but is that really one of the best charities available?

  1. They're self reporting, which is to say they have an incentive to represent their results as better than they really are. Until someone else performs that research, this is the highest-quality source of data available. If GiveWell thinks it checks out, I'm strongly inclined to believe it.
  2. Changes in mortality are really difficult to disentangle, even over very long timespans (which DMI doesn't have yet). Accepting their decision to study changes in self-reported behaviors, they've structured their research in the best way possible (RCT).

Also, doesn't their approach have an intuitive appeal? Figure out what sickens/kills people in a place, find the cheapest behavior-change-based intervention, and tell everyone to do it using conventional advertising channels. I'd be surprised if it didn't have some measurable effect (which I won't say about the vast majority of charities).

they have an incentive to represent their results as better than they really are

That's only part of it -- the other part is Goodhart's Law and the fact that they are trying really hard to produce good metrics.

Changes in mortality are really difficult to disentangle

That's not a good reason to search for your keys under a streetlight.

doesn't their approach have an intuitive appeal?

No, not to me. Telling people via mass media that they should behave better doesn't have a great track record :-/

Do you believe samples of self-reported behavior can't be an informative proxy for harder population metrics, like morbidity or mortality?

They could be after you establish the relationship through empirical data.

Telling people via mass media that they should behave better doesn't have a great track record :-/

I think at least the prevailing view in public health is that it does. This report is a decade old, but was the clearest summary I could find on a quick search. They do emphasise that media campaigns are more likely to be effective when awareness is a major issue and when the desired behaviour change is not that large (both seem true in the case of DMI).

I don't think the report you link to supports your claim. In particular, while it shows some evidence that mass-media campaigns can raise the awareness of an issue, there is no conclusive evidence that they make anyone actually change their behaviour. And that's before we look at the cost-effectiveness of the whole thing.

They do give a few examples of changing behaviour. For instance:

However, a controlled trial of a TV advertising campaign in central and northern England provides evidence that mass media campaigns may be able to change behaviour. The campaign was effective in reducing smoking prevalence by about 1.2% over 18 months.

However I agree that it doesn't have fantastic evidence of that. But most of my impressions of this come from talking to people who work in public health; my understanding is that at least in rich countries, properly targeted public health campaigns are actually very cost-effective. How this carries over to poor countries is another question, but as a baseline I'd at least assume it's plausible.

They do give a few examples of changing behaviour.

One -- which you quoted -- and which they offset by the immediately following paragraph which says (emphasis mine):

A study found that the proportion of people who were knowledgeable about the new recommendations increased significantly after the campaign, although it was unclear whether it was TV advertising or other elements of the campaign that made the difference (Hillsdon et al., 2001). However, there was no evidence that the campaign raised levels of physical activity.

Negative evidence is evidence, too.

There are more examples on the following page (although they are all time series rather than controlled trials, the effect sizes are large enough that it is implausible that they all represent natural background shifts).

I certainly don't think that all public health campaigns are effective, or that awareness always translates into action. I just thought that your statements sounded surprisingly negative about the possibility of them being cost-effective.

Thank you for your work.

On the Giving What We Can website (or some other from the same memespace) there is (or was, as I can't find it anymore) an extremely powerful calculator that upon input of your income calculates what your current relative position in the world is, how much it would be reduced by their recommended donation and what good this money could do in terms of physical action (like 23 people dewormed) and expected lifes saved. All the long discussion is extremely valuable but should be put aside to make these kind of visualisations more visible.

I am willing to bet that more people would be convinced by reading something along the lines of "$100 of your annual income would knock you down only by 0.1% on the income distribution, but it would help educate 63 people about basic hygiene and prevent 12 expected child deaths" than by anything else.

an extremely powerful calculator

Here it is.

(If your after-tax family income is $100k, for a 2-adult 0-child family in the US then you're in the top 0.8% before giving 10% and the top 1.0% after, and this is alleged to be equivalent to saving 3 lives per year. Make it $50k/year and it's top 3.9% -> top 4.7% and 1 life per year. In the other direction, at $200k/year it's top 0.1% -> top 0.1% and 6 lives. I don't know how compelling those numbers would be to the people they're relevant to. For the avoidance of doubt, I am able to halve and double the number 3, but rounding could have affected the figures a little.)

I have a bit of an uneasy feeling about comparing your wealth percentile before and after. It rather gives the impression that your reason for wanting to earn more is to be ahead of as much of the population as possible. Which I suppose it is, to some extent for most people, but it seems like it shouldn't and it's unfortunate to be encouraging that mode of thinking.

(I guess that the actual intended thought process is less "well, OK, I'll still be in the top 0.6%, which is good enough for me, so I'll go ahead and donate" but "well, I suppose it's kinda indecent to begrudge a bit of my income when even after donating I'll be in such a privileged position in global terms" -- which isn't quite so bad, but still doesn't seem like how anyone ought to be thinking about their income.)

Does anyone know of a "calculator" similar to the one linked above that shows your worldwide rank in terms of net worth AND allows negative net worth? (I will gladly accept a table instead of a calculator.)

Bafflingly, http://www.globalrichlist.com/wealth silently converts negative numbers into their absolute values, resulting in ridiculous claims. (For example, an underwater home equity of -100000 USD is interpreted as 100000 USD.)

I have found one at http://politicalcalculations.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-distribution-of-net-worth-in-united.html that is for household net worth in the United States.

Thank you.

Which I suppose it is, to some extent for most people, but it seems like it shouldn't and it's unfortunate to be encouraging that mode of thinking.

You don't encourage it, you use it. It will be there no matter what you do as humans are social creatures under heavy competition. We can speculate about the reasons but it is what it is.

Would be happier with a calculator that instead suggests an equivalent of the money to be donated considering tax-deductibility? I am imagining something like "You can donate $10k per year to do X, equivalent to about Y1 number of coffees, Y2 movie tickets, Y3 beers, ..." The point of htese calculators is to visualise the stark contrast in life between first world countries and target nations.

You don't encourage it, you use it. It will be there no matter what you do

It will, I'm sure, but I think the boundary between using and encouraging is a fuzzy one. (So, I guess, is the boundary between discouraging and denying. For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not saying we shouldn't pretend people don't care about relative status. Just that we shouldn't prompt them to think in those terms.)

a calculator that instead suggests an equivalent of the money to be donated

Yes, I think that would be healthier.

I can't understand how Living Goods can cause a 25% reduction in child mortality, but cost $10000 per life saved given that they are selling goods. More benefits are listed further down, but not in the summary of what each dollar achieves.

They also don't include any research projects. I guess that makes sense - no-one can really predict which research projects will be successful or not.