Americans give a lot of their hard-earned money to charity. Last year, 95 percent of Americans gave to charity—with an average of $2,974 donated per household. In total, U.S.-based individual donors gave $258 billion to charity in 2014, more than the total donated by corporations, foundations, and bequests combined.
As individuals, donors make powerful decisions about which causes and issues are most deserving of funding and support. But the majority of donors do very little research about how charities actually use their money, and whether charitable initiatives achieve what they claim to do. In fact, Americans spend more time watching television in one day than they do researching effective charities in a year. As Charity Science co-founder Joey Savoie puts it, “If the medical sector worked like the charity sector did, we'd still be using leeches instead of antibiotics.” Without rigorous evidence about what works and what doesn’t work in the charity sector, our money will not go to help the men, women, and children who need our help the most.
Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) discovers and promotes effective solutions to global poverty. IPA works with governments, businesses, and NGOs to develop and incubate promising anti-poverty interventions, analyze results, and publicize recommendations. These interventions span agriculture, education, health, finance, governance, social protection and post-conflict recovery. Since 2002, IPA’s research has improved the lives of over 50 million people worldwide. Six of The Life You Can Save’s charities use IPA’s research to design, implement, and scale their initiatives.
IPA works evaluates poverty relief interventions using randomized controlled trials, the industry “gold standard” for determining program effectiveness. IPA has over 1,000 colleagues based in 16 country programs, supported by 11 offices across Africa, Asia and South America.
Evidence Action Beta pressure tests promising interventions that have been rigorously evaluated to determine whether they can be cost-effectively scaled up to improve the lives of millions of people in the developing world. In 2015, the initiative is exploring the potential of several promising programs—including a risk-based curriculum that is reducing teen pregnancies and potentially HIV/AIDs infection in Southern Africa, and an innovative way to prevent seasonal famine in Bangladesh by providing access to seasonal labor opportunities with a travel subsidy. Evidence Action Beta currently runs program evaluations in Botswana, Bangladesh, and Kenya, with more sites to be added in late 2015.
One Acre Fund helps small farmers improve harvests and maximize farm profits through a four-part support system. The organization grants farmers start up capital in the form of asset-based loans, distributes necessary supplies such as seeds and fertilizer, provides up-to-date agricultural training, and helps farmers build economic networks with local traders. One Acre Fund has conducted dozens of randomized control trials to find the most cost-effective farming techniques. Successful trials have helped hundreds of farmers improve implementation in areas such as nitrogen-fixing crops, crop rotation and diversity, alternative fertilizers, and energy-efficient light sources.
GiveDirectly does just what their name says-- give cash directly to the extreme poor, allowing recipients to spend the funds on whatever they think will make the most difference in their lives. GiveDirectly has a highly regarded track record of using research of their program to inform policy debates about how to best help the extreme poor.
Now GiveDirectly is piloting a historic study on the efficacy of Universal Basic Income, scientifically testing a program of providing regular cash payments to thousands of extremely poor households in East Africa for more than ten years. The results will directly inform policy debates in emerging markets, which are the front lines of the global fight against poverty. At a minimum this project will shift the life trajectories of thousands of low-income households. At best, it will change how the world thinks about ending poverty. You can read more about this exciting project on our blog, in Slate, or on the GiveDirectly website.
Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)
Center for Global Development
The Life You Can Save – Where to Donate
Selection Methodology: A Letter from Peter Singer
Giving What We Can
The Life You Can Save is a movement of people fighting extreme poverty. We hold that an ethical life involves using some of our wealth and resources to save and improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.
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