The GiveWell Blog

March 2017 open thread

Our goal with hosting quarterly open threads is to give blog readers an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about GiveWell or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at info@givewell.org or to request a call with GiveWell staff if you have feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

If you have questions related to the Open Philanthropy Project, you can post those in the Open Philanthropy Project’s most recent open thread.

You can view our December 2016 open thread here.

Comments

  • Femi Taiwo on March 21, 2017 at 4:01 pm said:

    “The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine, a senior United Nations official has warned.

    He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid “to avert a catastrophe…

    Unless there was a major infusion of money, he said, children would be stunted by severe malnutrition and would not be able to go to school, gains in economic development would be reversed and “livelihoods, futures and hope lost”…“To be precise,” O’Brien said, “we need $4.4bn by July”.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/11/world-faces-worst-humanitarian-crisis-since-1945-says-un-official

  • Chris on March 21, 2017 at 5:55 pm said:

    Hey Givewell!

    When can we expect new updates on donation allocation recommendations? As well as how the givewell granted donations were divided?

    Interested to see how the holiday season played out!

    Best Wishes,
    Chris

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on March 21, 2017 at 8:03 pm said:

    Hi Femi,

    We haven’t looked into giving opportunities for the recent famine and don’t have any specific recommendations for where to give. That said, we do have some general recommendations and tips for disaster relief giving, some of which may be helpful to consider when donating to assist with this crisis: http://blog.givewell.org/2013/11/12/6-tips-on-disaster-relief-giving/.

    In 2011, we researched the Somalia famine and made recommendations. Although we have not updated this report, it may be of interest when thinking about donating to help with the recent famine: http://www.givewell.org/donate-to-somalia.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on March 21, 2017 at 11:05 pm said:

    Hi Chris,

    We’re currently finalizing our decision on how to regrant donations received during giving season and the first part of 2017, and will be publishing a blog post over the next few weeks detailing our decision and what it means for donors.

  • Will Levine on March 25, 2017 at 2:56 pm said:

    Has GiveWell ever considered suggesting that donors spread out donations over the course of the year rather than waiting till December to give all at once? It seems like an easy way to increase the value of a donation (though only by a very modest amount).

  • Alan Przybyla on March 26, 2017 at 10:31 am said:

    Do you have any information on either of these organizations? Working Dogs for Conservation (wd4c.org), and Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS.org).

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on March 27, 2017 at 11:56 am said:

    Hi Alan,

    We do not; we have not looked into charities working in these areas. In general, we aim to find charities that meet our criteria and do not aim to review or rate every charity. We are currently prioritizing organizations that focus on GiveWell’s priority programs in global health and poverty alleviation. For lists of the charities that we have considered, see here. Sorry we couldn’t be more helpful with this question!

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on March 27, 2017 at 12:01 pm said:

    Hi Will,

    We don’t have a strong view on whether it’s better for donors to make monthly or annual donations; our understanding is that the most helpful thing donors can do is to give regularly, such that charities know when to expect a gift and can plan around that in their budgeting.

  • Alan Przybyla on March 28, 2017 at 8:54 am said:

    Catherine,
    Thank you for your quick response.
    Alan Przybyla

  • Peter Hurford on April 18, 2017 at 8:32 pm said:

    Hi, does GiveWell have any analysis on spending money to accelerate vaccine development (e.g., HIV vaccine, anti-malaria vaccine) as a potential intervention?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on April 19, 2017 at 12:40 pm said:

    Hi Peter,

    We haven’t conducted intensive analysis of this area. We would be excited about trying to direct funding to a promising vaccine development program through our Incubation Grants if we found a good opportunity. We haven’t yet, and we’re not pursuing identifying opportunities within vaccine development area as a high priority due to our impression that this work receives substantial funding from other major funders, such as the Gates Foundation.

  • Andy J on May 5, 2017 at 2:36 am said:

    GiveWell seems to be expanding out of it’s original remit, from ‘identify top charities’ to ‘encourage/enable new top charities’. Has a cost-effectiveness analysis been carried out on this work? I’m particularly interested in what you think the probability is of finding/enabling a new charity which is as effective as the current slate, and how much GiveWell’s planned interventions are likely to improve this figure.

  • KellyT on May 5, 2017 at 6:53 am said:

    It seems like the issue of world hunger is not given the priority in your research it should have, say, over preserving sight for the blind. I say this because a blind person can continue to live if they have food, but a starving person cannot live, even if they can see. Given that so many charities are underfunded, we should consider the most baseline of issues – food and water – first. IMHO. Do you have any comment on this? Also, with climate change, huge swaths of Africa are becoming infertile, causing some (if not all) of the famine, poverty, and unrest we are seeing today. Have you looked at any organizations directly addressing this issue?

  • Catherine on May 8, 2017 at 7:15 pm said:

    Hi Andy,

    The funding for GiveWell Incubation Grants comes from Good Ventures, a large foundation with which GiveWell works closely. GiveWell research staff identify potential GiveWell Incubation Grant funding opportunities and recommend them to Good Ventures for support.

    Cost-effectiveness and internal forecasts both play key roles in individual decisions to recommend Incubation Grants to a given program or organization. In general, we expect to recommend grants to Good Ventures in areas where we think the cost-effectiveness is likely to end up equal to or greater than 2-3x cash transfers and where we think there’s a strong chance of a GiveWell top charity resulting. We’ve published explicit forecasts with most of our Incubation Grants on the likelihood they will lead to a new GiveWell top charity, such as here and here.

  • Catherine on May 9, 2017 at 8:41 am said:

    Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for your comment. We focus on the issues where, we believe, additional funding can have the most impact rather than issues which we’d classify as baseline issues, though we would argue that the organizations we recommend, which focus on averting death and increasing incomes, are addressing baseline issues. Our recommended groups—which we assess based on our criteria of evidence of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and room for more funding—stand out for their impact per dollar given.

    We haven’t found organizations focused on hunger alleviation or clean water that seem competitive with our top charities according to those criteria. Note that GiveDirectly, one of our recommended charities, gives money directly to people in East Africa, many of whom spend some portion of that transfer on food.

  • KellyT on May 9, 2017 at 10:40 am said:

    I noticed that you focused your research on water filtration. This ignores water access which is a growing problem especially in areas with spreading desertification due to climate change. Charities that are digging wells and providing irrigation would be a good area to study in the interest of giving this issue a thorough examination. Also, your report states that while the evidence is mixed, it is at least as strong as the evidence for parasite control. I fail to see why then, parasite control was elevated in importance over water treatment if this is the case. I understand that not all charities are good stewards of the money they receive (whether through ignorance or mismanagement) and this is why the service you provide is so important to those of us who want to make a difference. Could you please keep these things in mind and keep an eye out for charities that are approaching water issues differently? I would appreciate it if you could notify the effective altruism community should one achieve a status you deem high enough to recommend. Water remains my highest priority for the reasons I stated already. I am sure I’m not alone. I hope that there is some group out there doing it right.

  • Catherine on May 17, 2017 at 9:11 pm said:

    Hi Kelly,

    We have written more recently on ‘point of use’ water interventions, such as filtration and chlorination (see this blog post). But in 2010, we looked for charities that implemented water supply/water infrastructure interventions, and asked whether they improved water quality and/or convenience of access to water, as well as whether improvements in water infrastructure were maintained over time. We considered a number of charities working in this area and did not find adequate information to answer these questions: http://www.givewell.org/international/health/water. As of November 2011, we did not find any we felt met our criteria for a GiveWell recommendation.

    We have not revisited this question since then. We guess that charities focused on water infrastructure wouldn’t be as cost-effective in our framework, due to the complexity of the intervention, the cost of building infrastructure and the need for maintenance over time. But, we’re not sure, and we may return to this line of thinking in the future. If we did recommend a water infrastructure charity, we would want it to be able to answer the questions above, as well as the charity being competitive in cost-effectiveness with our current top charities.

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