The GiveWell Blog

GiveWell’s Research Council

As GiveWell grows and matures as an organization, we’re excited to continue learning from others in our field. We believe that actively seeking feedback on our work enables us to do more good. In May 2023, we launched a Research Council, a small group of experts we can consult on research questions and grant investigations.

We aimed to create a Council whose collective experience includes:

  • Deep familiarity with specific areas GiveWell researches
  • Substantial time working and/or living in the geographic areas where we fund work (low- and middle-income countries, primarily in Africa and South Asia)
  • Conducting research, especially randomized controlled trials (RCTs), on global health and development programs
  • Taking effective programs from pilot to scale
  • Working in partnership with major funding institutions and with country governments, especially the governments of countries where we support programs

So far, we’ve held three meetings with this full group to share further details of our research process and how we set our cost-effectiveness threshold. During these meetings, Council members provided helpful feedback about ways we might improve our research.

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Making our work more readable

Perhaps you noticed that our most recent blog post included a bit of whimsy and even a joke footnote. Our blog is changing slightly, and you can expect more of that!

When GiveWell first started blogging, the blog was a place to share broad thoughts on philanthropy and generate conversation. While we’re not planning to revert to the tone of our early blog posts (which we consider a mistake), we are trying to publish more on our blog and to make what we publish more readable. Our blog posts will be as accurate as ever, but we’re hoping that a more conversational tone will be easier to engage with.

This blog refresh stems from an organization-wide emphasis on legibility. This focus is related to our deeply held value of transparency. For people outside of GiveWell to truly evaluate the conclusions that drive our recommendations, our work needs to be not only public but also understandable.

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Consider the eggplant

Norman Borlaug, the “father of the green revolution,” transformed agriculture (and won a Nobel Peace Prize) for developing new wheat varietals that resisted diseases and greatly increased yields.

You might well wonder: if it’s possible for wheat, is it possible for other crops? Consider the eggplant: a popular purple fruit/vegetable that can be made into everything from hongshao qiezi to baba ghanoush. It’s beloved by many people worldwide, and also by a cute but destructive moth larva.

The “eggplant fruit and shoot borer,” as the name suggests, bores into the shoots and fruit of eggplants, damaging the crops. A new varietal, Bt eggplants, was developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), and later supported by partnerships with USAID, Cornell University, and local partners. This varietal is genetically modified to create proteins which are toxic to these little menaces, but safe for humans and the environment.

So: could encouraging the adoption of Bt eggplants create a purple revolution that meets GiveWell’s bar for outstanding programs?

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A major initiative to scale up water chlorination in India

We recommended a $38.8 million grant to Evidence Action to support the Indian government in providing clean water by setting up in-line chlorination in two states, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

This isn’t a grant designed to directly deliver a service or commodity; instead, Evidence Action will use the funding to work in close partnership with state and local governments, providing technical assistance to support the delivery of the program. Providing all rural households with access to clean, piped water is a major priority for the Indian government. In-line chlorination, which uses a device to automatically disinfect water by adding chlorine as the water passes through a pipe, is a way to make drinking water safe.

We believe this grant may not only increase access to chlorinated water in the states it directly supports, but also inspire other states to adopt similar practices. A core part of the program’s theory of change is that governments in locations outside the grant area may take up a program they might not otherwise adopt. This is the first very large grant we’ve made where that’s been an important consideration. We think the upside is unusually high—if successful, this grant could eventually lead to tens or even hundreds of millions of additional people receiving safe water—but it’s also riskier than most of our grants, as there are a number of ways the program could fail to have the desired impact. Our hope is that this grant will reduce mortality and improve health at a very large scale.

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April 2024 updates

Every month we send an email newsletter to our supporters sharing recent updates from our work. We publish selected portions of the newsletter on our blog to make this news more accessible to people who visit our website. For key updates from the latest installment, please see below!

If you’d like to receive the complete newsletter in your inbox each month, you can subscribe here.

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Malengo: Supporting students to pursue education internationally

GiveWell recently recommended a grant of up to $750,000 to Malengo, an educational migration program. Malengo supports students from low-income countries in moving to high-income countries for university. The goal is to enable them to earn a higher income over time, benefiting both the students and their families.

This post shares why we think Malengo’s program could be cost-effective, how filling this specific funding gap might enable Malengo’s program to become more financially sustainable, and what we hope to learn next.

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