The GiveWell Blog

2 things WAY more exciting than a blog post

1. Our research on saving lives in Africa is now public.

2. Online chat this coming Tuesday, via the Chronicle of Philanthropy, with a special guest who looks absolutely too good to miss. Please participate – I type 120wpm, I am beyond pumped to have an online chat with the nonprofit sector, I want to take on all comers, and if it ends up being an hour of softball questions like “Do you think the nonprofit sector would benefit from more transparency?” I’m going to blame you.

That’s all for today, and it’s more than enough. Please take a look at our Africa research and share your thoughts.


  • michael vassar on December 6, 2007 at 3:23 pm said:

    I still think that you need to focus more on economic analysis of the charities you promote. As I have mentioned, one reason I like corrective surgery is that it doesn’t compete with other markets so it does relatively pure good. By contrast, people who give away condoms are arguably preventing market solutions for developing to do the same thing.
    Food aid is classically the worst in this respect

    iodized salt, vitamin A, and other invisible things with invisible effects are probably best, along with things that local people simply can’t afford like surgery

    With respect to job placement, as noted, the question of how new certifications effect the market is critical. If you place someone in a job that someone else would have gotten this is a limited net benefit.

  • michael vassar on December 6, 2007 at 3:24 pm said:

    I am not saying we should do corrective surgery, just that we should explicitly take economics into our analysis.

  • michael vassar on December 6, 2007 at 3:26 pm said:

    I think that the chance that condom distribution etc are net benefits is probably not as high as 50%, but it’s quite likely that they should still get priority over surgery, but not over vitamins

  • Holden on December 9, 2007 at 9:43 pm said:

    Michael, I think these are good points. As we evaluate these charities, there is an elephant in the room that we haven’t addressed nearly well enough: “What are these charities replacing? Are they providing people with things they need, or with things they’d otherwise get from a healthy private sector?”

    We’ve tried to discuss and think about this, but the fact is that we know very little about how to assess it, aside from using intuitions the way you do above. It seems like food distribution is very likely to be simply putting farmers out of work; condom distribution seems less problematic; condom selling still less so; and corrective surgery still less so. But we don’t know. It’s something we’re itching for better ways to investigate and look into.

    One thing I want to make clear is that we haven’t seen any meaningful analysis of these questions from the charities we’re dealing with (part of the reason that it’s so hard for us to evaluate them), and I think that’s a concern.

  • I belong to an organization that teaches people to farm organically they are having a lot of success. And yes, sometimes Intuition IS the answer, especially if you listen to Einstein.

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