The GiveWell Blog

Priority region 1 – finalists

In addition to choosing straightforward, cost-effective program-based interventions, we’re also planning to identify two regions to study in detail.

I’ve focused on finding priority region 1: an area that has both high and drastic disease burdens and relatively stable, low-corruption environments in which aid can likely be productive. This post details the criteria I used to narrow the field to a few finalists. (Note: We recently spoke to a private philanthropic advisor about this, and our methodology is quite similar to theirs.)

Corruption and poor governance

I used the latest versions of the Failed State Index (from the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine) and Corruptions Perception Index (from Transparency International) to exclude countries where governance would be a large issue. In both cases, I removed countries with the worst rating on either index. (The FSI ranks 177 countries; 31 received the worst rank. The CPI ranks 180 countries; 38 received the worst rank.)

Disease burden and poor development

I used the 2007-08 United Nations Human Development Index, considering only countries that are marked “Low human development” (received by 22 of the 177 countries rated). Of those 22, only 9 passed the corruption/governance screen.

The UNHDI considers life expectancy (to assess health burden) but doesn’t consider morbidity. So, I also looked at DALY burden per 100,000 people (data from the WHO’s Burden of Disease Project) and include countries in the top decile of health burdens. This criterion excluded Senegal, Benin, and Eritrea.

That left me with 6 countries:

  • Zambia
  • Mozambique
  • Mali
  • Rwanda
  • Tanzania
  • Burkina Faso

Charitable activity in each country

We need to find a region that not only has both high and drastic disease burdens and relatively stable, low-corruption environments in which aid can likely be productive but also a region with a significant amount of aid being given (since our role is to identify outstanding charities rather than to create new ones, we’d rather work somewhere where we’ll have more options). One proxy for this idea is the total aid given by OECD countries to each of our six finalists (data from OECD). This measure is far from perfect since it reflects government aid, not private philanthropy. We also conducted a Guidestar search for the name of each country, and use the number of results as an approximation to the number of US-registered NGOs working there. The data is below.

Country Population (m) OECD aid (USD m) Guidestar results OECD aid/capita NGOs (per million ppl)
Zambia 12.3 727 210 59 17
Mozambique 21.4 958 132 45 6
Mali 12.4 326 86 26 7
Rwanda 9.8 247 187 25 19
Tanzania 44.6 951 354 21 8
Burkina Faso 15.4 310 57 20 4


  1. Population data comes from Wikipedia’s List of Countries by Population page.
  2. OECD aid is the average annual aid over the last 5 years

These criteria would seem to indicate Zambia, Mozambique and Rwanda as our top contenders. We are also strongly considering Tanzania, as there may be superior availability of data on health and living conditions through the Living Standards Measurement Study.

Our plan now is to talk with our advisors for a) their thoughts on our process thus far and b) their ideas for picking a focus region from this list. We’re also planning to examine the Poverty Strategy Reduction Paper for each of these countries to get a better sense of the major challenges and available information there).

(Note: for the intrepid, you can access an Excel file with all the data used for this post here.)