The GiveWell Blog

GiveWell grant: Open application

We welcome applications for $250,000 in funding for economic empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa, to be disbursed by 12/31/2009. Interested charities should read the full details of our application process and then submit our first-round application.

Why we are making this grant: in 2008 we received $250,000 earmarked specifically for regranting to a top organization working on “economic empowerment” (I.e., raising incomes directly as opposed to focusing on education or health outcomes) in sub-Saharan Africa. This grant was associated with an institutional donor that prefers anonymity.

Our recent work on international aid has concluded that economic empowerment is not a particularly promising area for a donor, and we have found no charities in this area that are as promising as our top charities or that have met either of our criteria for further investigation. More at our current writeup on economic empowerment.

We are committed to honoring our donor’s intentions, and with $250,000 to grant, we feel it is possible that we will get access to information we haven’t been able to get access to before. (This serves as something of a “reality check” on the approach we used in our recent research report, which used the information available on charities’ websites as a key indicator of how promising they were – details here.) Thus, we are conducting an application process for this area and this funding in particular.

What we hope to accomplish with this grant: we are

  • Looking to expand a proven, cost-effective, scalable program rather than to fund an “experimental” proposal with no empirical supporting evidence to date.
  • Looking to help people in sub-Saharan Africa go from extreme poverty to moderate self-sufficiency. (See our definition of these terms.)
  • Planning to publicly post as much as possible of the materials, and reasoning, behind our decision so that other donors, particularly individual donors, can benefit from the work we do. Because of the larger-than-usual (for us) grant, we recognize that we may be sent more confidential materials than usual, but have a preference for charities that also want to share as much information as possible. All applicants are being strongly encouraged to (and must be explicit if they don’t want to) share their application materials publicly.
  • Trying to minimize the application/reporting burden on all but the top contenders. Our first-round application does not ask everything we need to know; it is intended to filter out those charities that cannot or will not provide fairly basic, but in our experience fairly rare, information about (a) income/standard of living of clients; (b) details (particularly financials) of past successes in creating self-sustaining operations. Our framework for economic empowerment explains why these two pieces of information are so vital.
  • Open to funding new research, rather than a program, if we feel it’s necessary. We will most likely award all of the grant money to one or more charities, and are doing what we can to maximize our odds of finding a strong one. If, however, we feel that we truly cannot have confidence in any applicants, we have permission from our funder to use the funds on a formal study of the effectiveness of an existing program (to be carried out by an external evaluator such as the Poverty Action Lab). Note that if we do go this route, we will still be granting all of the $250,000 to one or more other organizations by 12/31/2009 (i.e., any research project we fund will be carried out by other organizations, not by us).

We make grants and recommendations based on substantive and (whenever possible) shareable information, not based on personal relationships, and so we are casting the net as wide as possible. If you know of any great organizations in this area, please make sure they know about our grant.