The GiveWell Blog

The Global Fund and transparency

We recently complained that “UNICEF provides no information about where the money goes and what projects are in progress.” Some might feel that this complaint comes from unrealistically high standards of transparency, especially for organizations such as UNICEF. How is an organization spending $2.7 billion a year supposed to report its activities?

Our answer would be: “like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) does.” (Page 55 of its 2008 annual report shows that its budget size is very close to UNICEF’s at $2.7 billion.)

GFATM provides an online program search of all its activities. For any grant it has given (example), you can see (if completed) the grant proposal, grant agreement, and reports on progress. In other words, you can see how much has spent and how (and whether) progress has been tracked.

GFATM recently released the kind of document we have never seen from any other charity approaching its size: an overall evaluation of its activities and impact. Not a general discussion of the organization; not a “meta-evaluation” discussing the quality of past evaluations; a discussion of the overall impact of all of GFATM’s activities across the world. Furthermore, this report was in no way a fundraising document; it was frank about the fact that inadequate evidence exists for GFATM’s impact to date (see the discussion at our review).

GFATM comes under a lot of criticism, even from its own evaluators. We ourselves have many reservations about its work, as our review establishes. But we have seen very few charities – and no other charities approaching its size – that can make as strong a claim to being a transparent organization and a learning organization.

GFATM proves that neither size nor celebrity support need stop a charity from being clear about what it’s working on and how it’s going.


  • Gubmint on November 23, 2009 at 8:01 pm said:

    The Global Fund prefers to be called the Global Fund or GF. Here in India we still call it GFATM just like you.

  • Rachel on August 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm said:

    It is SO refreshing to see this kind of discourse finally taking place. I work in the international aid evaluation field (kind of, I am a public health researcher at a university but we are hired to evaluate international public health interventions as well as conduct our own independent research) and it makes me INSANE to see organizations such as UNICEF, World Vision, etc publish their papers, title them ‘research’ and call it a day or worse still say it’s too complex to be done. Kudos to the Global Fund for transparency!. T Sadly we have been fighting battles with the likes of the others who don’t see fit to see what works and what doesn’t (mammoth aid orgs like UNICEF) who clearly have their hearts in the right place but don’t take the time (read, do proper research and evaluation) to find out if what they are doing all over the world is actually doing any good, save any harm! What’s worse, when we go in to countries they have a large presence in and start to measure outcomes they have a stake in (child nutrition, orphan care, AIDS) and find perhaps they might have been working from the wrong assumptions in the first place, all hell breaks loose. Instead of trusting the data, often times we are attacked as individuals; seen as interlopers in some global playground game rather than members of the same team, working together to solve problems of poverty . All we are asking is for transparent evidence in the work people are doing. This is nothing we wouldn’t ask for in the US in any community based or school based program, why should it be any different in the DRC or Cambodia?

    I recently listened to the ‘This American Life’ podcast (I was only trying to help Aug 16, 2013) that highlighted the Give Directly charity and contrasted Heifer International’s M and E. The woman speaking for Heifer was complaining about the problem of measurement because for their program, they changed lives, buoyed hope and instilled pride and she exclaimed, “these things just can’t be measured!” The thing is, they can be measured and I wanted to call her up and explain qualitative evaluation, interviewing, and focus groups; that these kinds of ‘feelings and experiences’ are captured all the time in research and evaluation. What a profound shame that she was so ignorant of what data could do for her organization. And interestingly, it made me lose a little respect for Heifer’s work on that interview alone, though I recognize this irony, given she was only a sample of 1.

Comments are closed.