The GiveWell Blog

History of philanthropy case study: Pew and drug safety legislation

Tamara Mann Tweel, who has been working for us on our history of philanthropy project, has completed a case study of a Pew Charitable Trusts (“Pew”) program focused on drug supply chain safety legislation in 2012.

The report concludes:

Pew put drug supply chain safety concerns on the legislative agenda in 2011 and actively built the coalition that ensured its passage in 2012. The team also assisted with and vetted the language of the 2012 bill and made sure that weak policy proposals did not supplant strong ones. Pew accomplished these goals largely by capitalizing on their expertise and by deploying the multi-pronged strategy [explained in this report]. Pew did not act alone. It had the assistance of strong industry partners, FDA officials, and key congressmen and senators… [Pew] became the single most important non-government and non-industry player in the field. They brought the stakeholders together, gave them the necessary information to pursue the topic, and demonstrated the viability of actual policy.

The full case study is available here.

Our impression is that Pew has had fairly concrete impact on policy in a variety of areas (note that we’ve separately investigated its work on public safety performance, in the context of a $3 million grant we made to Pew). While its model is not the only or necessarily best one for policy-oriented philanthropy, we believe it is one example of a generally well-executed and impactful model, and that Pew is a group we can learn from. We chose to do a case study on its work in order to examine our beliefs on this point, and we believe that the case study has generally been consistent with our views on Pew’s work.

Read the full case study here


  • David Roodman on May 27, 2015 at 7:09 am said:

    I agree with @Evans. One thing I think is worth commenting on is the unusual institutional arrangement here: Pew did the work itself rather than “granting” out for it. I know Pew is distinctive in operating this way, and this success seems like a strong argument in favor of the approach. When should the Pew model be followed? How could grants to outside organizations be structured to bestow the same flexibility, long-term thinking, and risk taking?

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