Evidence Action — which runs the Deworm the World Initiative, one of GiveWell’s top charities — announced today that Alix Zwane will be stepping down as Executive Director on August 3. She is leaving to join the Global Innovation Fund as CEO. Laliteswar Kumar, currently Director, Africa Region, will serve as Interim Executive Director. Dr. Zwane expects to remain involved in the organization until August. Evidence Action aims to identify a new Executive Director within a few months.
Dr. Zwane’s departure does not change our recommendation of the Deworm the World Initiative and we would guess that it will not be a significant factor in our view of the Deworm the World Initiative in the future. Our recommendation is largely based on the strength of evidence and cost-effectiveness of its program and its track record of carrying out that program.
If this change has more of an effect on our funding recommendations than we expect, this will likely be due to one or more of the following factors:
- We have limited experience with changes in senior leadership at our top charities. All of our other current top charities are led by the organizations’ founders. It is possible that the new Executive Director will have a different vision for the organization or may be unable to generate similar results.
- Strong communication with each of our top charities is a key part of our research process. We have found Dr. Zwane particularly easy to communicate with. Although we have had substantial communication with other staff, much of our communication with the Deworm the World Initiative, particularly around issues related to room for more funding, has been with her. It is possible that communicating with other staff will not be as smooth and could lead to lower confidence in the Deworm the World Initiative’s work.
- Evidence Action’s new Executive Director may have a different approach to transparency. Evidence Action has been highly transparent to date, a quality which we have found to be relatively rare among charities. Dr. Zwane told us that she does not expect Evidence Action’s approach to transparency to change.
- We would not be surprised if Evidence Action fails to identify a new Executive Director within a few months. This search, particularly if it takes a while, could distract from oversight of current programs and planning for the future.
Overall, our impression is that Dr. Zwane has been a highly effective leader of Evidence Action and her departure risks disruptions that could lead to us changing our view of the organization, though we would guess that this will not be the case.
In addition to recommending the Deworm the World Initiative, we have also recommended that Good Ventures provide funding for Evidence Action Beta, with the goal of supporting the development of new top charities (e.g., a planning grant and a grant for a seasonal income support project).
Dr. Zwane’s departure may have more of an effect on our work with Evidence Action Beta, where all of our communication to date has been with her, where the track record is more limited, and where our positive view of Dr. Zwane’s leadership plays a larger role in our confidence in the program.
Finally, the Global Innovation Fund is an organization that aims to “invest in social innovations that aim to improve the lives and opportunities of millions of people in the developing world” and has significant resources (at least $200 million over the next five years) at its disposal. We are excited about its future under Dr. Zwane’s leadership.
Thank you, Give Well staff, for the thoughtful post on Alix’s transition from Evidence Action. The organization, in part thanks to your support, is in a very strong place to move on from its founder and first director. This is, in fact, a healthy and necessary part of organizational growth and maturity.
Both of our scaled-up programs, Dispensers for Safe Water and Deworm the World Initiative, and our new portfolio of programs under Evidence Action Beta are operationally solid, well staffed, and continue without any interruption. Beta, in fact, is managed by one of our most experienced Evidence Action directors, who preceded even Alix, and who was instrumental in setting up Deworm the World in Kenya. We have in-house economics expertise and advisors who are closely involved in pressure testing the next innovations to scale.
Our commitment to transparency and open data continues unabated and is a core value that all of the senior leadership at Evidence Action espouses. Our board and financial position are strong, and our growth plans are on track.
We will be checking in frequently as we are embarking on the search for a new CEO, and look forward to the next stage of our organizational growth with Give Well and its donors.
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