The GiveWell Blog

Allocation of discretionary funds from Q4 2017

In the fourth quarter of 2017, we received $5.6 million in funding for making grants at our discretion. In this post we discuss:

  • The decision to allocate the $5.6 million to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI).
  • Our recommendation that donors give to GiveWell for granting to top charities at our discretion so that we can direct the funding to the top charity or charities with the most pressing funding need. For donors who prefer to give directly to our top charities, we continue to recommend giving 70 percent of your donation to AMF and 30 percent to SCI to maximize your impact.

We noted in November that we would use funds received for making grants at our discretion to fill the next highest priority funding gaps among our top charities. We also noted that our best guess at the time was that we would give 70 percent to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) and 30 percent to SCI.

Based on information received since November, described below, we allocated the $5.6 million to SCI, rather than dividing these funds between AMF and SCI, as previously expected. GiveWell’s Executive Director, Elie Hassenfeld, the fund advisor on the Effective Altruism Fund for Global Health and Development, also recommended that the fund grant out the $1.5 million that it held to SCI.

Update on AMF

AMF has been somewhat slower to make commitments to fund distributions of insecticide-treated nets than we expected and our best guess is that its currently available funding will be sufficient to fund all distributions that it is likely to commit to before our next major round of funding allocations in November. Notwithstanding that fact, we continue to believe that AMF has room for more funding. Additional funds would reduce the risk that AMF’s progress will be slowed if it is able to sign several major agreements in the next few months, which, while somewhat unlikely in our estimation, remains a possibility.

We wrote in November 2017:

Progress at signing new agreements was slow in 2017, leaving AMF with a large amount of funds on hand. We attribute this to the fact that countries spent much of 2017 applying for Global Fund funding and decisions about how much funding would be allocated to LLIN distributions for 2018-2020 and what the funding gaps would be for LLINs were being finalized in many countries as of October 2017. AMF noted that it did not commit to funding distributions earlier in part because GiveWell had asked AMF not to make funding commitments until the size of funding gaps were known.

Our expectation had been that the last couple months of 2017 and first months of 2018 would be a period in which AMF would commit a significant portion of its available funding to help fill these gaps because we expected countries to have more visibility into their funding gaps following finalization of Global Fund commitments around October 2017. This has not been the case. AMF recently told us that most of the countries that it was in discussions with did not have visibility into their funding gaps until December 2017, and in some cases it has taken longer than that. In making the decision regarding the fourth quarter discretionary funds, we relied on a document from AMF detailing its signed and potential agreements as of early February. The document noted that AMF had committed to one new distribution since October, in Ghana in 2018. This distribution will cost about $8 million. (We have since learned that AMF has also committed to additional distributions in Papua New Guinea in 2019 and 2020, costing $5.2 million and signed in November 2017, and in Malawi in 2018, costing $10.1 million and signed in mid February.)

AMF’s pipeline of potential future distributions includes both repeat distributions with partners and in countries it has worked with in the past and distributions with new potential partners. AMF has decided to move somewhat slowly with both types of partners. In the case of repeat partners, for several distributions, AMF is waiting to verify that the partner is able to deliver all requested data from distributions that took place in 2017 (and the monitoring that follows each distribution) before agreeing to fund the next round of nets to be delivered in 2020. These decisions seem very reasonable to us, but do result in a short-term decrease in the amount of funding we expect AMF to be able to absorb. When it is ready to do so, AMF could potentially commit up to $50 million to distributions in this category. For the largest potential new partnership that AMF is considering, there are some concerns about in-country capacity and AMF expects to to commit to a smaller-scale distribution (with an estimated cost of $5 million) with the partner and assess the results of that distribution before committing to a larger-scale distribution. AMF is also considering two additional opportunities to commit $5 to $7 million each to distributions with new partners. It could potentially commit tens of millions of dollars to one or more of these countries in future rounds if the initial engagements go well. AMF is also in several early stage conversations about potential distributions with new partners.

According to the document that we relied on for this decision, AMF held $64 million in uncommitted funds, of which $15 million was set aside for “agreement imminent” distributions, leaving $49 million “available to allocate.” Accounting for the additional agreements for Papua New Guinea and Malawi noted above, we estimate that AMF had $49 million in uncommitted funds and $45 million available to allocate as of late February.

The combination of somewhat slower progress in signing distributions than expected and our updated understanding of AMF’s pipeline led us to conclude that AMF continues to have room for more funding, but that SCI’s funding needs were more urgent. Our best guess was that the $5.6 million from GiveWell discretionary funds and $1.5 million from the Effective Altruism Fund would have a greater impact if allocated to SCI.

Update on SCI

In November, we recommended that donors give 30 percent to SCI because SCI had additional room for more funding to sustain its work in its current countries of operation and would need to scale down without additional funding. SCI recently confirmed to us that it would need to cut budgets if it did not receive additional funds before setting its annual budget for April 2018 to March 2019 in March 2018. With AMF having a less urgent funding need than previously expected, we concluded that the best use of the fourth quarter discretionary funds would be to allocate them to SCI.

It is also the case that in the last few months of 2017 SCI received less funding than we projected, both from donors influenced by GiveWell’s research and other donors.

We believe that SCI will continue to have room for more funding after the two grants totaling about $7 million. Recently, SCI sent us an early version of a budget for its 2018-19 budget year. It includes funding requests from each country program, estimates of country program requests in cases where the country has not yet submitted a request, and estimates of SCI spending on central costs and research costs. We estimate that, assuming the same budget in each of the next three years, SCI’s funding gap for that period, after receiving the grants discussed above, is about $9 million. SCI could likely absorb funding beyond that level, as the budget does not include opportunities it has to expand to additional countries. It also assumes that SCI’s other major funders will continue their support at the same level, and some of this funding may be in doubt. We note that about 13 percent of treatments that would be delivered at this scale would be for adults (discussion of this here).

Other possibilities that we decided against

Helen Keller International (HKI) for stopgap funding in one additional country

In December, Good Ventures, on GiveWell’s recommendation, provided HKI with funding for vitamin A supplementation (VAS) programs in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea. Since then, HKI has learned about an unanticipated funding gap for VAS in another country. As a result, a planned VAS distribution in September may not reach national scale and/or may not include deworming (as is common for VAS campaigns). We are in ongoing conversations with HKI about either HKI allocating some of the Good Ventures funding to this country, or GiveWell providing additional funding to cover the gap. We plan to consider this funding opportunity when allocating discretionary funds from the first quarter of 2018. We expect to hold more than enough in discretionary funds (received in the first quarter of 2018) to fill the potential gap and HKI has told us that more information about the gap will be available in time for that decision. (We grant out funds from the previous quarter about two months after the end of that quarter, after we have fully checked the accuracy of our data and the size of grants).

Evidence Action’s Deworm the World for Nigeria

The grant that Good Ventures made to Evidence Action for Deworm the World in December 2017, based on our recommendation, did not include sufficient funds to fund expansion of Deworm the World’s work in Nigeria. Deworm the World sought funding for this work and we prioritized other charities’ funding gaps ahead of this work because we modeled the cost-effectiveness of this work as being lower. We noted in November, “its planned work in Nigeria is around three times as cost-effective as cash transfers (though this estimate is based on low-quality information).” We continue to think that AMF and SCI’s marginal uses of funding are likely more cost-effective than Deworm the World’s potential work in Nigeria, but this conclusion is highly dependent on a model that incorporates many highly uncertain values.

Malaria Consortium for seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC)

Our recommendation of Malaria Consortium has resulted in about $30 million in funding for its SMC program since November; however, we believe that there will still be a large funding gap for the program over the next three years. We decided against providing additional funding to Malaria Consortium at this time because of worries about increasing our already very large bet on a program that’s relatively new to us. We are not opposed to increasing this funding level in the future but on balance believe that granting additional funds to SCI is a stronger option at current levels. We’d also note that we’d expect additional funding at this time to go to funding SMC in 2019 and beyond (given the time needed to order drugs and plan programs for the 2018 SMC season) and there is some uncertainty as to the size of the funding gap for SMC in 2019. The program is in a scale-up phase globally and other major funders may increase their contributions to SMC starting in 2019.

What is our recommendation to donors?

We continue to recommend that donors give to GiveWell for granting to top charities at our discretion so that we can direct the funding to the top charity or charities with the most pressing funding need. For donors who prefer to give directly to our top charities, we are continuing to recommend giving 70 percent of your donation to AMF and 30 percent to SCI to maximize your impact.

As part of the process we went through to decide where to allocate these funds, we also discussed whether we should update our recommendation for donors who prefer to give directly to our top charities. We ultimately decided that because updating that recommended allocation is a difficult and time-consuming process because of the additional research and internal discussions involved and because, relatively speaking, few dollars follow this recommendation outside of giving season, we plan to update that allocation only once each year (in November) unless we believe our previously recommended allocation is clearly suboptimal.

In this case, we believe that the $7 million in grants to SCI roughly brings the situation back in line with where it was in November, with AMF and SCI having the next most impactful funding gaps and it being difficult to distinguish on the margin between the quality of AMF and SCI’s funding gaps. SCI has better modeled cost-effectiveness, while AMF appears to be better on several qualitative factors, including monitoring of program performance.


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