The GiveWell Blog

A grant to Evidence Action Beta to prototype, test, and scale promising programs

In July 2018, we recommended a $5.1 million grant to Evidence Action Beta to create a program dedicated to developing potential GiveWell top charities by prototyping, testing, and scaling programs which have the potential to be highly impactful and cost-effective.

This grant was made as part of GiveWell’s Incubation Grants program, which aims to support potential future GiveWell top charities and to help grow the pipeline of organizations we can consider for a recommendation. Funding for Incubation Grants comes from Good Ventures, a large foundation with which we work closely.

Summary

This post will discuss the following:

  • Why Evidence Action Beta is promising. (More)
  • Risks we see with this Incubation Grant. (More)
  • Our plans for following Evidence Action Beta’s work going forward. (More)

Incubation Grant to Evidence Action Beta

We summarized our case for making this grant in a recently-published write-up:

A key part of GiveWell’s research process is trying to identify evidence-backed, cost-effective programs. GiveWell sometimes finds programs that seem potentially highly impactful based on academic research, but for which there is no obvious organizational partner that could scale up and test them. This grant will fund Evidence Action Beta to create … [an] incubator … focused on interventions that GiveWell and Evidence Action believe are promising but that lack existing organizations to scale them.

We have found that which program a charity works on is generally the most important factor in determining its overall cost-effectiveness. Through partnering with Evidence Action Beta to test programs that we think have the potential to be very cost-effective, … our hope is that programs tested and scaled up through this partnership may eventually become GiveWell top charities.

We believe this incubator has the potential to fill a major gap in the nonprofit world by providing a well-defined path for testing and potentially scaling … promising idea[s] for helping the global poor.

For full details on the grant activities and budget, see this page.

We believe that Evidence Action Beta is well-positioned to run this incubator because of its track record of scaling up cost-effective programs with high-quality monitoring. Evidence Action Beta’s parent organization, Evidence Action, leads two of our top charities (Deworm the World Initiative and No Lean Season) and one standout charity (Dispensers for Safe Water).

Modeling cost-effectiveness

In addition to the theoretical case for the grant outlined above, we also made explicit predictions and modeled the potential cost-effectiveness of this grant, so we could better consider it relative to other options. In this section, we provide more details on our process for estimating the grant’s cost-effectiveness.

The main path to impact we see with this grant is by creating new top charities which could use GiveWell-directed funds more cost-effectively than alternatives could.

This could occur:

  1. if Evidence Action Beta incubates charities which are more cost-effective than our current top charities, or
  2. if Evidence Action Beta incubates charities which are similarly cost-effective to our current top charities—in a scenario in which we have mostly filled our current top charities’ funding gaps. Right now, we believe our top charities can absorb significantly more funding than we expect to direct to them; this diminishes our view of the value of finding additional, similarly cost-effective opportunities. If our current top charities’ funding gaps were close to filled, we would place higher value on identifying additional room for more funding at a similarly cost-effective level.

This grant could also have an impact if it causes other, non-GiveWell funders to allocate resources to charities incubated by this grant. This incubator may create programs that GiveWell doesn’t direct funding to but others do. If these new opportunities are more cost-effective than what these funders would have otherwise supported, then this grant will have had a positive impact by causing funds to be spent more cost-effectively, even if GiveWell never recommends funding to the new programs directly.

We register forecasts for all Incubation Grants we make. We register these not because we are confident in them but because they help us clarify and communicate our expectation for the outcomes of the grant. Here, we forecast a 55% chance that Evidence Action Beta’s incubator leads to a new top charity by December 2023 that is 1-2x as cost-effective as the giving opportunity to which we would have otherwise directed those funds and a 30% chance that the grant does not lead to any new top charities by that time. (For more forecasts we made surrounding this grant, see here.)

We incorporated our forecasts as well as the potential impacts outlined above in our cost-effectiveness estimate for the grant: note that the potential upside coming from other funders is a particularly rough estimate which could change substantially with additional research.

Our best guess is that this grant is approximately ~9x as cost-effective as cash transfers, but we have spent limited time on this estimate and are highly uncertain about it. For context, we estimate that the average cost-effectiveness of our current top charities is between ~3x and ~12x as cost-effective as cash transfers.

Risks to the success of the grant

We do see risks to the success of this grant:

  • Few programs may be more cost-effective than our current top charities, or our top charities may remain underfunded for a long time. If Evidence Action Beta fails to identify more cost-effective giving opportunities than GiveWell’s 2017 top charities, or if it only identifies similarly cost-effective giving opportunities while our current top charities remain underfunded, barring any major upside effects, this grant will have failed to make an impact.
  • We expect this partnership with Evidence Action Beta to require a fair amount of senior staff capacity. If other means of identifying cost-effective giving opportunities, such as our work to evaluate policy opportunities, end up seeming more promising, this capacity may have been misused.

Going forward

This grant initiates a partnership with Evidence Action Beta toward which we might contribute substantial additional GiveWell Incubation Grant funding in the future. We plan to spend a fair amount of staff time on this ongoing partnership and follow this work closely.

We look forward to sharing updates and the results.

Comments

  • Jamie Cassidy on November 15, 2018 at 10:12 am said:

    I am so pumped about this! I feel like this really fills in a gap in the architecture of the Givewell Ecosystem.

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