The GiveWell Blog

Consider the eggplant

Norman Borlaug, the “father of the green revolution,” transformed agriculture (and won a Nobel Peace Prize) for developing new wheat varietals that resisted diseases and greatly increased yields.

You might well wonder: if it’s possible for wheat, is it possible for other crops? Consider the eggplant: a popular purple fruit/vegetable that can be made into everything from hongshao qiezi to baba ghanoush. It’s beloved by many people worldwide, and also by a cute but destructive moth larva.

The “eggplant fruit and shoot borer,” as the name suggests, bores into the shoots and fruit of eggplants, damaging the crops. A new varietal, Bt eggplants, was developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), and later supported by partnerships with USAID, Cornell University, and local partners. This varietal is genetically modified to create proteins which are toxic to these little menaces, but safe for humans and the environment.

So: could encouraging the adoption of Bt eggplants create a purple revolution that meets GiveWell’s bar for outstanding programs?

Read More

How we work, #3: Our analyses involve judgment calls

This post is the third in a multi-part series, covering how GiveWell works and what we fund. Through these posts, we hope to give a better understanding of our research and decision-making.

Our goal is to recommend funding to the programs we believe have the greatest impact per dollar donated. There’s no simple algorithm for this question. Answering it necessarily involves making judgment calls. Our first post in this series discussed the importance of cost-effectiveness analyses and the many factors we consider; in this post, we’ll share:

Read More

GiveWell’s 2023 recommendations to donors

We’re excited about the impact donors can have by supporting our All Grants Fund and our Top Charities Fund. For donors who want to support the programs we’re most confident in, we recommend the Top Charities Fund, which is allocated among our four top charities. For donors with a higher degree of trust in GiveWell and willingness to take on more risk, our top recommendation is the All Grants Fund, which goes to a wider range of opportunities and may have higher impact per dollar. Read more about the options for giving below. We estimate that donations to the programs we recommend can save a life for roughly $5,000 on average, or have similarly strong impact by increasing incomes or preventing suffering.

Why your support matters

We expect to find more outstanding giving opportunities than we can fully fund unless our community of supporters substantially increases its giving. Figures like $5,000 per life saved are rough estimates; while we spend thousands of hours on our cost-effectiveness analyses, they’re still inherently uncertain. But the bottom line is that we think donors have the opportunity to do a huge amount of good by supporting the programs we recommend.

For a concrete sense of what a donation can do, let’s focus briefly on seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC), which involves distributing preventive medication to young children.

Read More

How we work, #2: We look at specific opportunities, not just general interventions

This post is the second in a multi-part series, covering how GiveWell works and what we fund. The first post, on cost-effectiveness, is here. Through these posts, we hope to give a better understanding of our research and decision-making.

Looking forward, not just backward

When we consider recommending funding, we don’t just want to know whether a program has generally been cost-effective in the past—we want to know how additional funding would be used.

People sometimes think of GiveWell as recommending entire programs or organizations. This was more accurate in GiveWell’s early days, but now we tend to narrow in on specific opportunities. Rather than asking whether it is cost-effective to deliver long-lasting insecticide-treated nets in general, we ask more specific questions, such as whether it is cost-effective to fund net distributions in 2023 in the Nigerian states of Benue, Plateau, and Zamfara, given the local burden of malaria and the costs of delivering nets in those states.

Geographic factors affecting cost-effectiveness

The same program can vary widely in cost-effectiveness across locations. The burden of a disease in a particular place is often a key factor in determining overall cost-effectiveness. All else equal, it’s much more impactful to deliver vitamin A supplements in areas with high rates of vitamin A deficiency than in areas where almost everyone consumes sufficient vitamin A as part of their diet. Similarly, one of our top charities, New Incentives, has chosen to operate in northern Nigeria largely because relatively low baseline vaccination rates mean its work is especially impactful there.

Read More

How we work, #1: Cost-effectiveness is generally the most important factor in our recommendations

This post is the first in a multi-part series, covering how GiveWell works and what we fund. We’ll add links to the later posts here as they’re published. Through these posts, we hope to give a better understanding of our research and decision-making.

Why cost-effectiveness matters

The core question we try to answer in our research is: How much good can you do by giving money to a certain program?

Consider how much good your donation could do if you give to a program that costs $50,000 to save a life versus one that costs $5,000 to save a life (which is roughly what we estimate for our top charities). Giving to the latter would have 10 times more impact. While in an ideal world both programs would receive funding, we focus on identifying the most cost-effective programs so that the limited amount of funding available can make the greatest difference.

The basics

We’ve written in detail here about our approach to cost-effectiveness analysis and its limitations. Our bottom-line estimates are always uncertain, and we don’t expect them to be literally true. At the same time, they help us compare programs to each other so that we can direct funding where we believe it will have the greatest impact.

Read More

The winners of the Change Our Mind Contest—and some reflections

In September, we announced the Change Our Mind Contest for critiques of our cost-effectiveness analyses. Today, we’re excited to announce the winners!

We’re very grateful that so many people engaged deeply with our work. This contest was GiveWell’s most successful effort so far to solicit external criticism from the public, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the participation of people who share our goal of allocating funding to cost-effective programs.

Overall, we received 49 entries engaging with our prompts. We were very happy with the quality of entries we received—their authors brought a great deal of thought and expertise to engaging with our cost-effectiveness analyses.

Because we were impressed by the quality of entries, we’ve decided to award two first-place prizes and eight honorable mentions. (We stated in September that we would give a minimum of one first-place, one runner-up, and one honorable mention prize.) We also awarded $20,000 to the piece of criticism that inspired this contest.

Winners are listed below, followed by our reflections on this contest and responses to the winners.

Read More