Category Archives: Aid

Make a reverse Advent calendar for your kids

SOS Children’s Villages Norway have a project for schools that they call a reverse Advent xmascalendar_giftletters2calendar, in which pupils collect funds every day and learn about the organisation’s projects. I think that is a great concept, combining doing some good, letting kids join in the do-gooding, and teaching them something about the world at the same time. I wanted something to implement at home for my 8-year old, however, and when I did not find anything, I decided to make my own.

I felt that to prepare something for all the 24 days before Christmas eve would probably require too much work to do it properly, and would also risk turning the reverse calendar into a chore, so I decided to go for every other day. I wholeheartedly support the thinking behind GiveWell’s strategy of efficient giving, and therefore took as a basis the seven top charities from GiveWell, combining three of those working on deworming to create three groups:

1. Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)
2. Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)
3. END Fund for work on dewormingSightsavers for work on deworming and Deworm the World Initiative
4. GiveDirectly
5.  Malaria Consortium for work on seasonal malaria chemoprevention

I added four groups from their six Other Standout Charities (GiveWell’s descriptions):

6. Development Media International produces mass media to promote improved health behaviors in developing countries.
7. Food Fortification Initiative and Project Healthy Children work to reduce micronutrient deficiencies through food fortification programs.
8. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)’s Universal Salt Iodization program and Iodine Global Network (IGN) aid salt iodization programs in developing countries.
9. Living Goods supports a network of community health promoters in sub-Saharan Africa.

That made 9 charities in total. I also wanted to have represented some well-established charities that my son might have heard of or come across himself, and that I believe do important work but that for various reasons are not able to cut it in the kind of evaluation that GiveWell performs. Thus for the final three I chose:

10. Red Cross
11. Doctors without borders
12. Amnesty International

For each charity, I prepared a one-page document presenting some of the charity’s work xmascalendar_giftlettersin simple language and with some illustrations. (Tip: The organisation Effektiv altruisme, which bases its recommendations on GiveWell, has material available in Norwegian about some of the top charities.) I wanted each donation to be presentable as a round number, and since giving NOK 100 per day had some salience, I settled for an average of NOK 200 (€22) per gift. I ended each document with the words “We give X kroner to cause/charity”.

GiveWell recommends prioritizing the Against Malaria Foundation because they have the most valuable current funding gap, so I decided to allocate 900 NOK to them, 200 to the other four of the top five, and 100 to the rest.

All the envelopes were with Christmas stickers and hung from the curtain pole. The first picture above shows how it looked in the end.

 

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The hedonic treadmill exists even for basic necessities

Does people’s life satisfaction adapt to material improvements? In a recent paper (gated), Galiani, Gertler and Undurraga find that it does, even in a case of very poor people receiving a really basic service (housing). In a large-scale experiment, some poor households in El Salvador, Mexico and Uruguay were randomly selected to receive a ready-made small house. Receiving such housing increased the share of households reporting to be “satsfied” or “very satisfied” with the quality of their life by around around 40 %, from 0.53 to 0.73, thus confirming that it was something these households really needed. What about the effect in the long term? Eight months later, more than half of the gain had disappeared, highly consistent with the hedonic treadmill hypothesis.

Breakfast with Bill Gates

Do not be late. Bill Gates to the right.

Do not be late. Bill Gates to the right.

Breakfast meeting on Commercial Investments as a tool for Development,” organized by the think-tank Civita. 

Bill Gates, in Norway to try to secure continued funding for his foundation’s aid programs, started out by giving kudos to Norway’s wealth management strategy and aid generosity. He argued that it would be feasible for Norway to invest a small part of the oil money with a “dual goal” objective – investing in countries that are short on capital, and where the investments could both provide a financial return and help financing needed basic infrastructure (electricity, roads, agriculture). He ducked a couple of hard issues. On a question from Paul-Christian Rieber on how to deal with oppressive regimes, he said that it was up to the national governments themselves to set their own rules and that he believed in engaging with most countries. I wished he had been more specific about how to engage. On a question from journalist Maria Berg Reinertsen on challenges related to taxation, Gates only said that planning was fair. A more helpful response was given by State Secretary Jon Gunnar Pedersen, who pointed out that tax issues had to be dealt with at an international government level. Pedersen cut a good figure, and also noted that the pension fund already do have investments in the areas that Gates were talking about, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, and that we have Norfund, a government fund whose aim is specifically to invest for development.

While this meeting was about investments, Gates’ next meeting of the day was with the new Prime Minister. Probably hoping that her people would note, he was crystal clear that aid was much more important. 

Measurement is about learning and improvement, not control

Chris Blattman rants against the resistance to trying to estimate cost-effectiveness that he has encountered in the aid world. One thing he writes about is the “we do not experiment on people” argument (counter: there are always some who gets the stuff and some who do not).

Another expression of reluctance to measurement that I have encountered is: “We understand that we should be held accountable to donors, but why the need for such tight control? Don’t they trust us?” But this gets wrong the rationale for measuring, which primarily is to learn about the effects of what we do in order to do it better. Even if you are not accountable to anyone, measurement may help you learn what you do best and to improve.