Going to scale is not easy!

H/T to Lee, for this Givewell link – where they re-assess their recommendation for Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). See the Givewell link here. A quick history here – in 2011, Givewell (a charity-rating service) rated AMF as their ‘best buy’ and over $10 mn flowed through them to AMF – but not much has been spent so far, and AMF has been unable to kick off a major distribution initiative. Do see the link for a an honest discussion of the challenges on the ground – of particular interest to me is this bit where Givewell talks of what it has learnt and intends to change:

(a) we should think harder and communicate more clearly about cases in which our recommendation could bring about a change in the scale of a charity, and the potential difficulties associated with this; (b) we should put more effort into ensuring clear communication between the donors coming to our website and the charities receiving funds from them, in terms of donor preferences about how their funds are to be spent; (c) we should put more effort into interviewing people and organizations who have worked with the organizations we’re investigating, as part of our broader efforts to evaluate people and organizations holistically; (d) we need to be highly cognizant – and to effectively communicate – that as of today, there don’t appear to be any “sure bets” with quantifiable outcomes in charity, especially when it comes to directing relatively large amounts of money

What this reveals clearly is how difficult it is to go to scale for NGOs – something I have written about previouslyGoing to scale makes demands of NGOs that may not be fully realised when appraising their pilots. In particular, this case reveals two key areas of weakness – the challenges encountered in establishing successful partnerships to go to scale; and the misleading implications of low administrative costs. 


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