In a previous post, I wrote about GiveWell’ charity rating criteria and their flip-flop on AMF. In the latest rating released earlier this month, GiveWell dropped AMF from its ‘top three’ and instead included ‘Deworm the World Initiative’, in addition to Give Directly and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI). GiveWell also announced a modification to their rating criteria, a slight departure from the criteria used in 2012. However, GiveWell continues to get it wrong, or at least, it furthers the process by which its donors get it wrong when they pick which charities to support.
GiveWell continues to promise its audience: “best opportunities we’re aware of to help low-income people with relatively high confidence and relatively short time horizons”. GiveWell may well be recommending worthy charities, but focusing on charities* that rely on a direct hand-out model (whether bednets or deworming pills) reflects a narrow ideology of what charities should be doing. By GiveWell’s standards and criteria, no charity that brings people together for any form of collective action or those that work on interventions with a long gestation period will ever make the cut. You can see how this is a big problem – looking for quick fixes alone is not all of the development industry is about.
In a comment on our last blog, we were asked how the AMF issue was dissimilar to private companies that get a lot of cash suddenly and grow. Well, the dotcom boom etc come to mind, where much money was pumped in on an attractive idea that promised short-term gains, before it all crashed spectacularly. But with AMF and GiveWell, it is really important to look at what the role of charities are and what their ability to engage with the government and other key stakeholders actually is – and this is another area where GiveWell seems to get it wrong.
Private companies, I think, operate in a slightly different space, where their aim is to create a market for their goods and services within the regulatory framework in the geographies where they operate, keeping with the space created for them by states. Keeping within the regulations is a sufficient maker of their engagement with governments. Charities usually attempt to do a better job than the state in delivering the same set of goods/services and thereby setting up demonstration pilots, or making up for the state’s oversight, neglect or weaknesses in general. Or else, they should be helping the state do better by collaborating with them on the ground, or by mobilising resources. The problem is not ‘more money’, it is the resource deployment and local engagement strategy
(*I hate the word charities)