See below for the executive summary; the full report can be found on our website.
Comments are welcome, and feel free to share the report wherever you think it could be helpful!
Update 14-02-2019 12.12 pm BST:
This is to thank you all once more for all your comments here, and to let you know they have been useful and we have incorporated some changes to account for them in a new version of the report, which will be published in March or April. They were also useful in our internal discussion on how to frame our research, and we plan to keep improving our communication around this throughout the rest of the year, e.g. by publishing a blog post / brief on cause prioritisation for our members.
One thing I still want to stress here to avoid misconceptions: FP generally chooses the areas we research through cause prioritisation / in a cause neutral way, and we do try to fully answer the question 'how can we achieve the most good' in the areas we investigate, not (even) shying away from harder-to-measure impact. In fact, we are moving more and more in the latter direction, and are developing research methodology to do so (see e.g. our recently published methodology brief on policy interventions). Some of our reports so far, including this one, have been an exception to these rules for pragmatic (though impact-motivated) reasons, mainly:
- We quickly needed to build a large enough 'basic' portfolio of relatively high-impact charities, so that we could make good recommendations to our members.
- There are some causes our members ask lots of questions about / are extra interested in, and we want to be able to say something about those areas, even if we in the end recommend them to focus on other areas instead, when we find better opportunities there.
But there's definitely ways in which we can improve the framing of these exceptions, and the comments provided here have already been helpful in that way.
Update 21-12-2018 1.18 pm BST:
To provide some context (thanks SiebeRozendal for the comment):
- We selected to work on this particular cause at least partially because of a large interest in our member community.
- This does not mean that the choice of writing this report was a cause-partial choice: for Founders Pledge to do the most good we obviously need to take our community's preferences into account.
- Neither does it mean that one couldn't arrive at women's empowerment as a high-potential cause area through cause prioritisation, given certain values.
- The report isn't written specifically for an EA target audience. However, it's finding should be of interest to a cause-neutral reader. In particular, our research shows:
- Bandhan and Village Enterprise are both likely more cost-effective than GiveDirectly, but not than GiveWell's other recommended charities, taking GiveWell's value inputs;
- StrongMinds is likely more cost-effective than GiveDirectly if looked at in terms of DALYs averted and with GiveWell's value inputs, though again not than GiveWell's other recommended charities. (If looked at through the lense of improving subjective well-being, it could arguably be at least as cost-effective as many, if not all, GiveWell's recommendations.);
- No Means No Worldwide is a harder case, as it requires value and empirical judgements with very large uncertainties, plus sexual violence is obviously a very sensitive area to discuss. My current personal best guess is that they are in the same ballpark as GiveDirectly, but I could be wrong by a large margin in either direction.
The cause area
One hundred four countries still have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs; only 56% of women giving birth in Africa deliver in a health facility; and at least 35% of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence. These are just some of the challenges that women and girls around the globe face today.
In this report, we focus on women’s empowerment, by which we mean improving the lives of women and girls. We researched charity programmes to find those that most cost-effectively improve the lives of women and girls. As a heuristic for finding the most cost-effective interventions, we chose to focus on programmes aimed at low- and middle-income countries.
We used a top-down approach to select charities. First, we categorised women’s empowerment in low- and middle-income countries into twelve subfields. We then reviewed literature and interviewed twenty experts in these subfields. This yielded a shortlist of eleven promising interventions across subfields, including the graduation approach to combat extreme poverty, empowerment-self-defence courses to prevent sexual violence, and interpersonal group therapy to treat depression.
With this shortlist, we began evaluating charities. We started with a longlist of 163 women’s-empowerment charities, and narrowed it down to a shortlist of 15 charities based on our intervention research and a quick scan of organisational strength. We then compared the shortlisted organisations using more detailed information on both cost-effectiveness and strength of evidence. By our criteria, four charities especially stood out. For each of those, we investigated organisational strength and plans, which led us to recommend three and provisionally recommend the fourth.
We also recommend charities that are highly cost-effective in improving women’s lives but do not focus exclusively on women’s empowerment. We discuss these organisations, including those recommended by our research partner GiveWell, in other research reports on our website.
What do they do? StrongMinds implement Interpersonal Group Psychotherapy (IPT-G), training laypeople to treat women suffering from depression in Uganda.
Does the intervention work? Evidence for the efficacy of IPT-G in low-resource settings comes from two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and StrongMinds’s own quasi-experimental impact assessment.
Is the intervention cost-effective? We estimate that StrongMinds prevent the equivalent of one year of severe major depressive disorder for a woman at a cost of $200–$299, with a best guess estimate of $248.
What are the wider benefits? There are indications of improvements in employment, nutrition, physical health, housing, and children’s education.
Are they a strong organisation? They have a good track record and a strong focus on generating evidence. They are transparent about their mistakes and lessons, and are committed to continuous improvement.
Is there room for funding? StrongMinds could productively use an extra $5.1 million in funding through 2020.
Bandhan’s Targeting the Hardcore Poor programme
What do they do? As part of their Targeting the Hardcore Poor (THP) programme, Bandhan provide women living in extreme poverty in India with a productive asset, a savings account, business training, mentoring, consumption support, and information on education and health. They also work with the Indian government and other NGOs to scale up their model.
Does the intervention work? A high-quality long-term RCT supports the effectiveness of Bandhan’s THP programme. Additional evidence gathered in different contexts suggests that the ‘graduation approach’ adopted by Bandhan can effectively address extreme poverty.
Is the intervention cost-effective? We estimate that Bandhan’s THP programme doubles a participant’s consumption for one year at a cost of $41–$134, with a best guess estimate of $62. This suggests that Bandhan’s programme can bring about nominal gains in consumption of about $1.77 for each $1.00 donated. Adjusting for purchasing power, this is equivalent to gains of $7.27 for each $1.00 donated.
What are the wider benefits? There is some evidence that the programme improves food security, physical health, and subjective well-being.
Are they a strong organisation? Bandhan is a specialised organisation with a good track record. They are careful to maintain high-quality delivery of their programme; they are committed to evidence; and they have been transparent throughout our analysis of their programme. One point for improvement, however, is that their website lacks up-to-date information.
Is there room for funding? The key impediment preventing Bandhan from scaling up is funding, as they have all the required infrastructure and capacity in place. Another $24 million would allow them to reach an additional 60,000 households over the coming six years. For efficiency, we recommend a minimum donation to Bandhan’s THP programme of $320,000.
What do they do? Village Enterprise provide business and financial-literacy training, seed funding, mentoring, and access to business savings groups to people living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Does the intervention work? A recent high-quality RCT provides evidence that supports Village Enterprise’s programme. There is also some external evidence that the ‘graduation approach’ on which Village Enterprise’s model is based effectively addresses extreme poverty.
Is the intervention cost-effective? We estimate that Village Enterprise double a participant’s consumption for one year at a cost of $157–$367, with a best guess estimate of $250. This suggests that Village Enterprise’s programme can bring about nominal gains in consumption of about $0.99 for each $1.00 donated. Adjusting for purchasing power, this is equivalent to gains of $2.18 for each $1.00 donated.
What are the wider benefits? There is some evidence that the programme improves subjective well-being.
Are they a strong organisation? Village Enterprise are a strong organization, and routinely account for evidence and cost-effectiveness in decision-making. They have strong monitoring and learning processes and are outstandingly transparent and accountable.
Is there room for funding? They could productively use an extra $28 million in funding through 2021.
No Means No Worldwide [provisional]
What do they do? No Means No Worldwide (NMNW) train instructors to teach their ‘IMpower’ courses to both boys and girls, to help prevent sexual assault. They also work with large NGOs and governments to scale these courses up.
Does the intervention work? Evidence suggests that NMNW’s IMpower intervention reduces the incidence of sexual violence in several settings and for girls at different ages. This evidence comes mostly from two RCTs and two quasi-RCTs.
Is the intervention cost-effective? We estimate that NMNW prevent a sexual assault for $9–$757, with a best guess estimate of $62 per case averted.
What are the wider benefits? There is evidence that NMNW’s programme decreases negative gender attitudes among boys and reduces rates of pregnancy-related school dropouts.
Are they a strong organisation? NMNW are exceptionally committed to generating evidence; are transparent about their performance and motivations; and have a good track record supporting IMpower implementation.
Is there room for funding? NMNW could productively use an additional $7 million in funding through 2021.
Why is our recommendation provisional? Based on the current evidence, we feel confident recommending NMNW to donors with a specific interest in averting sexual assault. Depending on the results of an independent evaluation of NMNW’s IMpower programme, which are due at the end of 2018, we may either recommend NMNW more generally to donors interested in women’s empowerment; keep recommending them only to donors interested in averting sexual assault; or decide not to recommend them