Your Dollar Goes Further Overseas



by GiveWell, from Giving 101

We understand the sentiment that "charity starts at home," and we used to agree with it, until we learned just how different U.S. charity is from charity aimed at the poorest people in the world.

Helping people in the U.S. usually involves tackling extremely complex, poorly understood problems. Many popular approaches simply don't work. Many more approaches have simply never been investigated, beyond the stories and anecdotes.

In the poorest parts of the world, people suffer from very different problems. A child may die of malaria for lack of a $10 bednet, or of diarrhea for lack of a 5-cent packet of nutrients.

The table below illustrates the difference, comparing U.S.-focused charities to international charities.





Developing-world health

Against Malaria Foundation

Approximately $3,400 per life saved

Improve health, save lives

Early childhood care and education (U.S.)

Nurse-Family Partnership

$10,000 per child served

Increase academic performance and reduce criminal behavior

US Education


$7,500-$17,000 per student per year (including state funds)

Improve academic performance

Employment Assistance (NYC)

The HOPE Program

$10,000 per client served

Unclear, if any


We estimate that it costs the Against Malaria Foundation approximately $3,400 to save a human life. This includes transportation, administration, etc. Compare that with even the best U.S. programs: the Nurse-Family Partnership and KIPP both cost over $10,000 per child served, and their impact is encouraging but not overwhelming.

This is not to say that developing-world aid is easy or simple. Some activities are highly proven and cost-effective; others have very poor track records. As in the U.S., generating evidence of impact (not just stories) is essential.