Three grants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

by GiveWell4 min read24th Apr 2020No comments

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Coronavirus
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We began exploring opportunities to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic in March. We are excited to announce that we granted a total of $450,000 to support coronavirus-response projects run by Development Media International (DMI), IDinsight, and Yale professor Mushfiq Mobarak, respectively.

With our grant funding, we expect DMI to run or support mass media campaigns to promote essential health messages. We expect IDinsight and Professor Mobarak to support policymakers responding to the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries through data collection and analysis and by making recommendations.

Our goal at GiveWell is always to direct funding to maximize impact. This typically leads us to conduct thorough, monthslong investigations into potential grantees. However, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we believe we can have more impact by acting quickly to prevent the spread of the disease—even if it means completing only relatively shallow grant investigations.

These three grants may save or improve lives as well as or better than our current top charities. Nevertheless, we are more uncertain about their potential impact, given our brief review. The $450,000 in grants is the full amount we’re comfortable directing to these opportunities at this time; we do not suggest additional donations beyond this amount today.

We remain very worried about the effects of the pandemic on non-coronavirus health programs as the global funding landscape shifts in response to coronavirus. The need for the programs operated by our top charities is already large and we are unsure if our top charities will receive less funding than usual in the coming year. We expect that our top charities will require significant additional resources to continue to carry out their programs.

Our recommendation to individual donors is thus unchanged: our top recommendation is to give to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion,” which we will allocate quarterly among our recommended charities where we believe it will do the most good. For donors who prefer to give directly to a GiveWell top charity, we recommend Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program. We do not expect to make coronavirus-specific recommendations for individual donors.

Why we made these three grants

Our process for identifying and assessing grant recipients

We focused our investigation on projects operating in low- and middle-income countries. After initial conversations, we believed the pandemic’s impacts would be more severe in these contexts than in high-income countries due to their already-overburdened health systems. Funding opportunities in low- and middle-income countries also seemed more likely to be equally or more cost-effective than our top charities, which work in the same contexts. This is an important point of comparison, as we expect that the coronavirus grant funding would have otherwise been given to our top charities.

We started with a broad look at potential opportunities to fund. GiveWell researchers spoke to around 30 people from our networks, such as staff at the Center for Global Development and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. We reached out to groups we had previously funded that we thought may be well positioned to contribute to coronavirus mitigation efforts we could support and asked about their plans and funding needs. We also received a number of inbound requests for funding.

We narrowed the list of potential grants based on the following:

  • We ruled out opportunities that we did not believe we had the expertise to assess well and quickly.
    • We deprioritized programs that looked significantly different from the types we’ve historically investigated, such as scientific research and development. We didn’t think we could make good, quick decisions about where to give in a space that was very new to us. Investigating new types of programs may require developing novel analytical frameworks in which we wouldn’t expect to feel confident in a short timeframe.
    • We deprioritized organizations we didn’t know well. We believe that thoroughly assessing an organization’s strength requires a significant time investment. We didn’t think we could become sufficiently knowledgeable about the coronavirus pandemic and all potential projects to be in a position to evaluate organizations we knew very little about.
  • Since thoroughly assessing a new organization was not compatible with our brief timeline for these grants, we prioritized organizations that we knew well and thought highly of.
  • We considered the likelihood the grant would be very cost-effective, based on our experience assessing similar interventions. For example, we believe programs to assist government policymakers may offer strong returns on investment, based on our initial investigations into policy organizations.
  • We considered whether the grant had a plausible theory of change. In other words, we considered whether we understood the case for how the grant would have an impact and if that case seemed reasonable.
  • We considered the likelihood the grant work would be funded without our support.

This led us to DMI, IDinsight, and Professor Mobarak. We feel these represent excellent opportunities to support coronavirus efforts. We decided to make relatively small grants to fill particularly urgent funding gaps in each case because (a) we know less about these grants than we would following a typical GiveWell investigation and (b) we have some reservations about the possibility that these grants are displacing funding from other donors. In each case, we may decide to make larger grants at a later date.

How the grants will be used

Development Media International: $200,000 grant

Our grant will support DMI’s work to run or support mass media campaigns, mostly over the radio, to promote handwashing, social distancing, and cough etiquette (also called “respiratory hygiene”) in nine African countries. There’s a common-sense argument that in countries where extreme social distancing is difficult, low-cost interventions like cough etiquette are particularly important. In addition, DMI has been a GiveWell standout charity since 2014.

We are excited to support DMI because it is an organization we know well and think highly of, there’s a common-sense case for this work, and our very rough cost-effectiveness analysis of this work looks promising.

IDinsight: $150,000 grant

Our grant will enable IDinsight, a development consulting group we partner closely with, to provide additional assistance to governments with their coronavirus response and to increase the amount of data IDinsight can collect to inform that response. Working with governments to improve responses to the pandemic may be highly cost-effective and a plausible way to have a lot of impact. Please note the relationship disclosure in the footnote. ^[We hired Dr. Neil Buddy Shah, IDinsight’s Founding Partner and CEO, as GiveWell’s managing director. We expect him to start at GiveWell this summer. Buddy is currently employed at IDinsight and provided information about and input on this grant.]

Professor Mushfiq Mobarak: $100,000 grant

Mushfiq Mobarak is an economics professor at Yale who we worked closely with in our assessment of former top charity Evidence Action’s No Lean Season. Our grant to Professor Mobarak will enable him to either (a) hire a new analyst to help respond to coronavirus-related policy requests from the Bangladesh government or (b) collect additional data to inform the Bangladesh government’s response to coronavirus. As with IDinsight, we think that assisting governments may be a particularly effective and cost-effective way to have impact. We have a very positive opinion of Professor Mobarak from our previous engagement with No Lean Season.

What’s next?

Our focus is finding the most cost-effective ways to help people. We may make additional grants to these organizations or others in response to the pandemic. We also plan to continue our work to understand the effects of the pandemic on our current top charities.

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