GiveWell’s Research Council

As GiveWell grows and matures as an organization, we’re excited to continue learning from others in our field. We believe that actively seeking feedback on our work enables us to do more good. In May 2023, we launched a Research Council, a small group of experts we can consult on research questions and grant investigations.
We aimed to create a Council whose collective experience includes:

Deep familiarity with specific areas GiveWell researches
Substantial time working and/or living in the geographic areas where we fund work (low- and middle-income countries, primarily in Africa and South Asia)
Conducting research, especially randomized controlled trials (RCTs), on global health and development programs
Taking effective programs from pilot to scale
Working in partnership with major funding institutions and with country governments, especially the governments of countries where we support programs

So far, we’ve held three meetings with this full group to share further details of our research process and how we set our cost-effectiveness threshold. During these meetings, Council members provided helpful feedback about ways we might improve our research.
Additionally, we’ve asked Council members for their recommendations for how to approach tricky questions in our grant investigations and on bigger-picture considerations we might be missing. For example, we spoke with Council members about whether an organization’s request for additional funding seemed reasonable, about vaccination rates, and about ways to improve how we work with organizations and governments. We’ve also asked Council members for referrals to other experts on specific topics of interest.
This Council is a new initiative for getting external feedback. For this first iteration, we’ve invited people who are familiar with GiveWell’s work, all of whom have some current or previous affiliation with organizations to which GiveWell has recommended funding. We wanted to start with a small group of advisors we already knew in some capacity; depending on how this initiative goes, we might expand in the future to include a wider set of experts. We’ll also continue to seek input on our research from external advisors and experts beyond this Council.
While seeking external feedback is an important part of our process, all GiveWell funding and organizational decisions are made solely at our discretion and may not reflect the views of external contributors, and vice-versa.
Currently, our Research Council includes six members, listed below and on this page.

Amrita Ahuja is Vice President

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Prioritizing Grants Management: An Unsung Key to Effective Funding

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Attention-Seeking Strategies: An Investigation of Sexual Assault Organizations’ Communication Tactics on Twitter

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Ahead of Print. This study examines the attention-seeking strategies of sexual assault organizations on Twitter in Canada, exploring the factors influencing the level of attention received. Drawing on the foundation work of Guo and Saxon’s four-factor explanatory model, the research extends and refines the model by incorporating new factors, including Covid-related content, network size, intended audience, direct services, donations, and visual content. The study’s methodology involved sampling 124 sexual assault and rape crisis centers in Canada, collecting Twitter data (n = 320,836 Tweets up to April 2023), and employing ordinary least squares and fixed effect regression analysis. Results showed significant relationships between these factors and attention received, providing insights for both theoretical understanding and practical guidance.

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Making our work more readable

Perhaps you noticed that our most recent blog post included a bit of whimsy and even a joke footnote. Our blog is changing slightly, and you can expect more of that!
When GiveWell first started blogging, the blog was a place to share broad thoughts on philanthropy and generate conversation. While we’re not planning to revert to the tone of our early blog posts (which we consider a mistake), we are trying to publish more on our blog and to make what we publish more readable. Our blog posts will be as accurate as ever, but we’re hoping that a more conversational tone will be easier to engage with.
This blog refresh stems from an organization-wide emphasis on legibility. This focus is related to our deeply held value of transparency. For people outside of GiveWell to truly evaluate the conclusions that drive our recommendations, our work needs to be not only public but also understandable.
In GiveWell’s dictionary:

Transparency [ tran·spah·ruhn·see ]: literally making information available
Legibility [ leh·juh·bi·luh·tee ]: making a decision easy to understand and agree or disagree with

Making our work more legible takes many forms. For example, alongside our main cost-effectiveness models, we now also publish shorter versions that are easier to digest (and can be used to identify key factors in our estimates).
If you’d like to see the difference for yourself, compare the full version, the simplified version, and the summary version of our cost-effectiveness analysis for a 2023 grant to Malaria Consortium.
We’ve also made grant pages (like this one, on identifying and treating a congenital condition called clubfoot) easier to follow by including a more extensive summary that lays out the case for the grant, provides a summary of our cost-effectiveness analysis, and identifies our key reservations. We think our previous grant pages (like this one, on malnutrition treatment) were generally less readable, and that key information that informed our reasoning was harder to find.
One of the ways we plan to maintain strong legibility is through the work of our newly established “cross-cutting” research subteam. An explicit goal of their work is making our research more accurate, transparent, and legible. For example, they’ve led efforts on “red-teaming,” an exercise in which GiveWell researchers not otherwise involved in a particular grant or program investigation search for

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An Invisible Impediment to Progress: Perceptions of Racialization in the Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Ahead of Print. Popular beliefs about the nonprofit sector suggest it as a place devoted to the public good on behalf of disadvantaged individuals and groups. This dominant view implies an organization’s success or failure as the result of individual decision-making, capacity issues, or inability to behave like successful organizations. This fuels a view of the sector as race-neutral where all organizations encounter the same challenges and in the same ways. In this article, I use interview data from a 2-year qualitative study of Black-led organizations in Madison, Wisconsin to examine how Black-led organizations perceive racialization in the sector and its impact on their work. Findings suggest that Black-led organizations perceive racialization in the sector across key areas understood as central to an organization’s operation: leadership, funding, data, collaboration, and volunteering. I conclude by calling for a more robust theory of racialization in the nonprofit sector that might vary by place.

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Closing the Feedback Loop with Grantees: A Conversation with the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation

The post Closing the Feedback Loop with Grantees: A Conversation with the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation appeared first on The Center for Effective Philanthropy.

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Consider the Eggplant

By: Chandler Brotak, Isabel Arjmand, and Uri Bram
Norman Borlaug, the “father of the green revolution,” transformed agriculture (and won a Nobel Peace Prize) for developing new wheat varietals that resisted diseases and greatly increased yields.
You might well wonder: if it’s possible for wheat, is it possible for other crops? Consider the eggplant: a popular purple fruit/vegetable that can be made into everything from hongshao qiezi to baba ghanoush. It’s beloved by many people worldwide, and also by a cute but destructive moth larva:

An eggplant fruit and shoot borer larva inside an eggplant fruit. Photo credit: Chirag85 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The “eggplant fruit and shoot borer,” as the name suggests, bores into the shoots and fruit of eggplants, damaging the crops. A new varietal, Bt eggplants, was developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), and later supported by partnerships with USAID, Cornell University, and local partners.1Shelton et al. 2019, pp. 4-5. jQuery(‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_14850_2_1’).tooltip({ tip: ‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_14850_2_1’, tipClass: ‘footnote_tooltip’, effect: ‘fade’, predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: ‘top right’, relative: true, offset: [10, 10], }); This varietal is genetically modified to create proteins which are toxic to these little menaces, but safe for humans and the environment.
So: could encouraging the adoption of Bt eggplants create a purple revolution that meets GiveWell’s bar for outstanding programs?
Based on preliminary research, we don’t believe so.
Two of the major considerations in our evaluation framework are whether the intervention is cost-effective and whether we believe it has room for more funding.
For cost-effectiveness, we attempt to quantify the costs and benefits of each intervention we investigate. In the case of Bt eggplants, the main effects of the program that we consider are increased yields and decreased costs for eggplant farmers. A randomized controlled trial conducted in Bangladesh from 2017-2018 found that Bt eggplants increased yields by about 50% and reduced pesticide costs by about 40%,2GiveWell, Bt eggplant adoption short note jQuery(‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_14850_2_2’).tooltip({ tip: ‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_14850_2_2’, tipClass: ‘footnote_tooltip’, effect: ‘fade’, predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: ‘top right’, relative: true, offset: [10, 10], }); increasing their total profits by about 60%.3GiveWell, Genetically modified eggplants BOTEC jQuery(‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_14850_2_3’).tooltip({ tip: ‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_14850_2_3’, tipClass: ‘footnote_tooltip’, effect: ‘fade’, predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: ‘top right’, relative: true, offset: [10, 10], });
At GiveWell,

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What the Music of Taylor Swift Can Teach Us About Great Philanthropy

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Nonprofit Human Resources: Crisis Impacts and Mitigation Strategies

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Ahead of Print. This study empirically evaluates the relationships between the state and human service nonprofits’ human resources during a crisis. We employ qualitative content analysis to critically assess the experiences of 31 nonprofits that experienced the 2015 to 2017 Illinois Budget Impasse. We evaluated the nonprofits’ strategic human resource management implications through a resource dependency lens at three levels: micro-, meso-, and macro-. Human service nonprofits pull from a toolbox of strategies in surprising ways. Strategy choices were intrinsically linked to the impacts experienced by the individual workers (micro-) and organization (meso-). Micro-level impacts included additional emotional labor and reduced benefits, while meso-level impacts included loss of capacity and short-term planning changes. Finally, the sector-level impacts included a multipronged brain drain of the nonprofit human resource industry. The findings are helpful for nonprofit employees, managers, policy-makers, and anyone concerned about the delivery of social services by nonprofits during crises.

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Your Questions About Demographic Data Collection, Answered

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A major initiative to scale up water chlorination in India

We recommended a $38.8 million grant to Evidence Action to support the Indian government in providing clean water by setting up in-line chlorination in two states, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
This isn’t a grant designed to directly deliver a service or commodity; instead, Evidence Action will use the funding to work in close partnership with state and local governments, providing technical assistance to support the delivery of the program. Providing all rural households with access to clean, piped water is a major priority for the Indian government. In-line chlorination, which uses a device to automatically disinfect water by adding chlorine as the water passes through a pipe, is a way to make drinking water safe.
We believe this grant may not only increase access to chlorinated water in the states it directly supports, but also inspire other states to adopt similar practices. A core part of the program’s theory of change is that governments in locations outside the grant area may take up a program they might not otherwise adopt. This is the first very large grant we’ve made where that’s been an important consideration. We think the upside is unusually high—if successful, this grant could eventually lead to tens or even hundreds of millions of additional people receiving safe water—but it’s also riskier than most of our grants, as there are a number of ways the program could fail to have the desired impact. Our hope is that this grant will reduce mortality and improve health at a very large scale.
The rest of this post describes the importance of clean water, the benefits of partnering with government, why we think this opportunity has such a large potential upside, our estimate of the program’s cost-effectiveness, and some of our uncertainties. You can read the full rationale for the grant here.
Why is clean water important?
Consuming contaminated water can lead to intestinal infections that are sometimes fatal. The evidence we’ve reviewed suggests that improving water quality also reduces mortality from causes not directly linked to water quality, such as respiratory infections (more here).
We estimate that this program will reduce overall mortality by about 4% among people reached with in-line chlorination. Given that we anticipate the program may reach tens of millions of people over the course of around a decade, the impact

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Silently Shrinking Grants: Is Inflation Reducing the Value of Your Grant?

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Malengo: Supporting students to pursue education internationally

GiveWell recently recommended a grant of up to $750,000 to Malengo, an educational migration program. Malengo supports students from low-income countries in moving to high-income countries for university. The goal is to enable them to earn a higher income over time, benefiting both the students and their families.
GiveWell is co-funding the grant with Open Philanthropy, which is contributing an equal amount, for a total of up to $1.5 million over three years. We expect the GiveWell portion of the grant to be funded in part by individual donors and in part by the All Grants Fund.
One of our Program Officers, Erin Crossett, recommended this grant based on the belief that it could be a highly cost-effective opportunity. As a small discretionary grant, it received less scrutiny than our standard grants.
This grant provides an interesting learning opportunity for us, and it may support Malengo through a particularly challenging financial period.
The rest of this post shares why we think Malengo’s program could be cost-effective, how filling this specific funding gap might enable Malengo’s program to become more financially sustainable, and what we hope to learn next. You can read more about the full rationale for this grant on our grant page.
A small discretionary grant
Our senior grantmakers can collectively recommend a total of up to $10 million in “small discretionary grants” each year (more details here). We believe that we can increase our expected impact by occasionally funding small, promising opportunities like this one without investing a lot of time in evaluating them.
We’re writing a post about this grant because we think it’s interesting and different from our usual recommendations. But almost by definition, it’s not representative of most of our grantmaking work. Most of our funding goes to programs we’ve researched more deeply in our key focus areas of malaria, vaccines, nutrition, and water quality. However, we’re always excited to look into new areas that could be promising, including programs like Malengo’s.
Malengo’s migration program: A promising way to increase incomes
The income someone can expect to earn varies widely based on where they live. Around the world, millions of people move from lower-wage to higher-wage areas, either within their home countries or outside them, in hopes of making a better living for themselves and their families.
Many students from lower-income countries would like to

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Going Beyond Innovating: Reimagining the Program Officer Role

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Why Neighbors Would Help: A Vignette Experiment on Reciprocity in Informal Helping

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Ahead of Print. Reciprocity in informal helping, or informal volunteering, is often seen as a way to ensure that people who are not altruistically motivated exchange help. Yet, it could be problematic for those who are unable to help, as they would be excluded from this exchange. We study to what extent people’s reciprocity expectations affect informal helping intentions and whether necessity of helping and perceived helpfulness (indirect reciprocity) compensate and moderate this relationship. Expectations are tested with a factorial survey conducted among the Longitudinal Internet studies for the Social Sciences panel (N vignettes = 3,299). Multilevel regression analyses show that people have stronger intentions to help those who are likely to reciprocate but that a strong need for help and having helped others in the past are more important reasons to help. Furthermore, the effect of likelihood of reciprocity on informal helping intentions is stronger for neighbors who never helped others. Policy implications of these results are discussed.

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