Today I Learned...

Putting the edible back in credibility

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More charity stuff
I found one that addressed every single one of my issues with 3rd-world-poverty focused charities: GiveDirectly. To a first approximation, their model is to wander around Africa looking for poor people and give them money. The end.

It's a little more complicated than that, of course. They have better ways of finding poor people, for one, and they only work in Kenya and Uganda, because they recognize that there are differences between African countries and expertise developed in one does not automatically translate to another. They also do a fair amount of follow up: not in directing how the recipients should spend their money, but in measuring its impact on the families in question and their communities as a whole. One objection to cash transfers is that recipients will blow all their money on booze. GiveDirectly can tell you exactly how much spending on alcohol changes after the transfer (answer: it goes up a little, but not much). Another is that it will create resentment within the community outweighing the financial benefits. GiveDirectly measured that and found that it not only didn't happen, but communities with transfer recipients ended up slightly better off than control communities, indicating a spillover effect.

Even if the research results were not so favorable to them, the mere fact that they're doing the research makes them a good form of charity. This is a very new form of organized charity and they're not going to get it perfect right away, but they clearly recognize that and are doing everything they can to hone themselves. Moreover, they seem to have a very good sense of their own limitations. Their goal is not to replace every form of charitable giving, but to be the measuring stick for other forms. "Are you more effective than just giving money? Let's find out."

That worked so well I'm going to announce another kind of charity I'm looking for. As I've mentioned before, I'm fairly privileged, and sometimes when that privilege manifests I like to mark it with a charitable donation. I funded someone's dental care after my gum infection was removed, and a move for a job after I got my shiny new job. I'm feeling that urge again, this time because I paid $35 for antibiotics that cost four figures retail, for a relatively minor problem. I don't know if minor is the right word: it's another gastrointestinal ecosystem issue, so fixing it will have huge cumulative effects on me... but no where near the effect $1100 worth of penicillin could have for people who can't afford it. I don't know how to mark this one. No one goes to Modest Needs for antibiotics alone, and funding other health care, while obviously a very good thing, doesn't feel right in this particular case. Many years ago I read about a charity that pushed/facilitated hospitals to follow some very simple checklists that led to huge improvements in patient outcome. That felt right, but I can't find it now.

Hell, last week my boyfriend spilled bacon grease on his hand, and would have really liked to have gone to the hospital, but had neither the money nor the insurance. $1100 to enable that would have meant more to him psychologically than these antibiotics do to me, even though our home care worked fine. This time. I want to give someone else the gift of not worrying about it. That is why the checklist charity felt right: it's emphasis is on reducing the executive function needed to get the best outcome. But I just spent 10 minutes googling and found the initiative I was thinking of, but not the charity.

Taking another tact: Those antibiotics are supposed to help me digest food slightly better. Let's phrase the goal as "maximize number of nutrients digested." In that case, just giving people food is helpful. There are lots of charities to give people food. I will find a good one of those and donate.


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