28 November 2013

Best charity in the world update

Depressing news from Givewell on the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF).

The good news: Givewell has directed $10m in the last 2 years to AMF. 

The bad news: This is a massive increase in scale for AMF, and they haven't yet managed to spend the money. This seems to be primarily because the transparency and accountability measures that help to make them such an attractive proposition for donors, also makes them a pretty unattractive proposition for implementers such as national governments. 

There's something about a sexy new NGO innovation which then runs into trouble when it tries to scale-up working through national government that sounds somehow familiar.

We shouldn't be too disheartened - this is hopefully just a set-back and the money will still eventually be spent. And it is still useful to model what good practice can look like even it is isn't replicated more widely immediately. But "room for more funding" - the capacity to implement at large scale, is clearly critical here. 

In the short-term this implies finding someone else to give your money to - your two best options seem to be Give Directly (tax deductible in the US) or the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (tax deductible in both the US and UK, but with some concerns here) - neither of which seem to be entirely satisfactory for me as a UK-taxpayer. I'll wait for further comment from Givewell.

25 November 2013

London bicycle stats

# cyclists killed in London in the past 2 weeks: 6
# police deployed to street corners in response, to patronise cyclists and warn them about cycling sensibly, wearing helmets, and listening to music: 2,500
% cyclists killed in London whilst breaking the law: 6%
% cyclists killed in London by a HGV turning left right into them: 50%
Average annual cycle deaths in Amsterdam (where most people don't wear helmets): 6
Average annual cycle deaths in Paris: 2

18 November 2013

Kinshasa Kids

Best aeroplane movie I've seen in a while, following the adventures of some street kids in Kinshasa who start a rap group.

My favourite scene:
Kid 1: What I want is to start a music band so I can escape to Europe. 
Kid 2: I want to be a policeman so I can steal in peace. 
Kid 3: Ah, you have to be a politician to steal with ease!

09 November 2013


Really excellent stuff from Jishnu Das, tearing apart a recent Economist article on cash transfers:
recall that in welfare economics there are two rationales for government interventions to make people better off. First, governments fix market failures. ... Second, governments redistribute income by giving cash to the poor. ... Within this framework, giving cash always increases the welfare of the recipients; what we also worry about is the extent to which market failures circumscribe the ability of society to do better.
“does giving cash work well” is a well-defined question only if you are willing to say that “well” is something that WE, the donors, want to define for families whom we have never met and whose living circumstances we have probably never spent a day, let alone a lifetime, in. 
Has our hubris really taken us that far? What happened to respect for the poor? 
From there The Economist article degenerates, with “findings” that CCTs “work well” when the conditions are on things that people would not purchase without the conditions (I am serious; cut through the jargon, and that’s what it says). If by now you are tearing your hair out, join the club.
Health is not welfare, neither is education. So, can we please stop making judgments about what poor people should and should not do with money that is redistributed to them?

05 November 2013

Problems with private schools

There were a few good comments on my Guardian piece the other week that are worth highlighting.

One of the most most important points is that when private schools get the same results as public schools for a fraction of the cost, they are still getting woefully bad, unacceptably poor learning outcomes.

Suvojit and Heather raise the issue that results are only going to be comparable when teacher effort can substitute for training - this is possible at lower grades but likely to get more difficult at higher grades with older children and more difficult material.

But neither of these for me damage the case for directly supporting private primary schools if they are still doing the same job substantially cheaper.

A criticism that might do this is one that Anurag Behar (CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation, a leading organisation on education research) makes in a Mint column, which strikes at the heart of the private school business model. His argument is that private school teachers only accept such low wages because they are "queueing" for a government teacher job.
It’s clear that the salaries of teachers in most such private schools are very low, bordering on the exploitative. The reasons why they get teachers at these salaries are fairly simple. Most of those who join private schools as teachers are those who are waiting and trying to join government schools. Since recruitment of government teachers has its own pace and scale (though it has become “cleaner” in many states), many keep waiting and trying for years, and it’s this lot that largely feeds the private schools. Eventually of those who don’t make it to the government system, many leave teaching to do other things, which is not surprising, given their salaries.
One reason to doubt this story is that if those private school teachers are unqualified then they aren't eligible for a government teacher job. But I'm open to persuasion if there is any data here?