I like to think that The Beatles were right; we all do want to change the world - for the better!
But, if simply wanting something to happen was all that was required, poverty would be nonexistent and every child would have an education.
The reality is that these problems are widespread. And while charity isn’t new, we need new ways to optimize and implement charitable solutions so that it doesn’t just relieve, but solves the problems.
Esther Duflo, founder and director of MIT’s Jameel Poverty Action Lab, is using economics and statistics to determine what types of aid have the most impact. Basically, she’s asking how groups can get the most bang for their buck.
In a recent TED Talk titled “Social Experiments to Fight Poverty”, Duflo gives the example of bednets to prevent malaria in Africa. If people must pay for them, will they? If they’re given bednets for free, will people value them enough to use them? (Duflo includes a slide of bednets being used as fishing nets.) And if people will later be asked to buy additional bednets, will they if the nets had previously been free? It’s a fascinating look at how people are motivated.
Getting Kids to School
At CREED, we are concerned with education and development. Duflo’s talk addresses the problem of getting kids to attend school. One great need is providing school kits. She studied possible options to motivate children and their parents to attend school. Some options included:
- hiring an extra teacher
- providing school meals
- providing uniforms
- awarding scholarships
However, if a group spends $100 on deworming children who live in places where intestinal worms are a problem, they will see an extra 28.6 total years of schooling for the group children that are dewormed. And if a group uses $100 to educate children and their parents on the importance of schooling, they will have a return of 40 additional years of school. These are bona fide changes and a far better return on their investment.
Deworming and simply talking with parents may not be the obvious choices when trying to keep kids in school. But they’re far more successful than giving children the same matching shirt and shorts to wear.
Educating kids won’t instantly transform their society, but it will provide a clear path forward. At the end of her talk, Duflo says, “There is no silver bullet. You cannot helicopter people out of poverty.”
But we can make small, lasting changes that will transform society. Applying results-driven, empirical evidence to charity is helping this along.
Duflo’s discovery of deworming’s educational benefits led to the founding of Deworm the World. Just last year, this group dewormed 20 million children.