Cost-Effective Compassion
Religion & Liberty Online

Cost-Effective Compassion

What are the best ways to help the poor in developing countries?

Answering that question is not as straightforward as you might assume, says development economist Bruce Wydick in Christianity Today. As Wydick notes, most relief and development organizations carry out self-assessments and measure impact based on self-studies, methods that are neither unbiased nor empirically rigorous.

So to get a better answer to the question Wydick polled ten other top development economists. He asked them to rate, from 0 to 10, some of the most common poverty interventions to which ordinary people donate their money, in terms of impact and cost-effectiveness per donated dollar. Although Wydick gives a more detailed explanation of the results in his article, the following is a list of their ranking:

1. Get clean water to rural villages (Rating: 8.3)
2. Fund de-worming treatments for children (Rating: 7.8)
3. Provide mosquito nets (Rating: 7.3)
4. Sponsor a child (Rating: 6.9)
5. Give wood-burning stoves (Rating: 6.0)
6. Give a micro-finance loan (Rating: 4.2)
7. Fund reparative surgeries (Rating: 3.9)
8. Donate a farm animal (Rating: 3.8)
9. Drink fair-trade coffee (Rating: 1.9)
10. Give a kid a laptop (Rating: 1.8)

One of the key takeaways, says Wydick, is that the list “suggests little relationship (perhaps even a negative one) between marketing hype and program effectiveness.”

In other words, drinking fair-trade coffee and giving laptops to the poor may make Westerners feel better about themselves, but the most effective acts of compassion are still providing the simple things—like clean water and mosquito nets—that allow people in extreme poverty to lead a healthier life.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).