How to give it: Why charity should begin in the science lab

Giving Evidence

This article first published in the Financial Times.

Not all charities are good causes. This may sound surprising, because we’re used to thinking of them all as being somehow virtuous, but they vary in their effectiveness. Smart donors know that good intentions alone aren’t enough.

Take, for example, the important goal of reducing cases of diarrhoea in Kenya — a major cause of child death. One solution is to provide chlorine at the water pump for people to add to their water when they collect it. Another is to deliver chlorine to households so people can add it there.

Both of these sound pretty sensible, but researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that providing chlorine at the water source prevents more than twice as many cases of diarrhoea for a given sum of money. Put another way, a lot of children will get a potentially…

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