Advice for the Generous

Really excellent advice:

A reader asks for recommendations about worthy charities:

Dear Dr. Mankiw,

As I draft my extensive Christmas list of unneeded items, my conscience calls me to add a favorite charity or two, which my family members could consider gifting in my name.

Still, I know that not all charities are as efficient (or proficient) at their giving. For example, I remember reading (in Easterly’s White Man’s Burden, I think) that there have been many less-than-perfect results in distributing free bed-nets, arguing that they are optimally delivered subsidized rather than free. While I think bed-nets are a great avenue to donate to the world’s poor, there are many different organizations where someone can purchase them, and I, for one, have no idea who is the best at it.

Do you know any for market-friendly charitable-giving groups, who give bed-nets or anything else? If so, could you please post on your blog? (I think many students and other young people are interested in giving to national and international organizations but know little about how the money flows to the people.)

I hope my request isn’t too vague. Happy Holidays!


I doubted that I knew enough about the topic to offer a good answer, so I passed the question on to my Harvard colleague, development economist Michael Kremer. Here is his reply:

Dear Greg,

Sure, I would be happy to make some recommendations.

If readers want to donate for nets, one good organization I have supported in the past is here. TamTam provides nets free at clinics. Personally I think this approach makes sense because charging dramatically reduces use, free distribution can help encourage mothers to come to antenatal clinics, and, like vaccines, insecticide treated nets can help interfere with disease transmission creating positive externalities. For some evidence on the first issue, see this paper.

One of the best buys out there is treating kids for worms. Two billion people have intestinal worms worldwide, including 400 million school-children. The medicine costs pennies per dose. Because the medicine is cheap and safe, but diagnosis is expensive, the World Health Organization recommends mass treatment in schools in areas of high prevalence, which can keep total costs per treated child to $0.25.

Treatment not only has medical benefits but helps kids stay in school longer. Ted Miguel and I estimate benefit/cost ratios of more than twenty to one in Kenya. Hoyt Bleakley estimates that the Rockefeller Foundation’s deworming campaign in the US South in the early twentieth century added two years to average education in affected areas and that worms accounted for 20% of the income gap between the US North and South at the time.

Based on the evidence, several economists, including Esther Duflo, Kristin Forbes,and me, are involved in, and have donated to, a new group called Deworm the World. Information is available here. There is a donate button which explains how people can give.

Deworm the World will soon be a tax exempt 501(c)3 organization, but not before either the holidays or the end of the tax year. If readers are from the US and want a tax deduction, they can support Save the Children’s school health efforts by clicking on the link above and going to the donate box, or if they want to more directly help Deworm the World, they can donate to Innovations for Poverty Action by going to this link and noting that the donation is for Deworm the World in the comment box.

Thanks for writing,


Thanks to Chris for asking the question and to Michael for answering it. I hope this information helps direct some charitable giving in the right direction.

Power to the People or Power from the People?

This short piece is highly recommended:

In early 2008, announced its initiatives to the world and made clear how the company would leverage its people, money, and creativity to address some of the world’s most pressing and difficult problems. Among them were climate change/renewable energy, global poverty, and emerging threats.

In Africa, one of our initiatives is focused on leveraging the power of information (or the right to know) to increase transparency, accountability, and ultimately the delivery and quality of public services. “You can’t change what you can’t see” is one of our mantras, and our job is to shine light in dark places and help people decipher the black box of public service delivery. What is working? What is not? What options are available to people to plug holes in a leaky pipeline of service delivery?

Much of the initiative is about unlocking quasi-public information. One of my colleagues calls it DBHD (database hugging disorder). Why is so much “public” information not accessible (ie government budgets, service level indicators, population data) and sitting on servers in London, New York, and Geneva but not accessible to citizens, media, and even planners in Africa countries? This clearly needs to change.

What is less intuitive, however, is that there is so much information, knowledge, and wisdom within Africa that is not making its way to politicians, planners, and policy makers who make decisions about Africa. We often hear that teachers, nurses, and civil servants do not show-up for work across the continent and this is a primary contributor to the poor quality of public services. Do we bother asking why absenteeism is such a problem? Ask teachers, nurses, or administrators and they will tell you. For example, since Universal Primary Education (UPE) was adopted in many African countries more than a decade ago, classroom sizes have doubled if not tripled while teacher salaries, instructional materials, and training have hardly changed at all. Government dispensaries are rarely stocked with medications that people come to purchase so why bother staffing clinics?


Is It Africa's Turn?

…Yet a look at the raw data on foreign aid across regions and time suggests that aid has probably played a rather small role in Africa’s recent economic success.

The first instructive comparison is Africa versus the world’s two other poor giants, China and India, both of which were at African per capita income levels in the 1970s. It is striking how high foreign aid to Africa currently is in per capita terms: overseas development assistance is a full order of magnitude higher in Africa than in China or India, as it was during the critical 1980-2000 period when those Asian countries moved forward economically and Africa declined. There is no doubt that foreign aid is not necessary for economic development. — Edward Miguel

Boston Review has published a resource-rich forum on progress in Africa. The forum was organized and led by UC Berkeley economist Edward Miguel.

“When I visited last June, the city was experiencing an economic renaissance. Busia’s first supermarkets, ATMs, Internet cafés and car rental businesses were all open, and residential suburbs had formed on the edge of town. . . Yet, barely a decade ago, poverty and desperation were pervasive there, as in all of western Kenya.”

Following Miguel’s essay are responses by Robert Bates, Ken Banks, Olu Ajakaiye , Rosamond Naylor, David N. Weil, Jeremy M. Weinstein, Smita Singh, Paul Collier, and Rachel Glennerster — and a final response by Miguel. Of the group, I’m most familiar with reliable source Paul Collier, Oxford University author of “The Bottom Billion”. You can find Paul’s essay here.

“There is a process at work that does not depend on democracy and is so simple that analysts generally miss it: learning from mistakes.”

Highly recommended.

Technorati Tags:

Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa

Starved for Science

Heading upcountry in Africa to visit small farms is absolutely exhilarating given the dramatic beauty of big skies, red soil, and arid vistas, but eventually the two-lane tarmac narrows to rutted dirt, and the journey must continue on foot. The farmers you eventually meet are mostly women, hardworking but visibly poor. They have no improved seeds, no chemical fertilizers, no irrigation, and with their meager crops they earn less than a dollar a day. Many are malnourished.

Nearly two-thirds of Africans are employed in agriculture, yet on a per-capita basis they produce roughly 20 percent less than they did in 1970. Although modern agricultural science was the key to reducing rural poverty in Asia, modern farm science—including biotechnology—has recently been kept out of Africa.

In Starved for Science Robert Paarlberg explains why poor African farmers are denied access to productive technologies, particularly genetically engineered seeds with improved resistance to insects and drought. He traces this obstacle to the current opposition to farm science in prosperous countries. Having embraced agricultural science to become well-fed themselves, those in wealthy countries are now instructing Africans—on the most dubious grounds—not to do the same.

In a book sure to generate intense debate, Paarlberg details how this cultural turn against agricultural science among affluent societies is now being exported, inappropriately, to Africa. Those who are opposed to the use of agricultural technologies are telling African farmers that, in effect, it would be just as well for them to remain poor.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the recommendation.

Is Aid to Africa Doing More Harm Than Good?

You’ll have a better perspective on that question after listening to the Intelligence Squared debate. You can download an edited 50 minute podcast here., December 12, 2007 · Advocates of aid to Africa often point out that, because the continent’s poverty is so deep and its problems are so great, even a relatively small amount of help can accomplish a great deal. They point to cheap treatments to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to others that prevent river blindness and malaria, as success stories in Africa.

Skeptics complain that much of the money given to help Africans has been stolen by corrupt African leaders. They say that stolen aid money helps keep such leaders in power, and that aid that does get to the people undermines their ability to fend for themselves.

Six experts on Africa policy recently took on those issues in an Oxford-style debate, part of the series Intelligence Squared U.S. The debates are modeled on a program begun in London in 2002: Three experts argue in favor of the proposition and three argue against.

In the latest debate, held on Dec. 4, the formal proposition was “Aid to Africa Is Doing More Harm than Good.” The debate was held at the Asia Society and Museum in New York City and moderated by Brian Lehrer, host of The Brian Lehrer Show on New York Public Radio.

Geldof and Bush: Diary From the Road

I gave the President my book. He raised an eyebrow. “Who wrote this for ya, Geldof?” he said without looking up from the cover. Very dry. “Who will you get to read it for you, Mr. President?” I replied. No response.

The Most Powerful Man in the World studied the front cover. Geldof in Africa — ” ‘The international best seller.’ You write that bit yourself?”

“That’s right. It’s called marketing. Something you obviously have no clue about or else I wouldn’t have to be here telling people your Africa story.”

It is some story. And I have always wondered why it was never told properly to the American people, who were paying for it. It was, for example, Bush who initiated the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist. In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.

So why doesn’t America know about this? “I tried to tell them. But the press weren’t much interested,” says Bush. It’s half true. There are always a couple of lines in the State of the Union, but not enough so that anyone noticed, and the press really isn’t interested. For them, like America itself, Africa is a continent of which little is known save the odd horror.


Africa: economic development

Sad economic results continue. Botswana is one bright spot — here’s a Gapminder chart comparing Botswana and South Africa. That’s raw 2004 World Bank GDP/capita, before PPP adjustment. The World Bank PPP-adjusted data is at Wikipedia:

Since independence, Botswana has had one of the fastest growth rates in per capita income in the world.[1] Botswana has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country with a per capita GDP of $11,200 in 2006.[2] Economic growth averaged over 9% per year from 1966 to 1999. The government has maintained a sound fiscal policy, despite consecutive budget deficits in 2002 and 2003, and a negligible level of foreign debt. It earned the highest sovereign credit rating in Africa and has stockpiled foreign exchange reserves (over $7 billion in 2005/2006) amounting to almost two and a half years of current imports. Botswana’s impressive economic record has been built on the foundation of wisely using revenue generated from diamond mining to fuel economic development through prudent fiscal policies and a cautious foreign policy. Debswana, the only diamond mining company operating in Botswana, is 50% owned by the government and generates about half of all government revenues. In 2007, significant quantities of Uranium were discovered, and mining is projected to begin by 2010. Several international mining corporations have prospected in Botswana for diamonds, gold, uranium, copper, and even oil, many coming back with positive results.

Here are updated 2006 figures from the IMF World Economic Outlook Database, April 2007.

Angola, Chad and Liberia had the fastest GDP growth per capita in 2006 from the prior year.

A Green Revolution for Africa?

Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, father of the “Green Revolution” examines the latest World Bank “World Development Report: Agriculture for Development”. I’ve not yead read the source report, but Borlaug highlights the key reasons that have prevented progress in Africa — soils, climate and lack of rivers for irrigation resources — but poor governance in central:

…Environmental degradation in African agriculture has also been much greater. Increasing population pressures have overwhelmed traditional systems of shifting cultivation to restore or recycle plant nutrients. This has resulted in a progressive — and now often dramatic — degradation of the soil resource base, while fertilizer use has hardly increased at all, and is the lowest in the world. Erroneous views about what constitutes sustainable agriculture have polarized discussions about the need for organic and chemical fertilizers, and hindered African governments in setting the right priorities for soil fertility management.

A broader and more integrated perspective is needed for African agriculture, one that focuses on the entire farming enterprise — food and cash crops, livestock and value-added processing. Even so, the World Development Report underscores the importance of transforming staple-food production. Because such crops are the most widely grown, productivity improvements have huge payoffs, both to producers and consumers. Much greater attention must also be given to post-production market linkages — especially to grain markets and agro-industrial food processing that offer off-farm employment opportunities.

Substantially greater investments in infrastructure — roads, electrical power, water resources — underlie all other efforts in rural and agricultural development. Unless infrastructure is improved, there is little hope for real progress in reversing the alarming food insecurity trends or in making agriculture an engine of economic growth.

One World Bank statistic is especially alarming. In Asia, agriculture R&D investment has increased three-fold over the past 20 years, but in Africa, only by 20% (it has actually declined in about half the countries). Building research talent is one of Africa’s most urgent imperatives, and even with adequate investments, this will take time and new vision.

R&D is especially needed to address Africa’s special production circumstances. At least half of the continent’s poor and hungry people are smallholder farmers in marginal lands, where agriculture is more costly and risky due to agro-climatic stresses and/or remoteness from markets. New science and technology, including the tools of biotechnology, will be needed to develop crops better able to withstand climatic stresses such as drought, heat and flooding. Such research will also contribute to helping the world prepare for future production effects anticipated from global warming.

The World Development Report is a milestone contribution to placing agriculture once again at the center of the development agenda. Achieving this priority shift will be fundamental to poverty reduction and sustainable development.

China drops Mugabe?

Would it ever be possible to put him on trial for “crimes against humanity” or something like that?

Unlikely. As the protagonist in the movie Men in Tights said, “Unlike other Robin Hoods, I have a British accent.” Analogously, unlike Augusto Pinochet, Robert Mugabe is a Marxist. Crimes against humanity, no can do. He meant well.

— wrote Richard Fernandez in the comments to his post:

Africabeat links to news that China is withdrawing its support for Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The Telegraph writes: “One of the Zimbabwe president’s oldest diplomatic friends, China yesterday told Lord Malloch Brown, the Foreign Office minister, that it was dropping all assistance except humanitarian aid. The move follows a decision by China, a permanent member of the United Nations security council, to work more closely with the international community in bringing pressure to bear on “rogue regimes”. It represents a major shift in its previous policy of refusing to attack the internal policies of long-standing allies.”

Africabeat writes, “at the very least, they can smell change in the air. Zimbabwe’s no longer bankable, no longer a country in which to make long-term investments in industries or in people. Politically, I get the sense that things could turn in any number of directions at any moment.” This is is probably a correct reading of the situation. China isn’t ditching Mugabe because they’ve suddenly acquired democratic principles. They’re ditching him because his ship is sinking. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Also in the comments, the African hand “F” wrote:

While it is true it “couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” we should not conclude that the scales have fallen off China’s eyes for any moral reason. More likely, they recognize there is nothing left there to plunder. I was stationed in Tanzania when the Chinese signed an agreement to build a railway from Zambia in the southwest to the harbor of Dar es Salaam. The loan was substantial ($600 million sticks in my head) and repayment was to be in Tanzanian goods — like ivory and other commodities that were good value in East Africa. Nyerere was then telling the world the white regimes in South Africa, Mozambique and Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) would fall, but building a railway that would avoid transiting those countries. When majority rule came to Zimbabwe and Mozambique the Tan-Zam Railway was a white elephant but the debt remained. And it was only after work was well along that Nyerere found out the railway gauge matched that in only two other countries in the world: China and South Africa. The Chinese have always been very sharp in their dealings with the Third World; morality was never an issue when I was watching developments in Africa. I cannot believe morality has anything to do with this move. Someone in the PRC Foreign Ministry took a long look at Mugabe and realized it was time to throw him to the wolves. F