At the end of last year, in a state of giddy, philanthropy-inducing delight after the birth of their first daughter, Mark Zukerberg and Priscilla Chan pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook shares during their lifetime. At the moment, this equates to a whopping $45 billion! To put that in perspective, it’s more than the GDP of Tanzania in 2013. In fact, it’s enough for Mark or Priscilla to buy a Manchester United Season ticket for the next 59 million years. But, for some strange reason, neither wants to spend the rest of eternity sipping bovril and watching Wayne Rooney prance around a soggy football pitch in the north-west of England; they want to do some good with their money.
Mark and Priscilla want to make the world a better place. But, annoyingly, this isn’t as easy as you might think. The complexity of the world’s many problems means that money alone is not the solution. Recently, people have started to realise that a mixture of money and good intentions isn’t always a recipe for positive impact. In fact, some philanthropic projects actually do more harm than good. This has given rise to calls for ‘effective altruism’, which uses evidence and reason to decide how best to tackle global problems, such as extreme poverty. Books like Doing Good Better and The Most Good You Can Do argue that a huge amount of money is wasted on ineffective projects, and so it’s important to know exactly what impact donations are having.
This doesn’t just apply to philanthropic billionaires like Mark Zukerberg and Bill Gates; it means that anyone wishing to donate their hard earned money should make sure it is used in the most effective way possible. The message here is that we need to be smart about how we use donation money and that the most obvious solution isn’t always the best solution. For example, sending textbooks to help school children in developing countries seems to be common sense. Yet studies have found that sending deworming tablets may be a far more effective way of boosting educational outcomes.
This is why there will be a stand-alone ‘Value for Money’ report in the upcoming Seed Change 2015 Annual Report, outlining just how effective our programs are. In the report, we calculate that our newest batch of 60,000 seeds that we planted in January will create a whopping $121 of value for our farmers for every $1 spent by Seed Change. A little while ago we blogged about an article in the Economist that argued that Seed Change’s model of poverty alleviation is pretty close to ideal. This all means that our donors can rest assured that their altruism is effective.
So Mark, if you’re reading this, why not throw a couple of billion dollars our way, and help us to continue making a sustainable, positive impact on the lives of our farmers?