PA/J-PAL study on poverty intervention with lasting impact.
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June 2015

This month marks the halfway point of our fiscal year.  Our Team is very excited that our key metrics have increased dramatically over last year. Most notably, traffic to our website is up significantly, even adjusting for the increased traffic we've seen due to the launch of Peter Singer's new book The Most Good You Can Do.  This increased traffic has led to a corresponding increase in subscriptions and donation clicks.  The Life You Can Save has also been in the news, which benefits our charities as we reach more and more people that have never heard of "effective altruism", a key goal of our organization.

I was excited to see the publication of a new six-country study from Innovations for Poverty Action (one of our recommended charities) and their partner J-PAL. This study identifies a multi-pronged, cost-effective approach to lifting the ultra-poor to a more stable state of living. As the article below points out, the very poorest have not benefitted from the dramatic gains made in the fight against "extreme poverty."  The new research is very hopeful about the “large and lasting impacts” on this group's prospects, assuming the interventions continue and are supported.

Thanks for your support of our recommended charities.  

Good living and good giving,

Charlie Bresler is Executive Director of The Life You Can Save, an organization founded by the philosopher Peter Singer and based on the basic tenet of Effective Altruism: leading an ethical life involves using a portion of personal assets and resources to effectively alleviate the consequences of extreme poverty.

In June's Issue


Charity Voices


Team Picks


Supporter Story


This Month in Giving


Highlights from Our Blog

Charity Voices
A few of the many ways our Recommended Charities are having proven impact on extreme poverty
An anti-poverty strategy offering sustained benefit for world’s ultra-poor.

A new six-country study conducted by IPA and partner J-PAL shows a multi-pronged approach for helping the ultra-poor, boosting livelihoods, income, and health. The research tested the effectiveness of an approach known as the “Graduation model” in six countries by following 21,000 of the world’s poorest people for three years. The data show this approach led to large and lasting impacts on their standard of living.

Previous efforts by governments and aid groups to reduce poverty among the ultra-poor have not been proven to work. Addressing this gap, the new study reports on a six-country evaluation of a comprehensive approach that addresses the many challenges of poverty simultaneously. According to study co-author Dean Karlan of Yale University and the research and policy non-profit Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA): "Being ultra-poor usually means more than just not having an income - like not enough food to eat, no way to save, no information, and low perception of their opportunities to escape their situation," Karlan said. "We tested an approach that addressed several factors at once, and found significant improvements, even three years after the program did the bulk of the work.”

In Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan, and Peru, researchers tracked over 21,000 people to test how much the Graduation approach improved their lives and their families’ welfare. The program included six components over a two-year period:

  • An asset to use to make a living, such as livestock or goods to start an informal store.
  • Training on how to manage the asset.
  • Basic food or cash support to reduce the need to sell their new asset in an emergency.
  • Frequent (usually weekly) coaching visits to reinforce skills, build confidence, and help participants handle any challenges.
  • Health education or access to healthcare to stay healthy and able to work.
  • A savings account to help put away money to invest or use in a future emergency.

Borrowing from healthcare research methodology, the researchers used a randomized controlled trial, tracking both people invited to participate in the two-year program and a similar group who was not, to compare how their lives changed up to a year after the program ended. Those in the program group had significantly more assets and savings, spent more time working, went hungry on fewer days, and experienced lower levels of stress and improved physical health.

“Not only is it effective, but it represents a significant return on investment,” according to Kate McKee of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor in Washington, DC, which helped implement the project. “The hope is that we can next learn how NGOs or governments can better integrate this approach into their programs effectively.”

The program is cost effective, with positive returns in five of six countries, ranging from 133 percent in Ghana to 433 percent in India. In other words, for every dollar spent on the program in India, ultra-poor households saw $4.33 in long-term benefits. “The Graduation approach has led to broad improvements in key dimensions of economic and non-economic well-being in most countries where it was tested. Policymakers seeking a program to sustainably improve the lives of the very poor should consider investing in this approach,” according to study co-author Esther Duflo of MIT's economics department and Director at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL).

The government of Ethiopia plans to expand the program to benefit three million people through the country’s Productive Safety Net Program, and the program is already being scaled up in Pakistan and India. A key factor for decision-makers using the model is how comprehensive the evaluation was: "The positive results across such a range of different settings is highly encouraging, and gives us substantial confidence that this approach works for individuals, can be an effective strategy for governments, and can be a tremendous guide to improve the livelihoods of poor families," said Frank DeGiovanni, a director at the Ford Foundation, which helped build and fund the effort.

According to Innovations for Poverty Action Executive Director Annie Duflo, “Governments, aid organizations, and donors have been looking for something backed by real evidence showing it can help the poorest of the world, and this Graduation approach does exactly that.”

More articles about the study:

How do you provide deworming treatment for 140 million children?
Deworming pill distribution in Rajasthan Province

At Evidence Action, we are thrilled to have supported the first-ever National Deworming Day in India. The national program targeted 140 million children with school-based deworming treatment - with all children receiving treatment during just one day in February. We currently support a number of states in India as they implement mass deworming in public schools. Our advocacy efforts were instrumental in the national government now taking on deworming nationwide. It is a huge accomplishment, and testament to the vision for a healthier India that gives all of its children a fair chance.

We could not do our work with the support of the many donors and partners we work with worldwide, so a sincere and heartfelt thank you to you all. You make this all possible, and the world a better and brighter place!

Why food quality can be as important as quantity--especially for children and pregnant women.

Many major health problems in developing countries are a result not of food quantity, but of food quality. Project Healthy Children partners with governments and local leaders to assess micronutrient needs and to provide technical assistance in the design and implementation of national food-fortification programs, with a particular focus on robust monitoring systems for long-term sustainability.

How important is food quality? Ensuring adequate intake of vitamins and minerals isuch as iron, vitamin A, iodine, zinc and folic acid through food fortification is one of the most effective means of breaking the cycle of disease and death, and improving the overall well-being of a nation. Fortification is especially essential for maternal health. A lack of sufficient iron causes over 100,000 deaths during pregnancy each year, and is one of the leading causes of maternal death during childbirth in the developing world. Adequate levels of Vitamin A and zinc are essential for healthy processing of iron; 18 million babies yearly are born mentally impaired due to maternal iodine deficiency. 300,000 children are born with birth defects due to maternal folic deficiency.

When mothers die, the welfare of the entire family is dramatically impacted due to factors such as fathers having to stop working to care for children, thereby jeopardizing a household's income and health status, and older chidden being pulled from school to care for younger siblings or to contribute income. These factors reduce the future potential of all family members. In turn, future generations as well as national economies and health care systems are degraded.

Fortification is inexpensive and highly cost-effective, leveraging existing delivery systems. According to the Copenhagen Consensus, every $1 spent on fortification results in $9 in benefits to the economy. Often, provision of adequate levels of just 2 or 3 micronutrients can result in recoupment of more than the cost of the fortification program.

See the full article here.

Also see the calendar section below for information about the upcoming #Future Fortified conference in Tanzania.

A "beautiful interface" between Android apps and health delivery.

Living Goods runs a network of Community Health Professionals (CHPs) who provide health advice and sell crucial health products as well as everyday goods to their communities. In Uganda, partnering with Medic Mobile, we have tested, adapted and adopted an Android platform that helps our CHPs better register, diagnose and treat children and pregnant mothers. Results have included increased self-confidence of the CHPs, respect of the communities towards the CHPs as professionals, and the ability to provide care in real time. The data produced has resulted in a set of key management dashboards.

Throughout the rest of this year, we will continue working closely with the Medic Mobile team to build and launch a new version of Android apps. These apps will be more flexible and scalable, allowing us to promote the adoption of mobile tools with our Kenyan team and our partners.

To read in more detail how Living Goods is pushing the envelope of mobile technology for health, see the entire article (along with video and photos) here.

Team Picks

Sky, from the TLYCS Hong Kong group, created this “Charigraphy” campaign to raise money for Against Malaria Foundation. For donations supporting two or more nets, Sky will send you a drawing of simple Chinese calligraphy. What a great way to have a piece of art with so much meaning.

Llamil Silman 
Chief Marketing Officer

The former President of Wellesley and Duke praises The Life You Can Save in a powerful call for college presidents to help lead the fight against extreme poverty.

Jon Behar 
Chief Operating Officer & Director of Philanthropy Education

Peter Singer's "Girl in the Pond" metaphor, a cappella, arranged by Gustav Alexandrie!

Amy Schwimmer 
Director of Operations

SCI donor Christian Graulun took on the Danish Tax Agency to claim deductions for donations to any EU charity, and won.

Charlie Bresler 
Executive Director

Supporter Story

Thomas Mitchell

High School Graduation and Venturing Beyond Our Walls

It was only a matter of time until Siddhārtha Gautama would leave the palace in which he was raised. No matter how luxurious the place you live in or how much others try to shelter you, people have a natural curiosity for knowledge of what lies on the other side. Siddhārtha saw human suffering.

And so do we.

So why, today, is it easier to not see human suffering than it was for a prince so long ago? Perhaps when we consider poverty a distant and eternal problem, we can pretend to not have responsibility for its continuance?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I don’t need to know. The questions themselves are wrong – poverty isn't distant and it’s not eternal.

I’m in my last year of compulsory education. It is the year of 18th birthday celebrations, and there are three big questions: who can throw the biggest party? who can provide the most alcohol? and whose party will be the most memorable?

Opulent festivities are one way of celebrating the gradual passage into adulthood. Indeed, turning 18 is a momentous occasion, so I wanted to be able to remember the process for my entire life. I scoured the internet after school one evening and discovered the story of the Buddha – I appreciated the value of money in changing lives, but I wanted to understand what Siddhārtha really ‘saw’ when he left his palace. I searched, ‘What can I do to help save a life?’, and I found the perfect project, from the same philosopher I wrote about in my ethics essay that very morning.

Peter Singer’s ‘The Life You Can Save' was my decision. I approached my teachers and asked to speak about the project to the sixth form. They were incredibly supportive and before long I was standing in front of a few hundred pupils showing them this video[1] and speaking about the monumental difference the individual can make without affecting their own quality of life. While shaking and stuttering, I urged them to donate, but even more importantly, to see - to begin the journey outside the palace.

To fundraise, I sold Christmas cards bought from charity stores, and my friends sold sweets, cakes and organised a lucky dip with me at charity fayres. The grand prize from the dip was a bottle of pristine white wine donated to the cause by my parents. Naturally my dad’s excitement grew throughout the day as no one had yet won the much coveted prize he hoped would return to the household. My fellow card-seller drew the winning ticket the moment before departure, much to the aromatic chagrin of my Château d'Yquem-less father.

After a few weeks, my friends started to give me money so I would stop asking them to buy five cards for a pound! This meant that though a few friends and I sold about 500 cards, most of our funds were from perseverance, resolve and the generosity of others. And what fruits did those labours produce?

Together we raised £1,500, but to many that is just a number; so let me tell you what the charities were able to achieve with these funds (I divided the money fairly evenly between charities recommended by The Life You Can Save).

Around four children were provided with school meal programs for one year, and two received specialized sight-restoring paediatric surgery and follow-up care. An incredible 2,500 children are being de-wormed, and 280 were protected for one year from schistosomiasis and life-threatening diseases it causes such as bladder cancer, kidney malfunction, and spleen damage.

A research organization is using the money to work toward discovering and promoting the next effective solutions to global poverty problems. Another gave money directly to a family in extreme poverty to use as they wish; giving them this freedom has been shown to increase recipients' assets, food security and mental health.

There’s more - eight Interventions were provided to save or improve sight for those with failing vision or curable blindness, as well as 13 vital eye screenings. 75 bed-nets were given to those living in malaria-stricken areas, protecting 135 people from infected mosquitos for an average of three to four years. Seven anaesthetists are now ready to perform urgent fistula surgeries. [2]

Seeing is believing, but it’s not knowing. Siddhārtha didn't just see human suffering, he knew it too.  I must confess – I’m still firmly sheltered within the confines of my palace. When I venture outside I am frightened and overwhelmed. I understand why humans build walls to escape from this infinity of indigence.

Yet the world as it appears and the world as it is are very different. We are remarkably lucky just to be born in a comparatively rich country and to be educated in a society where my teachers support me in raising money for places we haven’t been and people we haven’t met. When Siddhārtha left the palace, he faced the heartless poverty outside his walls. That poverty is now wearing a mask and it doesn't feel so close.

But it is close.

Those distant towns are not so distant; those people in far off countries are not so far from our doorstep. Our ephemeral palaces will one day fall, whether we venture outside or not. There are lives we can save and the magic is that it does not harm us in any way. The suffering we see should not induce fear but compel us to seek its end.

The fear of exiting my palace is hard to overcome alone. The great realisation for me is that I was never alone. A difference has been made and will continue to be made, and I only have my friends and family to thank.


Thomas Mitchell is a student from the UK who first raised money for The Life You Can Save in 2014. He wants to be an author and pledges to contribute a portion of his income to charity.

This Month in Giving

World Day Against Child Labor

No to Child Labor, Yes to Quality Education. 120 million children aged 5-14 are involved in child labor, which is rooted in poverty and lack of decent work for adults, lack of social protection, and failure to ensure that all children are attending school. Take action in worldwide activities.


World Refugee Day

Last year, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide exceeded 50 million people. Get involved ‪#‎WorldRefugeeDay‬


Effective Altruism Global 2015

The world's biggest gathering of entrepreneurs, philanthropists, economists, scientists, policy-makers, and more who apply reason and evidence to global priorities.

  • San Francisco July 31st-August 2
  • Melbourne August 14-16
  • Oxford University August 28-30
Sept. 9th-11th

Be part of the fight to end hidden hunger.

Global Summit on Food Fortification
Arusha, Tanzania

Co-hosts include three of The Life You Can Save's Recommended Charities: Iodine Global Network, GAIN, and Project Healthy Children.

Highlights from Our Blog
  1. "How Giving Games Help Grow Our Philanthropy Outreach" by Jon Behar

  2. "Is There Such a Thing as "Bad" Charity?" by Rachel Elizabeth Maley 

  3. "How to Achieve Your Personal Best" by Charlie Bresler

The Life You Can Save is a 501(c)(3) - an official non-profit registered with the United States Internal Revenue Service. Donations to The Life You Can Save are tax-deductible to individuals filing taxes in the U.S.
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