The percentage of the global population that lives in extreme poverty has fallen to less than 10%, from 36% just 30 years ago, according to the World Bank. Gains in economic growth have touched all four corners of the globe and led to massively increased health outcomes and better lives overall.
Charities around the world seek to bring that percentage down even further. These nonprofits encourage the public to contribute just pennies a day to what is referred to as the Effective Altruism movement, which comprises people not only interested in doing good through charity but doing the most good for their charity buck. To people like Peter Singer, a philosopher who has been influential in the Effective Altruism movement, if you’d wade into a river to save a drowning child at the cost of the new clothes you’re wearing, you should also spend money fighting global poverty and disease. The situations are the same, Singer reasons—they're just separated by distance.
Effective altruists and the organizations they support often justify their projects through research that determines the best way to help the most people with the least amount of money. There’s no one right answer: Some charities focus on improving economic situations through micro-loans; others provide fortified diets, and some give people money directly and let them decide what to do with it.
Amidst increasing interest in the global effective altruism movement, Stacker used The Life You Can Save impact calculator to find what a $100 donation buys at 15 high-impact charities. Each of these charities has been rated highly by charity evaluators like GiveWell and Charity Navigator for transparency, effectiveness, and reliability. It’s not an all-encompassing list (facing down climate change threats is notably absent from the slideshow), but those included offer a variety of approaches to helping humanity. Many of the charities on this list operate in sub-Saharan Africa, the final hurdle in eliminating extreme global poverty, which has fallen dramatically in most other regions. And though domestic charities which focus on music education or legal representation for low-resource individuals are certainly worthy causes, effective altruists are mainly concerned with alleviating disease, malnourishment, and poverty.
Read on to find out the chemical in salt which once improved cognitive function so much it raised American incomes by 11%, and how much it costs to restore sight to blind individuals (it’s probably less than you expect).
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- $100 donation buys: 50 bed nets to protect those living in malaria-stricken areas from infected mosquitos
The Against Malaria Foundation has a simple goal: to slow the spread of malaria by distributing bed nets treated with insecticides. Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes and claims hundreds of thousands of lives every year, primarily in Africa. There’s been strong progress on the fight against the disease: More than half of all at-risk Africans now have nets to protect themselves from getting mosquito bites, up from only 27% in 2010. With a low cost to donors and benefits for recipients that lasts three to four years, the Against Malaria Foundation has earned high marks from charity evaluators.
- $100 donation buys: five years of healthy life to audiences of DMI's mass media campaigns
Each charity on this list works very hard at answering the question of what’s the most amount of good that can be done per dollar. Development Media International (DMI) came upon a relatively novel answer: Educate as many people as possible about the best practices for raising children to prevent child mortality. In one campaign, DMI broadcast one-minute radio spots 10 times a day, 365 days a year, educating parents on such topics as how to spot symptoms of the disease, the importance of sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets, and rehydration processes for children suffering from diarrhea.
- $100 donation buys: deworm 200 children or provide safe water to 78 community members for one year
The main campaign run by Evidence Action is called the Deworm the World Initiative, and it attempts to rid children and young adults of schistosomiasis, to which they’re more susceptible than adults. Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by parasitic worms that, according to the CDC, affects 200 million people worldwide, though few of those people are located in developed countries because the main transmission mechanism is contaminated freshwater. Evidence Action’s campaign helps local governments administer deworming programs, providing drugs and safe drinking water to those affected, and also helps fund those programs, saving large numbers of children from the damaging side effects of parasitic infections.
- $100 donation buys: transport three women to and from the hospital or provide an anesthetist for a fistula surgery
According to the foundation’s website, obstetric fistula is “...a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor, leaving a woman incontinent of urine or feces or both.” Like schistosomiasis, obstetric fistula has mostly been eradicated in the developed world, though millions of women in developing nations still face ostracization from their communities because of their condition. The Fistula Foundation, which has been rated four out of four stars by Charity Navigator for more than a decade, directly funds surgery to repair obstetric fistula in low-resource women, along with training surgeons in the procedure and expanding existing programs.
- $100 donation buys: three interventions to save or improve sight for those with failing vision or curable blindness in addition to other interventions
Blindness isn’t always congenital or permanent; in many low-resource areas, developments such as cataracts cause blindness later in life which can be counteracted by surgery from trained professionals. Fred Hollows was one of those professionals: a lifelong ophthalmologist and social justice advocate who fought for proper eye care for indigenous Australians. In his name, the Fred Hollows foundation restores eyesight to patients in 25 countries and claims to have restored sight to more than 2.5 million people.
- $100 donation buys: $89 directly to recipients to use as they wish or four months of basic income to a recipient in GiveDirectly's landmark Universal Basic Income initiative
Not every low-resource individual needs eye treatment, deworming, or anti-malaria bed nets; some might need a combination of the three, or better food to feed their children, or better transportation to the local market. At GiveDirectly, organizers believe the best way to help the most people is to give them cash directly and let them decide how best to spend it. The organization's mission is backed by sound research, and GiveDirectly is acclaimed by GiveWell. The organization receives funding from several Silicon Valley-based venture firms.
- $100 donation buys: 500 additional individuals with a lifetime of adequately iodized salt, improving health and protecting against iodine deficiency disorders such as debilitating brain damage
In the U.S., we take for granted that the salt we buy from grocery stores is iodized. That’s not the case around the world, where tens of millions of children suffer from iodine deficiency in what the U.N. calls the greatest preventable cause of brain damage and other developmental disabilities. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) works to reduce iodine deficiency and other symptoms of malnutrition in developing countries and is considered a standout charity by GiveWell.
- $100 donation buys: $100 toward discovering and promoting the next most effective solutions to global poverty problems
Knowing is half the battle, or so the adage goes. While many of the charities on this list conduct regular research into the efficacy of their approaches, Innovations for Poverty Action tests many programs to determine which is the most cost-effective and beneficial in the long run. The organization has conducted 830 evaluations in 51 countries since its founding in 2002, according to its website, with implications for charity work in agriculture, education, governance, health, and other such fields.
- $100 donation buys: 10,000 individuals with a year of support sustaining existing protection against iodine deficiency disorders via salt iodization programs
Like the previously detailed organization GAIN, the Iodine Global Network (IGN) works to combat iodine deficiency worldwide. Since its founding in 1986, IGN has partnered with World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to bring attention and resources to the widespread issue of iodine deficiency. Access to iodine increases cognitive ability—so much so that a March 2019 study found the Morton Salt Compay's distribution of iodized salt in the United States back in 1924 led to an 11% increase in income for those who got it, once again strengthening the argument that it’s a very cost-effective public-health intervention.
- $100 donation buys: serve 52 Ugandans through a Community Health Promoter providing families with vital health products and services
Many charities seek to create structural change so that the next generation will require fewer iodine distribution programs or deworming treatments. Living Goods is one of those charities; the charity operates networks of community health workers that go door-to-door selling important health necessities from sanitary pads and condoms to malaria treatments and high-efficiency cookstoves, according to the New York Times. The goal is to scale this program and, according to the charity’s website, have 34,000 employees delivering care to 25,000,000 sub-Saharan Africans by 2021.
- $100 donation buys: provide three families of six with the tools to increase production and profits from supported activities by an average of 50% ($135) in a single season
One Acre Fund operates through micro-loans it gives to rural farmers. Farmers receive seeds, fertilizer, and training on both farming processes and the best practices when selling to consumers. The profits from enterprising farmers are then reinvested back into the organization, leading to significant growth in the program. Donating a few dollars can therefore have a very large downstream effect, since the return on the investment is compounded again and again.
- $100 donation buys: provide five years of healthy life to women, children, and families in the developing world through disease prevention, maternal health, family planning and other health services
Population Services International (PSI) has won favor from CharityWatch, The Life You Can Save, and celebrities like Mandy Moore and Ashley Judd for the organization’s wide approach to tackling health problems in the developing world. From providing contraception and water treatments to informing survivors of gender-based violence of local resources, PSI impacts the lives of individuals touched by many forms of hardship.
- $100 donation buys: provide 384 people with food-based micronutrient fortification for one year
Project Healthy Children (PHC) is another charity on the list that seeks to fortify children's diets to eradicate preventable developmental defects. PHC works with governments to expand food fortification programs that add necessary nutrients to the regular diets of under-served people, especially in sub-Saharan countries. For this, it’s considered a standout charity by GiveWell.
- $100 donation buys: treatments to protect 232 children from schistosomiasis, preventing life-threatening conditions including bladder cancer, kidney malfunction, spleen damage, and anemia
Like the Deworm the World initiative, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) works to curb parasitic infections in sub-Saharan Africa by working with local governments to establish deworming programs. Originally established with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, SCI has recently facilitated the delivery of its 200-millionth treatment against parasitic worm infections.
- $100 donation buys: restore eyesight for two people with curable blindness who cannot afford surgery
Seva was founded in 1978 in Berkeley, Calif., and counts Steve Jobs among its early advisers. Its mission: to restore eyesight to millions of affected individuals, all for around $50 per treatment. With a perfect four-star rating from Charity Navigator, Seva has delivered care to millions of patients in 22 countries.