Ranking 7 Strategies (Just listing the first 7)
1. Get clean water to rural villages. (Rating 8.3)
One million children die from drinking unclean water each year. Clean water can prevent legions of child health problems and dramatically reduce infant mortality.
Scientific evidence is overwhelmingly positive on impact. A World Health Organization study estimates that the availability of clean water in a rural village reduces infant mortality by 35 to 50 percent, at a cost of roughly $10 per person per year. Because infant mortality rates in the poorest countries often range from 60 to 110 per 1,000 live births, the cost of saving a child’s life by providing clean water alone may lie in the range of only $180 to $400. To development economists, cheap-plus-effective is an endearing combination.
A growing number of development organizations working to provide clean water in rural villages now receive online donations. Funds are used to drill wells, lay plastic pipe, and install pumps.
Living Water International†
Flowing Streams Ministries†
2. Fund de-worming treatments for children. (Rating 7.8)
Intestinal worm infestation affects one in four people worldwide and is responsible for chronic poor health, listlessness, and learning impairment among children in developing countries. Albendazole and other medications are stunningly effective and very inexpensive, making de-worming another great case of “bang for your buck” effectiveness.
A study by researchers at Berkeley and Harvard found that regular de-worming treatment in worm-infested areas of the developing world can reduce school absenteeism by 25 percent at a cost of only 50 cents per year per child. The only caveat: In most instances, de-worming drugs need to be administered repeatedly, especially to shoeless children, as worms typically enter through the soles of the feet.
3. Provide mosquito nets. (Rating: 7.3)
Malaria is a leading killer of children in developing countries, accounting for nearly one in five deaths of children under age 5 in sub-Saharan Africa. The claim is that every 45 seconds, a child dies from malaria. The good news is that, like health problems from dirty water and worm infestation, malaria can be prevented cheaply and effectively.
Bed nets cost only $5 to $10 each. Because of their cost-effectiveness, they have created quite a buzz in the nonprofit world in recent years. The scientific community strongly supports the intervention; insecticide-treated bed nets have a proven positive impact on malaria prevention. Modern nets last for years and are proven to reduce instances of malaria by 50 percent and malaria mortality by 20 percent.
4. Sponsor a child. (Rating: 6.9)
Of all the long-term development interventions, child sponsorship received the highest rating. Sponsors typically pay $25 to $40 per month, which covers a child’s educational fees, school uniforms, tutoring, health care, and, in faith-based sponsorship organizations, spiritual mentorship. Many development economists today favor interventions like child sponsorship that remove practical constraints to education while building a child’s self-esteem, aspirations, and goals. In this way, sponsorship relieves both external and internal poverty constraints.
Two researchers and I recently carried out a study (sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development) on the long-term impacts of Compassion International’s child sponsorship program. The study, gathering data from over 10,000 individuals in six countries, found substantial impact on adult life outcomes for children who were sponsored through Compassion’s program during the 1980s and ’90s. We statistically compared formerly sponsored children to older siblings who were too old for sponsorship when the program started in their village. In adulthood, formerly sponsored children were far more likely to complete secondary school and had a much higher chance of having a white-collar job. They married and had children later in life, were more likely to be church and community leaders, were less likely to live in a home with a dirt floor and more likely to live in a home with electricity. [Editor’s Note: Christianity Today will feature a full report on this study once the findings are peer reviewed.]
There are some caveats: Although the impact in the child’s life is significant, compared with other forms of interventions, child sponsorship is comparatively expensive. In addition, some economists are concerned that some child sponsorship organizations, such as World Vision, Save the Children, and Plan, use sponsorship funds for development projects in the village where the child lives rather than investing them directly in the lives of sponsored children, resulting in diffuse impacts that are more difficult to rigorously assess.
5. Give wood-burning stoves. (Rating: 6.0)
The World Health Organization estimates that 50 percent of all people use biomass fuels (wood, animal dung) for heating and cooking. But biomass fuels lead to two major problems: deforestation, which kills 5.8 million hectares of tropical rainforests each year; and indoor air pollution, which is believed to prematurely kill 1.6 million people each year.
Stoves that burn wood efficiently and pipe out harmful smoke through a chimney kill both of these bad birds with one stone. Just $150 can buy a new Onil wood-burning stove, which uses 65 percent less wood than most stoves and pipes toxic gasses out of the house. In a recently published study using a randomized controlled trial, two researchers and I found big impacts from the Onil Stove on wood usage and reduced coughing. Only $15 buys a household a new hightech “Rocket Stove,” which uses even less wood than the Onil version, but has less heating power and a lower impact on indoor air pollution (since it doesn’t attach to a chimney).
6. Give a microfinance loan. (Rating: 4.2)
The growth of microfinance in developing countries has been nothing short of breathtaking. Currently 190 million of the world’s poor are microfinance borrowers, up from 13.5 million 15 years ago. Microfinance has been supported by everybody across the political spectrum: liberals, because it represents grassroots development and empowers women; conservatives, because it promotes capitalism. Everyone loves microfinance—at least until recently, when problems stemming from borrowers’ over-indebtedness have stalled the bandwagon.
Serious studies of microfinance find modest impacts: increases in entrepreneurialism and business investment, and a greater ability to smooth out bumps in income. But microfinance is not the magic bullet many once believed it to be. Today one can lend directly to an entrepreneur through websites like Kiva.org. A new loan is granted when the previous loan is repaid. Most loans start at $25.
VisionFund (World Vision)
7. Fund reparative surgeries. (Rating: 3.9)
Cleft palates make normal life nearly impossible for 170,000 children in developing countries. Children with cleft palates have trouble speaking and eating and suffer from social exclusion. Surgery to repair cleft palates and other visible maladies such as cataracts, crossed eyes, and limb disfigurements are typically unavailable or unaffordable to many families in the developing world. They offer new hope to children who would otherwise face a lifetime of discrimination and difficulty.
Smile Train is a nonprofit that performs corrective surgeries through a $250 donation. Respondents to the survey expressed little doubt about impact; its ranking is lower primarily because it is more costly than other interventions.