Evidence Action — Strengthen Operations | GiveWell

You are here

Evidence Action — Strengthen Operations

Published: July 2017

Note: This page summarizes the rationale behind a grant to Evidence Action made by Good Ventures. Evidence Action staff reviewed this page prior to publication.

Summary

In April 2017, Good Ventures made a grant of $2,642,300 to Evidence Action. Evidence Action plans to use these funds to strengthen its financial systems, human resources, and information technology. We made this grant with two goals in mind: (a) to support the development of programs that could be future top charities (the goal of our Incubation Grants program), and (b) to support the Deworm the World Initiative, a program run by Evidence Action that is one of GiveWell's top charities.

The organization

We consider Evidence Action to be one of the groups with which GiveWell is most aligned; GiveWell and Evidence Action both place a high value on evidence and cost-effectiveness. Evidence Action runs several programs, including the Deworm the World Initiative, which is one of our top charities; No Lean Season, which we have supported with previous Incubation Grants; and Dispensers for Safe Water, which is not on our list of top charities, and conducts an intervention we have most recently written about in this blog post.

Grant details and case for the grant

Good Ventures granted $2,642,300 to support Evidence Action's operations. These funds are intended to allow Evidence Action to strengthen several aspects of its core operations, including its financial systems, human resources, and information technology.

Evidence Action sent us a budget illustrating how it plans to use this grant, as well as a staff breakdown as of early 2017.1

The main arguments in favor of the grant are:

  1. We have a high opinion of Evidence Action due to its track record of starting programs that are strong or promising, such as Deworm the World and No Lean Season.
  2. Our experiences at GiveWell have convinced us of the importance of strong operational systems.
  3. Evidence Action recently hired a new CEO, Kanika Bahl. We have worked with Ms. Bahl on a previous, unrelated project with the organization Results for Development, a GiveWell Incubation Grant recipient. We feel that our communication and alignment with Ms. Bahl is relatively strong, though this view is based on a limited history.

Goals for the grant

We primarily expect this grant to enable Evidence Action to launch new programs, generate greater room for more funding for Deworm the World and No Lean Season, and lead to more effective fundraising via improved financial reporting.2 However, we do not expect to be able to clearly trace a path between this grant and its impact, and we think this grant may not lead to growth we find exciting within the next few years.

The following outcomes would indicate that this grant was successful:

  1. Evidence Action launching at least two new major programs over the next five years.
  2. GiveWell receiving clear, error-free financial reports from Evidence Action as part of our work on the Deworm the World Initiative and No Lean Season.

In the absence of this grant, we would guess that Evidence Action would launch approximately one new Evidence Action Beta program over the next five years or so, and that the organization would continue to have difficulties with financial reporting.

Evidence Action provided us with a list of medium-term goals for this grant, which can be found in the following footnote.3

Room for more funding

Evidence Action has told us it does not know of other potential sources of funding for this work, which we think is plausible. Our impression is that there are very few funders who make core operations grants of this size in the field of global development. GiveWell is one of Evidence Action's primary funding sources and therefore is among the most logical funders of its core operations.

In the absence of this grant, we think it likely that Evidence Action's current staff would complete some high-priority operations work but that much of what this grant is intended to fund would not be accomplished and Evidence Action would continue to rely on current systems.

Risks and reservations

Our main reservation about this grant is that we may not be fully aligned with Evidence Action about the criteria for launching or scaling up programs. Evidence Action operates some programs, such as an education volunteer program and Dispensers for Safe Water, that we think may be less evidence-backed or cost-effective than our top charities.

Internal forecasts

For this grant, we are recording the following forecasts:

  • 15% chance that we find a significant error in Evidence Action's financial documents in 2018
  • 25% chance that an Evidence Action Beta program other than No Lean Season becomes a top charity by the end of 2021
  • 60% chance that the Deworm the World Initiative's room for more funding (including execution levels 1 and 2) exceeds $10 million as of November 2018
  • 60% chance that GiveWell Incubation Grants provides at least $250,000 to an Evidence Action Beta program other than No Lean Season by the end of 2018

Sources

Document Source
Email from Kanika Bahl on February 10, 2017 Unpublished
Evidence Action, Budget and Staff Numbers Source
  • 1.

    See Evidence Action, Budget and Staff Numbers.

  • 2.

    Evidence Action told us that a potential funder recently declined to make a grant to Evidence Action in large part because Evidence Action was unable to produce the financial reporting that the funder needed in a timely manner.

  • 3.

    "September 2017

    • IT Manager Hired
    • CFO Hired
    • System assessments done (Time Mgmt, Payroll, Finance ERP)
    • Global Chart of Accounts harmonized and finalized

    "March 2018

    • System assessment done for HRIS
    • Reporting Templates and Budgeting Templates and Guidelines Finalized
    • Culture and Values Training for staff
    • SOP trainings for all staff
    • IT SOPs, Training and Tutorials completed
    • Security Assessments and Protocols in place for each country
    • Legal Audits in process for all countries

    "September 2018

    • Leadership Training for all staff completed
    • New Finance ERP implemented
    • New HRIS implemented"

    Email from Kanika Bahl on February 10, 2017.