Room to Read | GiveWell

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Room to Read

About this page

GiveWell aims to find the best giving opportunities we can and recommend them to donors. We tend to put a lot of investigation into the organizations we find most promising, and de-prioritize others based on limited information. When we decide not to prioritize an organization, we try to create a brief writeup of our thoughts on that charity because we want to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning.

The following write-up should be viewed in this context: it explains why we determined that we wouldn't be prioritizing the organization in question as a potential top charity. This write-up should not be taken as a "negative rating" of the charity. Rather, it is our attempt to be as clear as possible about the process by which we came to our top recommendations.

A note on this page's publication date

The last time we examined Room to Read was in 2010. In our latest open-ended review of charities, we determined that it was unlikely to meet our criteria based on our past examination of it, so we did not revisit it.

We invite all charities that feel they meet our criteria to apply for consideration.

The content we created in 2010 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to what it says about Room to Read and with respect to what it implies about our own views and positions. With that said, we do feel that the takeaways from this examination are sufficient not to prioritize re-opening our investigation of this organization at this time.

Room to Read reached out to us in 2015 to share its experimental evaluations, but due to our other research priorities we have not investigated these evaluations.

Published: 2010

What do they do

Room to Read runs five main programs:1

  • Reading room: establishing children's libraries (56% of its 2008 program expenses).
  • School room: constructing schools or extra classrooms (22%).
  • Girls' education: financial support and training for girl students (12%).
  • Local language publishing (7%).
  • Computer and language room establishment (3%).

Evaluation

After reviewing Room to Read's website, we have the following questions about Room to Read's programs.

Library establishment

In 2008, Room to Read spent 56% of its program budget on establishing libraries.2 We have the following questions about this program:

  1. What type of books does Room to Read provide?
  2. What proportion of books are in a local language? (Room to Read states on its website that it provides books in both English and the local language.3)
  3. Are the books in readable condition? Are libraries and books maintained over time?
  4. How many books are checked out every year? How many individuals check out at least one book per year? How often are books lost?
  5. What is Room to Read's role in creating libraries? What proportion of costs and books does Room to Read provide?
  6. What are the characteristics of the individuals who use the libraries and the communities in which they are located?
  7. Are books shelved and well-organized in the libraries?
  8. Does Room to Read need additional funding? Are there requests for libraries or books that Room to Read is not able to fulfill due to lack of funds?
  9. How much additional funding could Room to Read productively use to expand its library program? What would be the effect of Room to Read receiving additional funds?
  10. Is there evidence that Room to Read's libraries program improves students' test scores or later life outcomes? Is there evidence that the program causes other positive changes for individuals or the community? Alternatively, is there independent evidence that the construction of libraries has this effect? (Note that in our review of developing-world education, we did not find literature on this topic.)

Other programs

Room to Read also runs programs in school construction (22% of the budget in 2008), girls' education (12%), local language publishing (7%), and computer and language room establishment (3%).4 We have the following general questions about these programs:

  1. Does Room to Read monitor whether these investments are used as intended and create value in the community?
  2. How does Room to Read determine which communities to work in or individuals to provide aid to?
  3. Which program(s) would Room to Read expand with additional donations? How much additional funding could Room to Read productively use to expand its current programs?
  4. Is there evidence that Room to Read's programs improve students' test scores or later life outcomes? Is there evidence that these programs cause other positive changes for individuals or the community? Alternatively, is there independent evidence that these types of programs have a positive impact?

With the information available, we cannot recommend Room to Read to donors.

Sources

  • 1.

    Room to Read, “Annual Report (2008),” Pg 29.

  • 2.

    Room to Read, “Annual Report (2008),” Pg 29.

  • 3.

    "In each library, we seek to create a child-friendly learning environment filled with high quality, grade-appropriate local language and English books." Room to Read, “Reading Room.”

  • 4.

    Room to Read, “Annual Report (2008),” Pg 29.