You are here

Overview: Global Poverty (Focus on Africa)

A note on this page's publication date

The content on this page has not been recently updated. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to the research it presents and with respect to what it implies about our views and positions.

According to the 2007 UN Human Development Report, 2.6 billion people - 40% of the world's population - live on less than US$2 per day, and 1 billion lived on less than $1 a day ("at the margins of survival" - Pg 25).

While our saving lives cause emphasizes health, for this cause we looked for organizations that specifically focus on helping people in extreme poverty to directly and sustainably improve their income, job situation, and general standard of living. We examined both microfinance - aid through financial services - and more traditional economic assistance programs focused on training. Our main finding was that large organizations in this area are generally unwilling or unable to share detailed empirical information about the people they serve, the services they provide, and their programs' effects on clients' standards of living. Given the complexity of this goal - bringing about lasting changes in the lives of struggling people from other cultures - we do not have strong confidence in any program we've seen to date.

While no economic empowerment program has been widely documented as effective, we are more confident in microfinance than other interventions, knowing what we know. Microfinance is a relatively simple intervention that aims to help people manage their own lives (by providing financial services such as loans, savings, and insurance), rather than prescribing particular activities for them; and the literature on its effectiveness provides stronger and more encouraging evidence (although still not enough to give us great confidence) than the literature we've found on any other intervention in this area. Our full review of the logical and empirical case for microfinance is here.

We hope to study this cause more in the future; we find the idea of economic assistance for the extremely poor to be highly appealing, but so far we have not found an organization that we can be highly confident in.


Round 1 materials for all applicants