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Overview of Applicants (Round 1)

Please note: This content is not actively maintained. It was published as part of our 2007-2008 report on international aid. For up-to-date content, see our most recent report on international aid.

This page details how we selected finalists from our pool of Round 1 applicants.

In a nutshell

We evaluated first-round applications for both of our Africa-focused causes (saving lives and global poverty) together, since so many of the applicants are large, comprehensive organizations whose activities span both categories.

107 organizations were invited to apply in these causes, using the process described here. 59 completed our Round 1 application; 48 did not apply.

Our Round 1 application asked charities to focus on a single well-documented project. 9 submissions gave us highly concrete accounts of what the project had done, and at least some sense of how many lives it had changed (and how). 7 submissions were less concrete about the specific project, but gave us a good overall sense of organization-wide strategy (often because the organization's strategy was unified enough to be easily understood).

We required finalists to accomplish one of these two things (explain a single project very concretely, or give a good higher-level picture of the organization) because our ultimate goal was to find organizations that could document themselves both broadly and deeply, giving us a complete sense of what they do.

In the process of studying finalists more closely, we ultimately classified them within one international cause or the other (saving lives or global poverty).

The details

What we looked for

We used the following principles in naming finalists:

  • Look for strong documentation that lives have been changed for the better. One of the challenges of these causes is that they involve trying to help people who are far away and from very different cultures than our own; the fact that a charity's described activities seem to make logical sense isn't enough, by itself, to convince us that positive change has occurred.
  • Look for a sense of how many lives have been changed (and how they've been changed) by an organization's activities. A sense of how many lives are changed "per dollar" is essential to decide between logical but different approaches, so we focused on the applicants that seemed most likely to be able to provide this sense.
  • Aim for a complete or near-complete understanding of applicants' activities. Our Round 1 application asked applicants to feature a single program, but we also took the size and scope of the organization into account: a large, comprehensive organization needs extremely strong documentation in order to give any sense of its activities and effects, whereas an organization with a simpler and more cohesive model might be evaluated with less documentation.


Large, complex organizations

The Aga Khan Foundation, Food for the Hungry, Population Services International, Partners in Health, the American Red Cross, Opportunities Industrialization Centers International, Project HOPE, Helen Keller International, and the International Eye Foundation all submitted very detailed, concrete accounts of a single featured program (our Round 1 application asked them to choose one program to focus on). In each case, we could get a feel for the how many people benefited and how they benefited from the program, whether because the charity tracked clients directly (as Partners in Health did) or because it submitted a strong independent research case for similar programs (as the Red Cross did with its bednet distribution program).

UNICEF was a late addition to the set of applicants (they did not respond to our inquiry email, but we got in touch with them later after they heard about us from a donor). Rather than sending them our Round 1 application, we made the same request that we made of Round 2 applicants: that they give us an overview of all their activities. Their application featured the Accelerated Childhood Survival and Development program, which we found promising enough to pursue (we will write about this more thoroughly as we put up our analysis of finalists).

Simpler organizations

Interplast, KickStart, the HealthStore Foundation, and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Disease Control all have relatively simple, unified, and highly compelling models for helping people. KickStart develops and markets irrigation technology to improve living standards; Interplast treats congenital defects; the HealthStore Foundation franchises locals to sell medicine; and GNNTDC focuses specifically on intervention campaigns for what it describes as "neglected tropical diseases," arguing that these diseases represent a cost-effective way to save lives precisely because not enough has been spent on them to date. Of these, only KickStart provided the depth of information and measurement that we wanted to see, but we named all of these organizations finalists because we found their models both (a) interesting and (b) cohesive enough that we thought we had a good chance at understanding the entire organization's activities.

Microfinance organizations

Opportunity International and the Grameen Foundation both focus on microfinance: the technique of fighting poverty by providing financial services (often loans) to extremely low-income clients. Opportunity International did the best job of any microfinance organization giving a sense that its activities have led to improved lives (in other words, going beyond "number of loans" and giving livings-standards-related figures); Grameen Foundation's application led us, through a series of footnotes, to the a literature review examining the general evidence for microfinance's effectiveness. Other microfinance organizations did not give us enough information to begin connecting financial services rendered to lives changed.


Other applicants gave descriptions of their activities, anecdotes, newspaper articles, survey data (types evidence that we are skeptical about, as we have written on our blog), and evidence of the size of the problems they were attacking - but did not give us information that gave us high confidence that their programs were creating positive life change, or information that we felt could begin to get at their cost-effectiveness in changing lives.

We did not proceed with any of these other applications. It's possible that they have the information we want, and didn't send it due to misinterpretations of our Round 1 application, time constraints, or other reasons. But due to time constraints of our own, we opted to focus on the applicants that seemed most promising.

Application materials