Evidence Action — No Lean Season (December 2016 grant)

Published: May 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.


As part of GiveWell's work on Incubation Grants, which are intended to support the development of potential future top charities, in December 2016 Good Ventures made a grant of $1,687,500 to Evidence Action in order to support its work on No Lean Season, its program incentivizing seasonal migration. Evidence Action plans to use these funds to support its work in Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Table of Contents

The intervention

Evidence Action's No Lean Season offers subsidies (grants or loans) to low-income agricultural workers in Bangladesh as an incentive to migrate during the famine season to urban areas where higher wages can be earned.1 The Open Philanthropy Project previously completed a shallow investigation into seasonal migration within low-income countries. We wrote about previous grants to support No Lean Season here and here. We also wrote more about No Lean Season on our blog in February 2017.

Grant details

As part of GiveWell's work on Incubation Grants, Good Ventures granted $1,687,500 to Evidence Action to support No Lean Season. Good Ventures previously supported No Lean Season with multiple grants. Evidence Action expects to use this grant to cover half of the below expenses:

  • Global strategy and management for 2017: $465,750
  • Program in Bangladesh for 2017: $2,040,028
  • Program in Indonesia for 2017 and 2018: $170,000 and $700,000, respectively

Track record and cost-effectiveness

In 2016, No Lean Season focused on designing a scalable version of the program and building capacity for scaled implementation. As of December 2016, No Lean Season was distributing its first round of subsidies to approximately 5,500 households. Our impression is that implementation is going well.

Our current cost-effectiveness analysis, which we consider relatively well-developed, estimates that No Lean Season is approximately 5 to 14 times as cost-effective as unconditional cash transfers, which would make it competitive with our top charities.2

The output of our analysis is sensitive to a number of inputs, including but not limited to assumptions about the likelihood of successful recovery of the initial loan, replicability and external validity concerns, and the baseline income in future locations in which No Lean Season operates. No Lean Season's program is fairly complicated, and we think it is likely that the program will appear less cost-effective as we learn more about it, as has often been the case with our cost-effectiveness analyses of other programs.

Room for more funding

No Lean Season anticipates requiring funding of approximately $3.4 million for its 2017 work in Bangladesh and its 2017 and 2018 work in Indonesia. GiveWell recommended that Good Ventures make a grant for 50% of that amount.

In 2017 and 2018, No Lean Season hopes to raise approximately $16 million to cover its work in Bangladesh and Indonesia through 2019, as well as its organizational management through 2021.

Internal forecasts

We are experimenting with recording explicit numerical forecasts of the probability of events related to our decision-making (especially grant-making). The idea behind this is to pull out the implicit predictions that are playing a role in our decisions, and to make it possible for us to look back on how well-calibrated and accurate those predictions were. For this grant, we are recording the following forecast:

  • 65% chance that No Lean Season is a top charity at the end of giving season 2017


Document Source
Evidence Action, "What Is Evidence Action Beta Working On?" Source (archive)
GiveWell's interim CEA of No Lean Season, July 2016 Source
GiveWell's No Lean Season CEA calculations Source
No Lean Season budget proposal Source
Open Philanthropy Project cause report on seasonal migration within low-income countries Source
"Why we’re considering No Lean Season as a potential 2017 top charity," GiveWell blog Source
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    "Seasonal income insecurity is a problem in many regions of the world for the very poor during the period between planting food crops and harvest time. For example, northern Bangladesh is at risk of significant income insecurity during three months leading to the winter harvest that affects very poor people especially. Researchers working in this region identified a simple and effective solution that took advantage of the relative abundance of employment opportunities outside of the famine-prone north during this lean season. They provided households a travel subsidy for work-migration during the lean season, allowing them to send a member away to generate income that would otherwise not have been possible. This resulted in significant improvements in household welfare (including consumption and nutrition) during the lean season, an effect that held even in subsequent years. Based on this evidence, providing these travel subsidies is a promising way to avert seasonal insecurity." Evidence Action, "What Is Evidence Action Beta Working On?"

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