Helping people in the United States usually involves tackling extremely complex, poorly understood problems. Many popular approaches simply don't work. (See our discussion of education, for example.) Many more approaches have simply never been investigated, beyond the stories and anecdotes. (More here.)
In the poorest parts of the world, people suffer from very different problems. A child may die of malaria for lack of a $5 bed net, or of diarrhea for lack of a 5-cent packet of nutrients.
The table below illustrates the difference, comparing U.S.-focused charities to international charities. Click the name of the organization for more detail.
|Developing-world health||Malaria Consortium (seasonal malaria chemoprevention program)||Approximately $2,000 per life saved||Improve health, save lives|
|Early childhood care and education (U.S.)||Nurse-Family Partnership||$10,000 per child served||Increase academic performance and reduce criminal behavior|
|US Education||KIPP||$7,500-$17,000 per student per year (including state funds)||Improve academic performance|
|Employment Assistance (NYC)||The HOPE Program||$10,000 per client served||Unclear, if any|
We estimate that it costs the Malaria Consortium approximately $2,000 (including transportation, administration, etc.) to save a human life. Compare that with even the best U.S. programs: the Nurse-Family Partnership and KIPP both cost over $10,000 per child served.
This is not to say that developing-world aid is easy or simple. Some activities are highly proven and cost-effective; others have very poor track records. As in the U.S., generating evidence of impact (not just stories) is essential. We publish what we've learned.