Edge Environment’s monthly ‘Make More Good’ donation sends $300 to a worthy cause nominated by a staff member. In March, 2020, Edge’s Sustainability Consultant, Tom Ross, chose The Helen Keller Initiative to be the recipient.
At Edge, a key focus of our work is in the discovery phase of projects. When we kick off new projects, we challenge our clients to identify their preconceptions about what issues are material to the business. We focus on consulting, analysing and testing to distill business challenges into evidence-based priority issues. This forms a critical part of our work across key service areas like sustainability strategy and climate risk. By understanding where the greatest issues for our clients lie, we can ensure time, energy and resources are spent where they are needed most.
At the end of 2019, I made a new year’s resolution to read one book a month throughout 2020. In January of 2020, the book I chose to read was “The Most Good You Can Do” by Australian moral philosopher and bioethicist, Peter Singer. While the book touched more broadly on the concept of “Effective Altruism” – the concept that living an ethical life involves actively trying to do the most good one can in the most effective way possible – the book devotes a good chunk of time to discussing how to direct donations to maximise the utility per dollar spent. The book argues that too often people will donate to causes to which they have a personal connection, rather than by considering the effectiveness of those donations. Singer argues that if we are trying to improve the state of the world, we need to be more objective in the way we give.
COVID-19 has already changed our lives. One of the positive side effects has been the increased sense of community and social cohesion. People are helping their neighbours in whatever way they can, and there is cause for some cautious optimism in the kind of collective society that will emerge from the ashes of this pandemic. At the same time, COVID-19 has undoubtedly shifted our gaze to domestic issues, while pervasive global issues (famine, extreme poverty, access to clean water, sanitation) continue unabated, albeit with less airtime than before. These critical international initiatives are at risk of losing massive amounts of funding despite the highly effective results of the organisations involved. What’s more, the same societies that have the most to lose from this reduction in funding are some of the most vulnerable to the virus itself.
Borrowing from these concepts, I’ve decided to consult GiveWell – a non-profit charity review organisation which seeks to determine the effectiveness of charitable organisations through assessing their cost effectiveness, transparency, accountability and the need for additional funding. GiveWell works to parse through the thousands of charitable organisations around the world and assist donors in finding recipients who need funding and who will use the funds effectively. In doing so, GiveWell removes the local bias we place on donations and ensures the donation is used most effectively.
Using the GiveWell evaluation framework, I’ve chosen to direct my “Make More Good” donation to Helen Keller International’s (HKI) VAS program, providing Vitamin A supplementation to children under five in sub-Saharan Africa (You can read a bit more about GiveWell’s assessment of HKI here: https://www.givewell.org/charities/helen-keller-international). VAS involves treating high risk children between the ages of 6-months and 5 years of age in areas at high-risk for vitamin A deficiency with high-dose vitamin A supplements two or three times per year. This has been identified as one of the most effective ways to reduce child mortality rates. HKI itself is one of the world’s most effective charities, with a proven track record. Estimates put the cost of Vitamin A supplement at US$1.23/patient. There is evidence that HKI is in need of additional funding to continue its important work. However, given the non-local nature of the work being completed, funding for HKI is likely to be put at risk in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By utilising some of the key business concepts we use every day at Edge, I can ensure that my donation is going to make the greatest good it can.