Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor
Two researchers and I recently carried out a study (sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development) on the long-term impacts of Compassion International's child sponsorship program. The study, gathering data from over 10,000 individuals in six countries, found substantial impact on adult life outcomes for children who were sponsored through Compassion's program during the 1980s and '90s. We statistically compared formerly sponsored children to older siblings who were too old for sponsorship when the program started in their village. In adulthood, formerly sponsored children were far more likely to complete secondary school and had a much higher chance of having a white-collar job. They married and had children later in life, were more likely to be church and community leaders, were less likely to live in a home with a dirt floor and more likely to live in a home with electricity. [Editor's Note: Christianity Today will feature a full report on this study once the findings are peer reviewed.]
There are some caveats: Although the impact in the child's life is significant, compared with other forms of interventions, child sponsorship is comparatively expensive. In addition, some economists are concerned that some child sponsorship organizations, such as World Vision, Save the Children, and Plan, use sponsorship funds for development projects in the village where the child lives rather than investing them directly in the lives of sponsored children, resulting in diffuse impacts that are more difficult to rigorously assess.
5. Give wood-burning stoves.
The World Health Organization estimates that 50 percent of all people use biomass fuels (wood, animal dung) for heating and cooking. But biomass fuels lead to two major problems: deforestation, which kills 5.8 million hectares of tropical rainforests each year; and indoor air pollution, which is believed to prematurely kill 1.6 million people each year.
Stoves that burn wood efficiently and pipe out harmful smoke through a chimney kill both of these bad birds with one stone. Just $150 can buy a new Onil wood-burning stove, which uses 65 percent less wood than most stoves and pipes toxic gasses out of the house. In a recently published study using a randomized controlled trial, two researchers and I found big impacts from the Onil Stove on wood usage and reduced coughing. Only $15 buys a household a new hightech "Rocket Stove," which uses even less wood than the Onil version, but has less heating power and a lower impact on indoor air pollution (since it doesn't attach to a chimney).
6. Give a microfinance loan.
The growth of microfinance in developing countries has been nothing short of breathtaking. Currently 190 million of the world's poor are microfinance borrowers, up from 13.5 million 15 years ago. Microfinance has been supported by everybody across the political spectrum: liberals, because it represents grassroots development and empowers women; conservatives, because it promotes capitalism. Everyone loves microfinance—at least until recently, when problems stemming from borrowers' over-indebtedness have stalled the bandwagon.