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  1. Impact Philanthropy
December 18, 2012

Spear’s Charity Advent Calendar: Innovations for Poverty Action

By Spear's

In the run-up to Christmas, Spear’s is highlighting four charities which we recommend you consider supporting. You’ve probably never heard of them, and that’s deliberate. This week is Innovations for Poverty Action, which researches how best to structure development and humanitarian projects, and then offers free advice and practical assistance to governments and NGOs.
3. Innovations for Poverty Action
Which of the following is the best way to prevent diarrhoea (a big and avoidable cause of death) in Kenyan villages: taking chlorine door-to-door so households can purify their water; putting in piped infrastructure at the water source for cleaner water; or giving chlorine to villagers at the source?
Well, before we put a load of money into any of those options, it would be a good idea to find out. This is what Innovations for Poverty Action does.

Read more: Spear’s Charity Advent Calendar Week 1

Read more: Spear’s Charity Advent Calendar Week 2

It researches the effectiveness of many programmes which aim to assist the world’s poorest people – including water and sanitation, health, education, finance, agriculture, environment and governance. Founded by a Yale University economist, IPA uses randomised control trials, the gold standard of rigorous experiments which are used in clinical drug trials.
The research is deliberately scientific: studies are led by leading researchers, many at universities such as Harvard, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and London School of Economics, and normally published in peer-reviewed journals.

This villager in Ghana is part of an experiment by IPA to research how to best help ‘ultra poor’ villages. The visitor is monitoring the progress of her and her family.

IPA has nearly 300 studies in over 40 countries with some surprising findings. For example, in the question above, the most cost effective programme is the last one – whereas most audiences guess the first.

It was IPA researchers who first figured out that microfinance wasn’t having all the effects which people claimed. And found that a great way of improving children’s learning – much cheaper than building more schools, hiring more teachers, or dishing out more books – is telling parents about the benefits to children’s later earnings which come from staying in school for a few more years.
IPA provides advice (for free) to governments and NGOs about its research findings to help them direct their resources towards the best programmes, and provides them with practical assistance. 

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The research itself is generally funded by academic sources, but private donations are necessary for the advice, for which demand is huge and growing as governments realise the value of heeding robust evidence. IPA also invites donations to its Proven Impact Initiative which supports the roll-out of some of the most effective work it has found, including some mentioned above.

Can be made through (click on “Donate from the UK or Europe”)

Innovations for Poverty Action is a charity registered in the United States.
Caroline Fiennes is the director of Giving Evidence, a consultancy, and author of It Ain’t What You Give, a guide to charities and giving well

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