Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Picking The Right Target

"In general, where human welfare is concerned, we will achieve more if we help those in extreme poverty in developing countries, as our dollars go much further there."

Peter Singer, Good Charity, Bad Charity, The New York Times, August 10, 2013.

Not surprisingly, Singer ignites some hot debate by his benefit/cost contrast of charitable investing for eradicating elements of poverty with evidence-based interventions versus investing in arts and culture. He uses the example of art museums. Of course, most charitable giving is to religious institutions, not the arts -- and by many accounts much of international development aid aimed at addressing poverty is a bust. Singer could have picked his targets more wisely -- and chosen a less inflammatory title. But there is a larger problem of whether philanthropic dollars should be used primarily to support on-the-ground programs or serve as "risk capital" for solving new problems or persistent problems related to poverty. Maybe both, especially when emergencies arise. The thorny question for philanthropy raised implicitly by Singer is how philanthropy makes its investment decisions.

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