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Make Your Charitable Donations Effective: Give in Africa

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While Sam Bankman-Fried gave the concept of effective altruism a bad name, it’s basic tenet makes some sense — that we, in effect, do a cost-benefit analysis when we make charitable donations. Will our donations move the needle towards achieving our goals, whether ending hunger and homelessness, even the playing field for attending college, or curing disease?

(I get a bit long winded below. If you would like to know the bottom line, I’m inviting you to an informational meeting on the evening of March 18th about a truly inspiring charity that supports schools and teachers in Kenya and Tanzania. You can register here.)

How Do You Choose to Give?

Of course, a lot influences our charitable goals. Some causes seem more worthwhile than others, or at least more susceptible to change. We are more likely to give to organizations with which we identify, whether those in our community or connected to our alma mater, our religion or ethnicity. One criticism of effective altruism is that it takes a good concept too far. While perhaps we should care about the lives of children crossing the Darien Gap as much as our own children, the reality is that we don’t. Relationships matter.

Some donors give at least in part for the benefits they will receive back, such as a attendance at a charitable gala, or their names on scholarships, professorships, or buildings. Others are less inclined to give to charities, despite the potential tax benefits, arguing that political donations are more effective because they leverage the power and resources of government to solve problems and meet challenges.

But clearly there’s a big difference in the effect of your dollars if you give to a small community non-profit instead of to Harvard University with its $50 billion endowment. Likewise, gifts to overseas organizations can make more of a difference dollar-for-dollar in large part because the huge difference in our economies as compared to those in the third world. As just one example, while college tuition in the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the average tuition for a semester at a university in Ghana is just $1,500.

CharityWatch and CharityNavigator rate charities based on their measures of their effectiveness. (One wonders whether their eligibility criteria mean they miss smaller charities or that their application requirements actually interfere with the operations of smaller charities, but that’s for another blog post.) New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof publishes an annual list of charities that he recommends as having the most impact on peoples lives. One of his perennial favorites is Camfed, an charity that supports education for girls in Ghana, Malawi, and Zimbabwe.

The Need in Africa

I have become involved with a charity called So They Can that supports schools in Kenya and a teachers training college in Tanzania. (More on how that happened below.) A few facts about Africa:

  • While a high percentage of Kenyan children attend primary school, just over a quarter attend secondary school.
  • Most Kenyan children are over-age for their grades, which means they’re behind grade level.
  • While most of the world faces declining and aging populations, that’s not the case of Africa, where in much of the continent women are on average having four or more children.
  • Seven out of 10 extremely poor children in the world today live in Africa.

Education is key to the future of children in Africa. According to UNESCO, if all students in low-income countries had just basic reading skills, 171 million people could escape extreme poverty. Unless they can keep progressing, the resulting strife will spread to the rest of the world. We already see this with desperate migrants crossing the Mediterranean in rickety boats. That’s just a harbinger of what may come with climate change and over population in Africa unless we can help change the course.

Over the next century, the welfare of Africa and its inhabitants will in large part determine the future of the world because it is the one continent that will continue to have a growing population while that of every other continent will begin a long-term decline. This is in large part due to Africa’s youth. Today 23% of people aged 15 to 24 in the world live in Africa. It’s projected that by 2050, 35% of such youth will live in Africa. (See this fascinating special section in The New York Times.)

An Opportunity for Us

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Here’s some of what So They Can does:

  • Supports more than 31,000 students in Kenya.
  • In 51 schools.
  • At a cost of $50 per student per year.
  • Runs a teachers training college in Tanzania.
  • Provides water and food to its students.

So They Can is based in Australia and New Zealand. I learned about it last year when I met a former chair of its board on a bicycle trip in Italy. He connected me with its founder and director, Cassandra Treadwell, who is truly inspiring. You have the opportunity to become inspired and involved as well. Cass will be leading an information session over Zoom on the evening of

Monday, March 18th, at 7:30

Register here.

Join us! If you cannot, or, if you have questions or would simply like the Zoom link, email at In short, So They Can offers us the opportunity to have a huge effect on the lives of young people.

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