‘We are a tiny, tiny little organization,’ says Bill Gates about the largest foundation that the world has ever seen. He’s right: the Gates Foundation’s annual grantmaking is only a tiny fraction of governments’ budgets. But smart philanthropic money can act like a tug, guiding tankers much bigger than itself such as companies or governments. It does that by identifying what works.
In India in 2005, a third of children in one study couldn’t read even a short paragraph. As school enrolment grew, even more students were falling behind. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) – which uses randomized control trials to evaluate programmes which counter extreme poverty – worked with an Indian NGO to evaluate a programme using assistants drawn from the community to teach basic skills to the lowest-performing students. The trial found that the programme significantly increased basic competency for the lowest achievers, and cost only $2.25 per student.