Charity return on investment is important. Thanks World Vision!

There are a great number of groups doing a lot of good in the world, and I’m concerned that *something* in the way we process information about poverty and health needs in the developing world has made us far too skeptical of how easy it can be to save lives, and far too skeptical of the groups that are doing a good job.

This in part leads to what I’d argue is an immoral state of affairs in the charity world. Most people in the USA give far more to University, Hospital, and Museum endowments than they give to organizations serving the third world that are saving lives for a few bucks rather than simply making our already very comfortable middle class lives a *bit* better. I guess that’s OK but I’ll take the big ROI on my charity investments, thank you.

It feels very good knowing your money is actually saving lives, living because I chose to give to high ROI charities.

The simple story is that it costs very little to save lives in the developing world. Although it’s a little counterintuitive it’s also clear that reduced death rates lead to reduced birth rates and lower population. I’m floored by how poorly this is understood by otherwise intelligent people, and it seems to be the top reason people say they don’t want to give money to extremely poor people. Graft and corruption are major problems in the third world which is why you want to give to “NGOs” or “non-governmental organizations” which tend to be far more effective at making sure the money finds its way to the right people.

So, let’s apply this ROI in real life and give some money in honor of my Mother’s birthday today. I think charities like World Vision do a lot of good but also suffer from the kind of fatigue people show when presented with a lot of “dying children” information. This is unfortunate because World Vision leverages cheap and free expertise to deliver a lot per donated dollar. Here is the campaign mom likes:

Major pharmaceutical companies have recently donated over $174 million in medicines and supplies to World Vision.
But we need your help to distribute them where they’re needed most.

The medicine is Mebendazole and some others that fight worms and intestinal viruses – one of the leading killers in the developing world. World Vision has the meds but needs money to ship them. The “multiplier” in this case is 13x – ie a donation of a mere 7.7 cents delivers – literally – a dollar of medicines.

So, time to stop writing and do some good and give $770 dollars to this campaign for a health impact of just over $10,000!

Donor Name: Joseph Hunkins
Donation Total: $770.00
Donation Date: 27-Sep-2007
Completed Date: 27-Sep-2007
Payment Type: 
Credit Card Type:

Happy Birthday Mom!

World Vision

Take two Resveratrols and call me in the morning ?

Noting the number of scams and bogus claims in the nutritional supplement biz I’m always reluctant to accept claims of new “wonder supplements”. However Resveratrol as a “life extension” really looks promising and seems to hold up to scrutiny the more it is tested. 2006 tests on mice prolonged their life significantly, and although human and mice biology differ it’s reasonable to assume we fellow vertebrates have a lot in common. The resveratrol appears to offer benefits related to caloric restriction which is well documented as a way to extend the life of mice. Unfortunately we humans, especially meat and potato guys like me, don’t like caloric restriction.

I’m going to break my normal rule of thinking supplements are not worth the cost and trouble and start taking this supplement.     I’m also going to hope Ray Kurzweil is right that if you can make it to 2040 ….. you’ve made it to eternity due to the coming explosion of AI merging with our biological selves.

Millions die. Millions more wait to die. All due to our narrow and irrational focus. Man do we suck!

Another one for the “narrow focus kills millions” department:

Wikipedia on Rotavirus Vaccines, which are improving and will save *millions* of people:

An earlier vaccine, Rotashield by Wyeth-Ayerst, had to be taken off the market in the late 1990s after it was discovered in rare cases to be linked to a severe complication called intussusception. This event was so rare that widespread adoption of Rotashield in developing countries would nevertheless have saved millions of lives, but use of a vaccine deemed unsafe in the U.S. was seen as unacceptable.
Also notable is the fact that the new vaccines are very expensive in USA but heavily subsidized in developing world.  However still it appears too expensive for widespread use.   I remain unclear on how the pharma industry fits into the big picture but it’s a topic I’d like to take on soon as personal research.

When I’ve looked into specifics it generally appears they actually are NOT profiteering from the poor (though certainly they milk the rich like crazy, manipulating people with TV advertising and doctors with freebies). However it seems to me that in developing countries the big pharmas often do the right thing and either give away or heavily discount life saving drugs.  But many activists argue they are the major part of the problem – I think due to big pharma’s opposition to widespread generics.

Unfortunately much of that debate is mired in socialist economic diatribes which often suggest that anything corporate is evil, and therefore not reasonably considered part of a solution, rather than looking for the optimal solution point.

Dow’s Advertising … creepy or cool?

The DOW Chemical TV and internet ad campaign about “The Human Element” always strikes me as odd, though I think in some ways fits with my Dad’s excellent notion that advertising often talks about a company’s weaknesses as if they were strengths. Using people and faces in an attempt to get across the point that DOW is about people, not chemicals and technology, backfires for me and gets me wondering “what are they trying to hide here?”.

Maybe it’s a generational thing as I always make the Vietnam era “Dow = napalm” reference which in turn leads to the world famous photo of a Vietnamese girl burned by napalm.

DOW can hardly lay much claim to moral, people focused “high ground” but I also don’t buy into the narrow vision of corporations as heartless. Somewhat like people, a corporation is a curious blend of innovation, competition, selfishness, profiteering, good will and more. I believe corporations are as much a reflection of the forces that built that particular company (the “corporate culture”) than subject to standard rule sets. This suggests that DOW may be a bit off with their version of the old Coca Cola campaign about the world singing together.   In fact it kinds of creeps me out like the people in invasion of the body snatchers – is anybody even SMILING in those commercials?

Ultrametabolism and PBS

PBS, which I tend to think of as a good filter to screen out hype, is pushing the “Ultrametabolism” book and CD by Dr. Hyman. I like his scientific approach, which assumes the obvious – humans are primates who evolved to thrive on natural rather than processed foods.

However he seems far too confident that natural foods nutrition and some excercise are a panacea for health and WAY too concerned about all the “toxics” in the environment, especially when he adds sugar to the list of toxins. I’d like to ask him why early peoples who ate NO fast food or processed food and had no modern “toxins” in their environment suffered such low life expectancies.

Maybe I’m just feeling guillty about the ham sandwich and coffee I just ate for breakfast.

This notable marketing stat from the UltraMetabolism website:

The food industry spends more than $33 billion annually on marketing; 70% of those dollars go to pushing fast food, convenience foods, candy, snacks, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and dessert.

33 Billion is just over $100 per year per person.   Can I just have a rebate please?

Almost 5000 dead and counting

No, not from the Indonesian earthquake – indeed a terrible tragedy. Global warming? Ha – not even the most alarmist proponents make this claim. Nope, not from terrorism, which tragically took perhaps 5 or even 10 lives today despite *trillions* of dollars spent fighting wars and providing security across thousands of first world venues.

Malaria killed the 5000. Today. And yesterday. And tomorrow. 1-3 Million per year with some indications the count has been historically too low on this disease.

But let's not worry about Malaria because the cost to dramatically reduce transmission is …. $2.50 for nets that protect people while they sleep. $5.50 for the really good nets that can protect people for 5 years.

More death news you won't see on CNN or FOX. Yet today (nor yesterday or the days before) I didn't see anything on CNN or FOX about this ongoing life and death battle with parasitic diseases where the death toll eclipses that of *all wars ever fought for all time*.

CNN did, however, have a long report lamenting the fact that that about 100 people per week die waiting for organ transplants. We better get to work on that, because why spend $2.50 for a net to save a kid's life when you can spend $250,000.00 giving a rich guy a extra few years?

People and/or/for/non Profit?

Time Magazine:

Last month Gates-funded scientists announced that they had created the technology to manufacture artemisinic acid synthetically. Within five years, the cost of a lifesaving supply is expected to drop from $2.40 to 25 cents. Lead researcher Jay Keasling says it would not have been possible without a $43 million Gates grant. "I had companies call me and say, 'This is great, but we can't give you any money. We can't make a profit on this,'" he says.

I tend to be in the crowd that says profit is a great motivator to get companies to do bigger and better things, in turn raising the standards for most people and societies that intersect with those businesses.    At first glance the quote above indicates that in this case profit was getting in the way of optimizing development of new drugs where it will do the most good – in the developing world fighting easy-to-cure diseases or conditions like dehydration that kill millions every year.   But why didn't the Govts of those nations pony up for this effort?    Since the pharmaceutical industry was NOT the beneficiary of this was it reasonable to expect them to bear the entire financial burden?

Since the $43 million from the Gates foundation basically started out as profits distributed from Microsoft to Bill Gates, who in turn funded this life saving effort, we need to be cautious about saying profits are the problem here since they were the solution here as well.   Thus one could argue, and I think I would, that without a capitalistic infrastructure to create this wealth it's unlikely we'd see this development at all.

But most important is this question – how do we find the MOST effective mechanisms to create innovations on this scale?   I think the new breed of corporate foundations are part of the answer because they apply many of the successful principles of business to development projects.  Combine this growing force with tax and other incentives for companies that use their brainpower and expertise innovating for the broad social good.

And as for us everyday folks?  What can we do?  We can stop looking so narrowly at our own little niches, and instead look to the low hanging fruit solutions such as increased support for global health care.  We can broaden our perspective to a global one and recognize that we have to make small sacrifices in an effort to save entire generations who are threatened with disease and starvation but for the lack of simple remedies.   Even the most selfish person should realize that the satisfaction that comes from helping those in need is generally a much more profound experience than almost any other.

Liberal Agendas + Republican Politicians = innovation?

It'll be very interesting to see if Gov Romney (Republican of Massachusetts) has come up with a solution to some of the biggest challenges in US health care. Clinton likes it and I think we'll see that the MA approach, which blends fiscal responsibility and quality care for all, may be just the shot in the arm our ailing health care system desparately needs.

Meanwhile Gov Schwartzenegger (Republican of Caleeeforneea) is coming up with some innovative ideas and a strong environmental agenda (his Humvee fetish excepted?).

And then there is presidential hopeful, in many ways the Republican "front runner", John McCain who is anything but a traditional conservative.

It would sure be nice to see a new breed of politician cut in the mold of progressive, penny pinching reformers. Americans are tired of the old, tired, wasteful, and ineffective ideas of both traditional liberals who are stuck in the anti-business big-government mode and traditional conservatives who are stuck fighting for military imperialism and cultural norms that are no longer relevant to the changing and growing American experience.

guns or butter?

This clever site offers some insight into the cost of the Iraq War in dollar terms.   Human costs are of course ultimately more important than money, but most people simply refuse to recognize that when you are talking about things like war and hunger the *human costs* often boil down to dollar costs.

You can save  LOT of people in the developing world by allocating a relatively small number of dollars, especially if they are spent on famine or health items. More about that later as politically and emotionally motivated spending is a fascinating examination of human irrationality.

The human death toll in Iraq (or even the total global WAR death TOLL) simply pales in comparison to the global hunger OR health tolls.   It's a factor of many thousands of preventable hunger deaths for every ONE (arguably NON-preventable) Iraq war death. 

Unlike most fiscal conservatives I simply stagger from the failures of the neocons when it comes to intelligent budgeting and ROI.    McCain, very much to his credit, was talking about this years ago and is talking about it now.  

600 Billion down your own human drain

CNN interviewed the author of a book that suggests the pharmaceutical industry is out of control, beyond the reach of reasonable regulation, and suggested some "Trust busting" a la Teddy Roosevelt may be needed.

The interesting stat was that 600 billion is spend annually on unneeded drugs.   Wow.   If true that is a staggering waste.    Hey – I should start a website featuring objective information about Drugs.  It could be called Prescription Report.   Wait!  I already did that but it sucks.   I'll fix that someday.