Grace Gliva: “Gifts of livestock: Probably bad, possibly OK, but certainly not great”

By Tom Sittler, Director

Read and comment on the Google Document version of this post here

This is part of a series of posts about our progress in the first five days of the Oxford Prioritisation Project.

Grace Gliva: “Gifts of livestock: Probably bad, possibly OK, but certainly not great”

Grace researched livestock gift interventions, such as those pursued by Heifer International. Grace had considered donating to Heifer International in the past, and wanted to find out more about it, from a prioritisation perspective. Key excerpts from her research report are:

If livestock ownership is the best way to improve quality of life and economic standing then, theoretically, a cash gift should have the same effect. This may not be the case if the recipients are poorly informed or uneducated to the point of making sub-optimal purchases. However, in my opinion, the burden should rest on the charity to demonstrate this before denying the recipients to decide for themselves what would be most helpful.


In 2009 Western Michigan University’s Evaluation Center produced a report titled “The External Evaluation of Heifer International’s Efforts in twenty countries, A Five Year overview.” However, the full text of the evaluation is not public. A member of GiveWell’s team was allowed to read the Africa section, but only after signing a non-disclosure agreement. As per GiveWell’s heuristic 1 (‘Charity stands out for publishing monitoring and evaluation reports’), this is indirect evidence that Heifer’s interventions may not be cost-effective.

In the subsequent discussion, Dominik mentioned that the Gates Foundation had recently announced that it was “betting on chickens” by “working to create sustainable market systems for poultry” in Sub-Saharan Africa. Based on past experience, the Gates Foundation appears to be an unusually effectiveness-minded funder, so Dominik was interested in the Gates Foundation’s justification for this move. Grace said that what would change his mind about chicken donations would be evidence that the Gates Foundation has considered the concerns above and provided a satisfactory response. Dominik said an estimate of high cost-effectiveness from the Gates Foundation would be likely to make him update his view.