See: How to do better to do good

The end of the year is when we often consider the good we want to achieve over the next 12 months. We create resolutions to achieve personal goals, and we also often commit to giving back to our communities through philanthropy. Now is a great time to focus on the good in the world. It’s also a great time to think more about how we can do the most good, not only locally, but globally.

It’s a particularly urgent challenge right now, given that Covid-19 and the pandemic response have made things even more difficult for some of the poorest countries. Economies have been damaged and poverty is increasing after decades of decline. Health resources and global support have been redirected towards the pandemic. Hunger is increasing, schools have closed, leaving children to learn at home or not at all.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) attempt to offer a model to help address these challenges. They were set by the UN in 2015, offering a list of 169 development goals that must be met to transform the planet, covering everything from reducing poverty to increasing prosperity to protecting planet, promoting peace and improving health and education.

But having a list of 169 priorities, essentially means having no priorities at all. The United Nations development agenda tries to be everything for everyone, but fails to draw attention to areas where donors, philanthropists, or you and I could do the most good.

Main objectives such as eradicating child mortality, ensuring basic learning and realizing opportunities to move out of poverty are placed on an equal footing with peripheral objectives which promote “sustainable tourism”. And education on how to have ‘lifestyles in harmony with nature’.

Of course, our natural inclination is to fight all ailments. But if we are truly to do good, we need to focus on the areas where we have smart investments that transform lives. It means making tough choices. A tantalizing amount of money was spent by rich countries during Covid-19, and the effectiveness of much of that spending is questionable at best. COP26 focused attention on climate change. But it also showed that many available policies remain overpriced and ineffective.

Fortunately, there is a smarter way to do good. Think of tuberculosis (TB), which kills more people than HIV and malaria combined. Even before the pandemic, it received only 5% of health development spending for the world’s poorest. Yet a decade of research has shown that every dollar spent testing and treating TB delivers some of the most phenomenal returns in any region of the world.

Tuberculosis is particularly insidious because it mainly strikes young adults in their prime, as they start families and enter the workforce. India has the most tuberculosis in the world. Research shows that improved detection and treatment can generate huge benefits for society. In monetary terms, every dollar spent produces social returns of over $ 100.

Or take the fight against malnutrition and hunger. Malnutrition in a child will shape all of their prospects for life. So the incredibly cheap investments made today in better nutrition can lead to better education and a more productive adult life. In Ghana and Malawi, for example, this approach can cost as little as $ 5 per mother, yet save lives and transform a lifetime’s prospects, so that every dollar spent earns $ 36 in social return.

At this time of year, many of us reflect on our goodwill and our fortune while considering those who are less fortunate. Over the next 12 months, our resolution should not only be to focus on helping, but more importantly, to help in the most effective way possible.


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