Comment savoir à qui donner ? Nos conseils pour être généreux et efficace, par Franck Ramus

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), whose co-founders and co-directors, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and affiliate Michael Kremer, received the 2019 Nobel Prize in economics, evaluates the effectiveness of public policies and charitable actions through randomised controlled trials. The methodology brings nuance and clarity to the effective altruism movement's questions around the impact of resource provisions for various social programmes. The outcomes of these evaluations are, at times, counterintuitive, yet they shed light on the fact that targeted interventions are often more effective than wide-scale and costlier solutions.


We have all given a coin to a homeless person begging or to a street musician. The drivers of such action are typically: empathy for a person finding themselves in a precarious situation; the sincere wish to contribute to reducing distress and suffering, to making the world a better place, however minimal it may be; and the feeling of satisfaction provided by the accomplishment of a generous or altruistic gesture.

Despite these good reasons, you may also have doubts about the rationality, effectiveness or even the fairness of this action: the fact of giving directly to a person in need has not Are there not undesirable side effects, such as encouraging begging? Is it right to give to this particular person, who took the step of begging and happened to be in our path, and not to others, who were perhaps even more in need? By what criteria do we choose those to whom we give a coin? Physical appearance ? The quality of their music? Are these criteria fair? And finally, is this approach of giving a few coins to certain people really effective? Couldn't the same amount of donations have more positive effects if spent differently?

These legitimate questions are good reasons for some of us to direct our donations towards charitable organizations that provide food, accommodation, care, or other essential services. A priori, these organizations provide their services to all people who need them, without favoring those who beg, nor discriminating against applicants based on their appearance, their artistic talents or any other conscious or unconscious criteria. They should therefore be able, more than our occasional and subjective charity, to better cover all people in distress, and to respond to their needs in a more complete, rational and effective way. On condition, however, that they are well organized, have efficient processes, and do not swallow up an excessive portion of donations in management costs.