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The simple way of donating for impact | Ben Medlock, Swiftkey

"Quite a lot of philanthropy still relies on guesswork or gut feeling, and I didn’t want to perpetuate that."

We often get asked for examples of how amazing entrepreneurs have chosen to donate their pledge.This is the first installment of our new series exploring just that.

To kick us off, hear from Ben Medlock (co-founder and Head of Product at Swiftkey) on his uncompromisingly results-driven approach to giving:

How I donated

I tried to approach my donation with an entrepreneurial mindset: looking for the area where I could make the biggest difference, and then for the most promising strategy within it.

I believe in relying on data to make decisions (it’s what’s guided me in both my business and in academia). I wanted to take a similar approach to my philanthropy, in order to do as much good as I could with my pledge. The Founders Pledge team was there at every stage to support with their expertise and research when I needed it.

Why I chose Malaria prevention

I wanted to have as big of an impact as I could, so I decided to identify a problem of great scale and urgency, but where there was also high tractability: malaria prevention.

Scale and urgency

Malaria is a life threatening illness which hits children and pregnant women hardest. It also reinforces existing cycles of poverty, malnutrition and undereducation, impacting much more than just health. The World Health Organisation estimates there were 212 million cases of malaria in 2015 alone, and 429,000 deaths.

High tractability

This essentially just means that I wanted my chance of success to be high. I think a lot of people underestimate how difficult it actually is to make sure philanthropy is doing good. Malaria, though, is very preventable, and we already know of extremely effective solutions.


Another - perhaps more suprising - priority was neglectedness. Any entrepreneur will tell you that working on something that has high potential, but gets relatively little attention by others, is the best way to make a big diffference. Because Malaria is such a well known issue, it's easy to think that it’s already ‘being covered', but the data tells a different story: in 2015, the World Health Organisation estimated that 43% of people at risk in sub-Saharan Africa had no protection. Malaria funding was at $2.9 billion - less than half of its funding goal for 2020.

Finding the right charity

Having settled on a cause, the next step was finding a charity. There are a bunch of strategies for preventing malaria, but the evidence points to an especially successful one: effective distribution of insecticide treated mosquito nets. As for the organisation itself, top-rated charity Against Malaria Foundation were the one demonstrating all the qualities I could ask for:

They're effective.

Their nets are bought, distributed and monitored for only $5 each (charity evaluator GiveWell’s estimate). In terms of how many lives you can save per dollar spent, this is better than any other charity I’ve seen - not just in malaria prevention, but charity as a whole.

Malaria Foundation

They’re transparent.

All their information is available online, and you can track their distribution through videos, images and maps. 100% of public donations are spent on their actual programs.

They’re data-driven.

They have really impressive processes in place for distribution, and for monitoring the long term use and impact of the nets. As an entrepreneur you really come to appreciate the importance of these things.

Their model is scalable.

With plenty of room for more funding, I knew my donation would be productively spent. (Givewell also does estimations on this.)

A results driven way of giving

Quite a lot of philanthropy still relies on guesswork or gut feeling, and I didn’t want to perpetuate that.

I wanted to know for sure what would happen to my donation, and I wanted to maximise its impact to help those who need it most.

Because I gave to AMF, I now know that my donation alone has provided 66,300 bed nets, and protected 240 villages. That knowledge has made the whole experience immensely more rewarding.

-- Ben.

All images courtesy of Against Malaria Foundation

Originally published on 22 August 2017

Ben medlock avatar

Ben Medlock

Co-founder and Head of Product, Swiftkey
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