Search the Site

What's the Best Way to "Sponsor" Baby Girls?

A reader named Gunjan Aggarwal writes:

I came to the U.S. 7 years ago, worked in U.K./Switzerland/Netherlands/India prior to that. I work in human resources and have been fortunate to have been successful thus far in my career. We are moving on to a new location and a new job this year but this year will also perhaps give me an opportunity to invest some time/leadership on a cause that I have been very keen to “do something about”: contribute towards improving the lot of the girl child in India.
I have always thought of crowd-sourcing an incentive scheme by which we will “adopt” a few girls in their womb and give the parents a small amount every month, $50, to give birth to their girl child, to educate her till the age of 21. I was even more determined to do this in the wake of all the news about crimes against women in India — but then I heard your podcast on the “Cobra Effect.”

I would love to connect and get your thoughts on “scheming” this incentive forward!

I applaud Gunjan’s initiative, admire his creative idea — but yes, am concerned that it might be easily gamed (and, perhaps even more easily and more importantly, simply wouldn’t work). So let’s help him out: please use the comments section to brainstorm the best way to set up the program he’s thinking about, replete with potential pitfalls. Bonus points for anyone who knows of a similar program that’s working well (neither Gunjan nor I could come up with anything).

Addendum: The NYU economist and development scholar William Easterly e-mails us some cold water:

Stephen and Steve, can I volunteer my services to save you from embarrassment on the blog post today on sponsoring infant girls? [Bill: it would seem too late for that, no? 🙂] It’s been known in aid and development for decades that child sponsorship does not work (unless you by “work” you mean attract donations). The NGOs that originally did it (most notoriously Save the Children) have been forced by critics to abandon it, and no reputable NGO promotes child sponsorship today.  The reason it never worked (and in fact Save the Children was also forced to admit that they really never even actually did it) is simple: the administrative costs of tracking small donations from an individual donor to an individual recipient child are enormous, so that the administrative costs would eat up all of the donation and then some. So there’s no need to crowdsource this question: just ask any development economist or NGO veteran.

All the best,


Easterly’s note makes me wonder if indeed transactions costs are still too high in this digital heyday to accommodate Gunjan’s idea, or one like it.

Also: how about investing in a different kind of person — young high achievers who need capital to fulfill their dreams — in