How to be a Servant to the Poor

David Berger

Session 1A, 10:40am, Room 114

Download: Podcast, Slides


Christians are strongly motivated to follow Christ’s example and serve the least of those among us. For many, that includes a component of giving to international causes that directly provide material needs for the poor. This is both an enriching and confusing process. It is enriching because it truly allows us to reach out to the least of our neighbors and discover Christ as we serve very basic needs. It is confusing because it is so much harder to make wise and practical decisions about how to support non-profits than it is to make wise and practical decisions about how to optimize private investments or private purchases. I will share a way of looking at our motivations for giving in a Christian context and argue that choosing organizations based on demonstrated effectiveness is a wise and attainable goal. Furthermore, I will balance wisdom and practicality against humility and partnership in Christ to urge caution with respect to “over-monitoring,” that is, reducing an organization’s capacity by attaching strings to donations. Finally, I will emphasize ways to make exercising wisdom as simple and exciting as possible.


I have a BS in mathematics and economics from the University of Chicago and am in my fifth year of an economics PhD program at UC Berkeley. I entered economics because it fit my mental model of the world so well and provided structure and vocabulary for me to use as I explore more deeply and broadly. At Berkeley, I discovered a vibrant community of economists aggressively advancing the state of the art of how to measure the success of international aid and fell in love with the work of my advisor, Ted Miguel. In 2014, I visited Uganda to do perform an impact evaluation of clean water with a team supervised by Bruce Wydick at USF. My current research focuses on comparing international aid–prominently including Christian charities–with the Uganda government in terms of where they choose to place wells, particularly in terms of who focuses the most specifically on reaching the poorest of the poor.

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