How can I make the greatest difference?

ea 2

One of the best things this blog has offered us is introduction to an audience that has “started with something”, no matter how small or big that might be.

In doing so, we have been introduced to a social movement called “effective altruism” – a philosophy that applies evidence to do good in a way that has the most impact. It comprises people who have chosen to pledge a significant aspect of their lives to improving the world in a way that makes the most difference; to doing good better. The world’s biggest effective altruists today are Bill and Melinda Gates; and Warren Buffet – whose foundations have been identified as among the world’s most effective.

What makes this movement different is that it combines what drives us to give i.e. compassion, with evidence on how to give in a way that has maximum impact, i.e. reason.

Let me explain using a simple analogy from Peter Singer (influential advocate of effective altruism): It costs $40,000 to train one guide dog and the recipient so that it can be effective for the blind person it will help. Alternatively, it costs $20-$50 to cure a person in a developing country from trachoma – the leading preventable cause of blindness worldwide (WHO estimates 6 million people have been blinded by this disease to date). So, for the same amount of money you would spend to help one person, you could cure 800-2000 people from trachoma. Sounds pretty obvious where to allocate that money, doesn’t it? However, it seems that many people choose what cause to work with depending on personal interest rather than impact.

There are many ways to live a life that makes a difference: we can have a high-paying job that gives us disposable income to donate; we can have a job that has social impact; or own a social enterprise. Effective altruism propagates that it is not “charitable” or “generous” to give, it is our moral responsibility to do so (Peter Singer has written a compelling essay on this, you can read it here). At the same time, we shouldn’t compromise our own position to give. However, calculations suggest that it is likely you are already richer than the global average; and, that if you donate 10% of your annual income to an effective cause, you will still be richer than the global average. In other words, you have no excuse not to give.

From what I have read so far, this philosophy resonates with me strongly. At the least, it provides clear guidance on where to donate, a decision I have always struggled with.

Maybe it will become our philosophy.

Here’s a TED talk by Peter Singer explaining Effective Altruism – worth a watch.

One comment

Leave a Reply