#40: Practice effective altruism

cc licensed photo shared by Flickr user 401(K) 2013
cc licensed photo shared by Flickr user 401(K) 2013

For many of us who believe in the value and importance of donating to charity, thinking about how to best donate and finding the right type of cause to donate to is often the next big question (for those who are still wondering why to give in the first place, refer to posts #22 & #38 and Peter Singer’s impactful TED talk linked just below). This is mainly because of the complexity involved in weighing the relative importance (or severity) of a given cause compared to the multitude of other causes in need of support around the world, in tandem with objectively measuring the quantitative and qualitative effectiveness of your money towards a particular charitable cause of choice. One may question whether it is better to donate to a cause where your money will be spread out amongst a larger number of people or whether it is better to donate to a cause where your money may do a lot for a select few. Others may wonder whether it is better to contribute to immediate relief causes, where one can easily identify the outcome of the initiative, or contribute to broader causes that focus on long-tems goals and research and development. Still others may question whether to give more money to a select few organizations or to donate to a variety of different organizations. Regardless of your pondering, as with any decision-making situation, in thinking through the situation critically, by accessing as many objective resources as possible, we can come closer to a valid, rational decision.

Peter Singer calls this type of objective, rational philanthropy, effective altruismEffective altruisms seeks to give, or help in the most effective way possible. That is, to produce the greatest overall benefit possible. This ‘benefit’ is looked at in terms of lives saved and improved. Peter Singer’s TED talk on effective altruism, (which I highly recommend watching) highlights the value of earning more money in one’s personal life in order to give back more effectively through financial donations to high yield causes. Effective altruism is a way of giving that is based on qualitative and quantitative evidence, in order to produce the ‘best’, most effective methods of giving (and thus, outcomes) for helping the world. 

Effective altruism has been a goal of mine in my desire to help others and I am still on the path to achieving it. It takes a high degree of objective, critical thought and selflessness in order to truly achieve. Here’s why: many of us including myself, practice good deeds and give to others on a regular basis. However, with every action (charitable or even everyday actions), there is an opportunity cost: the cost of another course of action that was not exercised. I regularly ask myself what the opportunity costs are of a given action, and specifically with regards to philanthropy, how the money, resources or time, I may have spent on a certain cause, could have otherwise been used to give back more effectively. The examples of effective altruists highlighted in Singer’s talk are truly humbling and inspiring and I use these examples as my guide to becoming a more effective altruist.

In his talk on ‘Smart Giving’, my friend Darren Mckee also does a fantastic job of using reason and objectivity to outline and justify how to give most effectively. He emphasizes the importance of: a) using reason and evidence to guide your decision-making b) narrowing your charitable focus c) helping people in extreme poverty d) helping yourself help others and e) using a charity evaluator.  At the end of his talk, Darren explains why the Against Malaria Foundation is his charity of choice to donate to, and provides a link to his exemplary and generous philanthropic initiative to raise $20, 000 for the foundation. I would like to commend Darren on putting into practice his passion and knowledge for helping others through selfless, effective altruism.


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