You’re strolling through your local park during your lunch hour when you hear a scream. You look around and see there’s a kid drowning in the pond down the road! What do you do? There’s no time to take off your backpack so if you want to make sure you save the kid, you’re going to have to sacrifice your laptop, phone and outfit. Do you make the sacrifice to save the child? Between the laptop, phone and clothes you’re going to be out a good $3,500. I’m fairly certain that we all would. Luckily, all of us have the opportunity to save someone’s life every single day. I’ll explain.
Allow me to introduce a movement that has grown to become an integral part of my life: Effective Altruism. Altruism (n): The principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. Effective (adj): Successful in producing a desired or intended result. Effective Altruism (EA): a philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to determining the most effective ways to improve the world. The mission is “to create a global community of people who have made helping others a core part of their lives and who use evidence and scientific reasoning to figure out how to do so as effectively as possible.”
How do Effective Altruists (EA’s) tackle this lofty goal? Giving (Altruism) and Charity Evaluation (Effectiveness). Effective Altruists leverage an organization called GiveWell , which evaluates global charities and determines those that are most effective by evaluating 2 key charitable features – the charities’ efficiency and (obviously) the charities’ effectiveness. Efficiency is defined as cost efficiency – essentially the amount of dollars donated that are received by the intended donees. Effectiveness is a bit more complex. EA’s generally evaluate charities via a measure known as the Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) and look to maximize the number of QALY’s per dollar spent. A QALY is simply a measure of evaluating the impact a donation has on the quality of someone’s life. If you provide enough QALY’s – you statistically save a life! The “magic number” of QALY’s to save a life varies but some estimates are as few as 34. So how much money would it take for you to save a life? Rigorous estimates put the number at $3,500 – the exact amount of your backpack and clothes in our earlier hypothetical scenario.
If you’re a utilitarian and believe that all life has equal value, it shouldn’t matter if the life you save is at your local park or halfway across the globe – it’s still a life you can save.There are approximately 1,200 human beings that die every day from Malaria – that’s equivalent to five Boeing 757’s crashing into the ground every day, killing everyone aboard. Join the solution. I challenge you to reflect on your values and consider becoming a part of the Effective Altruism movement.
For more information on Effective Altruism – reach out to me, pick up a copy of “Doing Good Better” by Will MacAskill or click here.
For the more analytical of us, I broke down a hypothetical situation that illustrates how much more good can be done by donating to an incredibly effective charity.
If you were to donate $50,000 you could 1) train a guide dog to help blind people get around or 2) purchase mosquito nets to protect against Malaria. The guide dog would have a useful working life of approximately 9 years and improve the blind person’s life by let’s say 10% – this would equal .9 QALY’s. According to the most rigorous estimates, by donating to a charity like the “Against Malaria Foundation” (which distributes mosquito nets to poor African nations) for $100 we can provide 1 QALY so for $50,000 we could provide 500 QALY’s. 500 > .9 so if we want to do the most good in the world, we should absolutely donate to the Against Malaria Foundation because our donation will have 500 x the impact in comparison to the guide dog.