What is effective altruism?

November 26 2014


I want to make the world a better place, and do so in the most effective way possible. This approach is known as “effective altruism” and this email is a short introduction.

Let's say you have some money that you want to donate to charity. That's great, but how do you decide which charity to donate to? Here are a couple of options:

Charity A: will save 1 life with your donation
Charity B: will save 1000 lives with your donation

Is it a hard choice? I don't think so, and this isn't a hypothetical question.

It turns out that charities vary wildly in their effectiveness. Even for a given cause, like stopping the spread of HIV, some charities will literally do 1000x more good with your money than others.

How do you figure out which are the most effective charities? It's a hard problem, but luckily there are a number of people who spend their time figuring this out for you. GiveWell and Giving What We Can do extensive research into how much good charities can do, publishing their results online.

A specific example of an effective charity is the Against Malaria Foundation, which distributes insecticide treated nets to protect against malarial infections. Another is Deworm The World, which works to prevent and cure parasitic worms in children. These tropical diseases can be extremely easy and cheap to cure, often costing just a few dollars.

There's a growing movement, called "effective altruism," around this approach to doing good. Identify the most effective ways to improve the world, then go and do those things. This can be applied to donations, volunteering, or even career choice. Members of the effective altruism community have pledged to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to the best causes over their lifetimes.

If any of this has sparked your interest, do one of the following:

- Talk to me! I’m happy to chat, just reply to this email!

- Visit GiveWell’s website to see their charity recommendations.

- Watch Peter Singer's recent TED talk about effective altruism (google it).

Thanks for reading,

Robbie Shade
[email protected]
Boston, USA

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