The effective altruism movement has a remarkably positive impact within communities of need. According to the World Health Organization, there are 7,500 children under five years of age who die each day of easily preventable diseases. 767 million people live on less than $1.90 per day, and money donated intelligently makes a world of difference for those in need. The Life You Can Save’s Charity Impact Calculator, for example, estimates that a $50 donation could (a) provide 25 bednets to protect families from malaria, (b) restore eyesight to a person with curable blindness who cannot afford surgery, or (c) protect 555 children from parasitic worms. The impact of intelligent giving reaches beyond common assumptions about the power of charity.
Effective altruism is gaining recognition among educators, which dovetails nicely with the fact that high school students, in particular, are entering a stage of life in which they begin to care about the state of the world. They are learning about humankind’s place in history, and they begin to expand their identities and reflect on their greater purpose in life. Who am I? What am I here for? They broaden their understanding of the dynamics of our world and develop a sense of justice, and many seek opportunities to engage in humanitarian work and make the world a better place.
Giving Games, put simply, provide the opportunity for high school students to think critically about world concerns and give someone else’s money to an effective charity.
The first step of a Giving Game is for an educator to select a few charities that are highly cost-effective and backed by empirical evidence. The educator presents students with information about each charity (e.g. via Giving Game modules) and tells students they will be choosing which of the charities will receive a sum of money sponsored by The Life You Can Save, the educator, or another benefactor. Students are then prompted to reflect, discuss, and vote on which charity (or charities, depending on the rules the educator has set up) they would like to receive the funds.
In my experience, the two types of Giving Games with the most potential in the high school setting are Speed Giving Games and Classroom Giving Games.
A Speed Giving Game gives a large number of students the chance to learn the basics of intelligent giving and donate a dollar or two of provided money to an effective charity. For instance, at EXPLO at Yale, an international summer learning program for high schoolers, a Speed Giving Game was organized by students in the program’s Philosophy class. The Philosophy students set up a booth that presented three effective charities, and their peers stopped by to learn about effective altruism and cast a vote for a charity of their choosing. At the end of the day over 150 students voted, and the Philosophy students were proud of their outreach and the impact they created together. Speed Giving Games are often successful as booths in school cafeterias.
A Classroom Giving Game, on the other hand, provides the opportunity for extended reflection and discussion. Students are given time to research the charities on their own, and the educator facilitates discussion on the selected charities as well as topics related to philanthropy and community development. At EXPLO at Yale, the Philosophy class read Peter Singer’s article, ‘The Singer Solution to World Poverty,’ and discussed the scope of moral responsibility to support the needs of people in extreme poverty before running a Classroom Giving Game. Where do you draw the line between a luxury and a necessity? Is it ethical to purchase a $1000 suit, when that money could otherwise be donated to an effective charity? The analysis of Peter Singer’s article developed into a discussion of the three charities and their relative merits, after which the class selected a winning charity.
There is enormous potential for intelligent giving; an estimated $175 billion per year spent effectively could eliminate extreme poverty in 20 years. For one point of reference, Americans spend $225 billion per year on alcohol. For another, Americans gave $410 billion to charity in 2017, only 5.6% of which went to international causes, and research suggests that only 35% of donors do any research before making a donation. That being said, more informed giving could have tremendous impact on helping those most in need in our world.
High schoolers are passionate about making the world a better place, and Giving Games are a wonderful tool that educators can use to help students think critically about world concerns. If you are an educator, click here to stay connected to effective altruism. If you are a student, click here to get started creating your own student organization. If you are interested in running your own Giving Game, a good place to start is by checking out this instruction manual and these examples of highly effective charities.