Imagine deciding to give half your salary to charity for a year!
That’s exactly what Dr Henry Howard is doing in his first year, earning income as a medical intern, in regional Victoria.
He says he’s wanted to make the world a better place ever since he was a child.
“I’ve always been acutely aware since I was young how lucky I am to be born in Australia and the opportunities I’ve had are not those that everyone in the world has.”
Dr Howard started volunteering during his time as a medical student at university with the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, an organisation working to alleviate poverty in Australia. He then went on to volunteer at a Homework Club where he helped children from public housing estates with their maths and science.
It got him thinking about how to be effective in doing good.
“I think the idea of Effective Altruism is not really an idea you can disagree with. I think anyone that wants to make the world a better place wants to be effective about it. The real debate is about how we can be effective.”
Coming across Peter Singer’s landmark book, The Life You Can Save and our organisation, he was spurred to do even more in his quest to make the world a better place.
When an opportunity arose to participate in a clinical trial with an organisation called Q-Pharm in Brisbane, he jumped at the chance to give himself malaria!
The trial was recruiting young healthy men to be infected with the deadly disease. Once injected they were treated with experimental medication.
He donated the money he was paid to be part of the experiment to the Against Malaria Foundation, one of The Life You Can Save’s recommended charities, which hands out mosquito nets to those in need. At US$2 per net, this programme has been found to be highly cost effective. To save one person’s life from the deadly disease, it will cost between US $3500 and US$5000.
Now, earning his first paycheck since finishing his degree, Dr Howard’s decided to split it in half each fortnight and live stream his donations.
“I don’t think it’s something I’m going to do forever because giving half your income is not really sustainable but I’m thinking of it like, well some people take a gap year, going on an adventure around the world, and for me this is an adventure in itself.”
Deciding which organisations to give to is the hardest part, says Dr Howard.
“The big thing you want to rely on is impact. But how do you put a number on what’s making the world a better place?”
“I’m giving to great charities and even more to the really great charities.”
One of his favourites is ‘Innovations for Poverty Action’ – a research organisation running trials around the world in order to build an evidence base to find out what projects really work. They then go to the relevant government with the results, hopefully encouraging them to make it government policy.
So, what happens when the year’s over?
While he won’t continue giving half his salary to charity, he has taken the Giving What We Can Pledge, joining a global group of 5000 people. Each member makes a giving pledge to give ten per cent of their income for the rest of their lives to charity.
While there’s no doubt he’s currently over performing, he doesn’t expect other people to do the same, but he does hope it will normalise the idea of giving.
While systemic and political change can make the biggest difference, he believes there is so much you can do as an individual.
“It’s just getting it in peoples head, look this is something you can do. We can consciously choose not to do it, but we can’t pretend it’s an idea that doesn’t exist. This is possible, it’s an option…it’s the new normal.”