When considering poverty in the developing world, many people feel deep sorrow but conclude that there is nothing we can do. The scale of poverty is immense and we seem powerless to stop it. Such despair is understandable, but the facts tell a very different story. While poverty is indeed extreme and widespread, it is easy to forget just how many people there are in the developed world, and how powerful our pocket change can become when pooled together.
When giving to an effective charity, the size of your donation directly correlates with the number of people you are able to help. But you don't have to be a millionaire to make a significant difference; even small donations have the potential to drastically improve an individual's quality of life.
Buys one insecticide-treated bed net, to protect against mosquito-borne malaria.
Buys one cataract surgery, to restore a person's sight.
Funds one fistula surgery, to repair obstetric injuries due to complications during childbirth.
There are hundreds of non-profits that you can choose to give to, and the process of selecting which organization to support can feel like a daunting task. But you don't have to do all the research yourself. Peter Singer personally compiles The Life You Can Save's list of recommended charities (below), which work in variety of crucial cause areas, based on extensive research and analysis performed by organizations like Innovations for Poverty Action, GiveWell and Giving What We Can. These are the charities we recommend:
Effective interventions can break the cycle of poverty for the world's neediest people. Preventing and fighting diseases can keep children healthy and in school. Effective healthcare allows parents to continue supporting their families when they might otherwise have to care for sick children or themselves be disabled by debilitating illness. Aid provides those living in extreme poverty with the essential resources necessary to attain a better standard of living.
Poverty is a problem that has proven solutions, and giving plays a crucial role in combating extreme poverty. According to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), dramatically fewer people today are living in extreme poverty than just a few decades ago.
When we read statistics about the number of people living in extreme poverty, the scale of suffering can seem immense. But the facts about aid and relief distribution tell a very different story. While 767 million people live on less than $1.90 a day, those of us living in the developed world have significant collective resources at our disposal. Focusing solely on the U.S., it would take just $3 per American citizen to come up with a billion dollars of aid money.
How much money per year would we need to meet the most basic health and nutritional requirements of the world's neediest people?
There is enough money in the developed world to easily meet the most basic needs of the world's poorest people, many times over. It is possible to give without diverting resources from educational or healthcare programs in the developed world, and without making any significant impact on the quality of life for potential donors.
Research has shown that spending money on ourselves does not significantly increase our sense of happiness or wellbeing. A Harvard Business School study suggests that giving to others is directly correlated with an increased sense of happiness. The Harvard researchers write: "Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop."
Other studies have shown that people experience pleasure when they see money go to charity—even if this money isn't their own. People experience the most pleasure, however, when they give directly to charity themselves.
The 700 million of us living on less than $2 a day account for roughly 10% of the human population. Even though all of us would like to think that our sense of wellbeing, political freedom, and personal accomplishments are the results of our own efforts, we know that none of these realities are possible without certain essential material conditions: food, clean water, shelter, basic healthcare, and political stability.
Are you comfortable living in a world where there is about a 10% chance that a newborn child will be one of the 700 million people living on less than $2 a day without access to some of these necessities? Inequality leads to violent crime; they are not only correlated, but a distinct causal relationship has been found time and again across the world and within countries with varying levels of equality. Giving lets us work toward building a better world—one that's safer, healthier, more stable, and happier for all of us.
The fact that extreme poverty still exists causes many people to claim that development aid isn't working. In fact, effective aid efforts have been repeatedly proven to reduce death rates and suffering in developing countries.
Non-government organizations increasingly rely on independent evaluations to increase their accountability and adjust their operations. Organizations like The Life You Can Save, Giving What We Can and GiveWell curate annually-revised lists of recommended charities with demonstrated efficiency and effectiveness.
Most of us know that while we may work hard, there are external factors that help bring our efforts to fruition, and these external factors largely depend on where we live. Being born in an affluent nation greatly increases our chances to benefiting from good infrastructure, healthcare, access to education, and the availability of stable jobs.
For people born in a developing country, the chances that their hard work will pay off are greatly diminished. They may not be able to work due to an illness for which they can't afford the treatment, there may not be any work available, they may not have the education required for a job that pays a living wage – the list goes on. Mere daily survival is all-encompassing.
This means that people in developing countries are very often at an unfair disadvantage compared to others around the world. Children have no say over where they live or whether they receive an education. Struggling families may take their children out of school so they may contribute more immediately to the family income. This contributes to a cycle of poverty that traps people who may be extraordinarily smart and hard-working, yet beholden to circumstances over which they have no control.
Giving to organizations which help people in extreme poverty is essentially a matter of fairness. The global North-South divide shows clearly that socio-economic trends are geographically correlated. Once we accept that varying circumstances lead to drastically uneven economic outcomes throughout the world, we must also recognize that we have an obligation to help those born into the cycle of poverty.
Have you ever felt compelled to help someone – a gut reaction as you witnessed a struggle and recognized that you were capable of support? Whether it is a person stumbling on the street or falling on hard times because of illness, whether it is someone close to us or a complete stranger – our first impulse is to help.
Most of us will also be familiar with how it feels to fight against our impulse to help. We might resist giving money to a beggar, not wanting to exacerbate the situation should the person spend it on drugs or alcohol. We also know the guilty feeling after we decide not to help someone who is clearly in need.
On a global scale, the need is more extreme and more complex. With thousands of charities worldwide to choose from, it can be difficult to know where your money will be best invested. The best way to avoid the potential pitfalls of aid is to consult the research of the organizations committed to strategically pinpointing the most effective charities on earth. These organizations include The Life You Can Save, Giving What We Can and GiveWell.
Your gift to an organization with a qualified non-profit status might entitle you to a tax break (the status of an organization may vary from country to country, with some organizations represented in many countries globally). Charities will usually send you a receipt for your donations at the end of the financial year (others do this for every single contribution), so keep an eye out for them and sort them with your other tax documents. In some countries such as the United States, you need to itemize your deductions in order to receive a tax break.
These tax savings in effect reduce the cost of your donation. For example, an individual in the 15% tax bracket who donates $100 to a registered non-profit receives $15 in tax savings. An individual in the 35% tax bracket receives $35 in tax savings on the same $100 donation.
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