March 2015

It feels like the effective altruism movement is gaining significant momentum. Peter Singer will be coming to The U.S. from Australia this April to promote his new book, The Most Good You Can Do, which is to be published by Yale University Press on April 7th. Naming just a few of the great groups doing outstanding work are our colleagues at Giving What We Can, GiveWell, and the Center for Effective Altruism --work that seems impactful... and growing. There will be the Effective Altruism Global 2015 conference this summer connecting effective altruists from many countries and Will MacAskill's book to be published this fall is likely to extend the reach of the EA movement even further. As I read over Jon Behar's blog about our own work for 2014 and plans for 2015, I am filled with a sense of optimism about the likely impact of The Life You Can Save in 2015... and beyond. I hope each of you will find a way into the movement that works for you. If we can help, please let us know at [email protected]

Good living and good giving,

Charlie Bresler is Executive Director of The Life You Can Save, an organization founded by the philosopher Peter Singer based on the basic tenet of Effective Altruism: leading an ethical life involves using a portion of personal assets and resources to effectively alleviate the consequences of extreme poverty.

In March's Issue


Charity Voices


Team Picks


Supporter Story

  • A Vida Que Podemos Salvar: Expecting Effective Altruism to be depressing, Jose Oliveira found it to be uplifting--even in Portuguese!

This Month in Giving

  • Celebrate women, diversity, water and action on climate change.

Highlights from Our Blog

Charity Voices
Recent news from some of our recommended charities
DMI publishes groundbreaking Random Control Trial research in the Lancet.
Development Media International (DMI) is one of The Life You Can Save's new recommended charities. DMI expands awareness and adoption of healthy behaviors through radio and TV campaigns, which can be a cost-effective way of reducing child mortality and other significant health problems.

DMI, in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), developed a mathematical model that predicts and measures how many lives can be saved by media campaigns. The model predicted that a child health campaign in a typical sub-Saharan African country would reduce under-five deaths by up to 23%. It also suggested that media campaigns could be one of the most cost-effective ways of saving lives currently available (at $4-$15 per 'disability-adjusted life year', or year of healthy life added).

The Wellcome Trust and the Planet Wheeler Foundation have funded DMI and LSHTM to run and evaluate a cluster-randomised controlled trial in Burkina Faso to prove that a media campaign can save lives on this scale. This is the most rigorous evaluation ever conducted of a mass media intervention (in this case, a child health behaviour change campaign, broadcasting adverts and live dramas on seven community radio stations).

The midline results (based on a survey of 5,000 households conducted by LSHTM) show that behaviours in intervention zones have all improved, and when changes in control zones are subtracted, the 'difference in difference' is substantial (8.5% to 23.3%) in 6 out of 10 cases. This is the first randomised controlled trial to demonstrate that mass media can cause behaviour change.

On World Radio Day (February 13th), DMI and LSHTM published a 'Viewpoint' article in the Lancet explaining the scientific reasoning behind the trial, while stressing the importance of the media methodology used. The article is freely available on the Lancet website (registration required) or you can directly access a PDF version on the DMI website at: The Wellcome Trust has also published a blog post about DMI's approach and about the RCT, linked to the publication of this article.

Seva's scaled care for HIV/AIDS patients in Myanmar; director elected co-chair of Vision 2020 USA; benefit concert April 11th in San Francisco.
Seva is a pioneer of cost-effective cataract surgery and sustainable eye care programs which restore sight and transform lives of millions of impoverished people around the globe.

AIDS Eye Initiative
In 2014, Seva trained 14 HIV/AIDS doctors in Myanmar to diagnose and treat Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Retinitis and prevent blindness. CMV Retinitis, a condition that attacks the retina in people with compromised immune systems, causes over 90% of avoidable blindness in patients with HIV/AIDS.

More than half of patients with HIV/AIDS in Myanmar are now being cared for in clinics with physicians trained by Seva's AIDS Eye Initiative.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology highlighted the success of this initiative in an article distributed to its members, increasing awareness of and attention to this disease.

Suzanne Gilbert elected Vision 2020 USA co-chair
Another highlight of 2014 for Seva was having their Senior Director of Innovation and Sight Programs, Dr. Suzanne Gilbert, elected as co-chair of Vision 2020 USA. VISION 2020 is the global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness, a joint programme of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) with an international membership of NGOs, professional associations, eye care institutions and corporations.

The many successes of VISION 2020 have been achieved through a unique, cross-sector collaboration, which enables public, private and non-profit interests to work together, helping people all over the world to see.

In her role as co-chair, Dr. Gilbert will create greater visibility for local and global eye care issues among US leaders and the public.

Seva Benefit Concert featuring Crosby, Nash, and Gravy!
For those in the San Francisco area, consider catching the Seva benefit concert on Saturday, April 11th, 8pm at the Nourse Theater. More details at

With SCI's help, Yemen nears elimination of schistosomiasis
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative provides protection against health-destroying parasitic worms.

Intense efforts have been made to eradicate Schistosomiasis in Yemen over the past few years. As reported by the World Health Organization, "the proportion of heavy schistosomiasis infections has dropped to below 1% in two-thirds of 36 sentinel sites across the country," sites which had previously been endemic for the disease. Over 25 million free treatments or 62 million tablets of praziquantel have been made available to these areas. "If achieved, Yemen - once highly endemic - will become one of the few countries to have defeated schistosomiasis and eliminated it as a public health problem." For more, go to

GiveDirectly - Broadening their reach to third district in Kenya
Via cell phone, GiveDirectly transfers 90% of each donation directly to the extreme poor.

GiveDirectly recently wrapped up its work in Siaya, Kenya, and moved to Ugunja, its third district in the country. It's an exciting moment for the organization, but also presents new challenges -- both personal and operational. Read more about the move and what it means for the GiveDirectly team and process:

Against Malaria Foundation - Using smartphones in DRC to deliver nets with accountability
Against Malaria Foundation funds long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets and ensures they are distributed and used properly.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most challenging countries in the world in which to distribute malaria nets. Distances are vast and infrastructure is poor, yet the malaria burden and the need for nets is great. More than 500 people die from malaria every day in DRC, the majority being children under 5.

Bringing accountability to distribution there therefore faces additional challenges.

The most important initial ingredient is a distribution partner who shares a strong desire to distribute nets accountably. In DRC we work with IMA World Health.

A new ingredient is the smartphone. The contrast between this cutting edge technology and the environment in which it is deployed could not be more stark, but the smartphone has the potential to be a powerful tool in the fight against malaria. We have written previously about the potential for smartphone-based data collection here.

Its use is data collection. Rather than using paper and pen to note down household details and record nets distributed, and then face the logistical challenge of aggregating in one place from distant locations the information on many, many pieces of paper (approximately 7,000 for a 676,000 net distribution), with smartphones, data can be uploaded to a computer and aggregated with relative ease for correction, verification and analysis. And sharing. This last point is important as information in electronic form can be easily shared, facilitating transparent review by interested parties, including health leaders and programme funders – thereby delivering accountability.

Case study
The distribution of 676,000 nets in West Kasai, DRC was completed in December 2014.

We are currently reviewing the distribution verification data and post-distribution report with our distribution partner, IMA World Health, and expect to publish a full report in the next few weeks.

This distribution is the first that both parties have undertaken using smartphones to collect household-level data. We expect teething problems, as with any new introduction of technology, especially in a country such as DRC. However, we are undeterred by this, as the benefits of improving processes in this region are so significant.

Smartphones installed with a data collection program, created using open source software, were used to collect household-level data including how many nets were given to each individual household.

GPS coordinates were recorded for each household receiving nets and these data are being reviewed as one aspect of 'distribution verification' – ensuring nets were distributed to beneficiaries as intended.

We will publish a full report and distribution review in the coming weeks but in the meantime we share a summary image showing the GPS data received for this distribution. Each pin colour represents one of the eight Health Zones and each pin represents the specific location of one of the 234,916 households that received nets.

We believe these data are a promising sign that smartphones could be a powerful and practical tool to help net distributions deliver operational efficiencies and high levels of project accountability.

Fistula Foundation - Paving the Road to Postpartum Recovery
Fistula Foundation supports affordable repair of obstetric fistulas.

Days after delivering a stillborn child, Umuhoza had grown terribly ill. She was running a fever, barely able to walk, and incontinent. Her mother grew increasingly concerned and knew she had to get Umuhoza to a hospital, even though it was hours from their rural village in northwest Rwanda.

By the time they arrived at the University Central Hospital of Kigali (CHUK) last June, Umuhoza was in bad shape. Her delivery had been so traumatizing that she could not remember any details. Based on the extent of her injuries, her doctor, Lauri Romanzi, estimated that she had been in labor for at least five days. The extended delivery had given Umuhoza two large fistulas -- holes in her vagina and rectum -- causing her incontinence.

After treating the infection and fever, Dr. Romanzi operated and successfully closed Umuhoza's fistulas, effectively stopping the leaking of urine and feces. Umuhoza is undergoing physical therapy and can walk again, though slowly. She and her mother have now been at CHUK for over six months.

Dr. Lauri Romanzi is the current head of the fistula care team at CHUK. She is an expert pelvic floor surgeon whom Fistula Foundation has funded to provide surgeries in several countries in the past few years. Dr. Romanzi told us recently that Fistula Foundation's support "literally saved Umuhoza's life from disaster." Romanzi is being modest. While funds from Fistula Foundation were important, it's Romanzi's surgical skills that transformed Umuhoza's life.

To successfully treat a patient like Umuhoza, it takes more than the cost of the surgery; it also requires a well-equipped operating facility and a surgeon trained specifically to treat fistulas.

Fistula Foundation works to treat women suffering from obstetric fistulas, a debilitating childbirth injury that can occur when a woman endures a prolonged, obstructed labor, and does not have access to emergency obstetric care, like a C-section. Since 2009, the group has funded more than 14,000 surgeries across 29 countries, but it isn't easy to make those surgeries happen.

Thanks in part to support from Johnson & Johnson, Fistula Foundation has been able to expand its pool of trained surgeons in Rwanda and beyond. Dr. Romanzi has been working with her team at CHUK to prepare them to treat more complex fistula cases. Also thanks to Johnson & Johnson support, two of CHUK's female trainees were able to accompany Romanzi, their trainer and mentor, to Somaliland, becoming the first female staff surgeons at Edna Adan University Hospital. As a team, they worked together to advance their skills and now they are each able to treat fistula cases on their own.

Prior to Romanzi and team's program, women with fistula in Rwanda were too often dependent on temporary fistula clinics which offered treatment by visiting surgeons, but not longer-term clinical care. At the height of Umuhoza's condition, there weren't any of these temporary clinics. Waiting until one had opened would have dangerously advanced her condition.

Thankfully, Umuhoza is on her way to recovery. And it's a road that gets shorter every day.

Team Picks
Left: What a typical American family eats in a week. Right: What a typical family in Chad (an African country) eats in a week.

Live on $2.50 a day for a sponsored fundraiser

Could you live on $2.50 a day? That's the challenge set by Experience Poverty, the new fundraiser for TLYCS-recommended charity the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI). People around the world are getting sponsored to eat for less than $2.50 a day for three days. Half the world spends less than that, reflecting levels of global poverty that SCI alleviates particularly effectively. They treat a child for parasitic worms for only 50 cents. So this is a chance to raise money for a great cause, and we encourage you to explore it.

Eating for $2.50 is difficult, but people have found it achievable, and ultimately an eye-opening reminder of poverty. And you can vary anything you want about the challenge, from the amount spent to the dates to the number of days. When you sign up, join The Life You Can Save team! The deadline to join is April 5th, so sign up soon.

Learn more or sign up today

Charlie Bresler
Executive Director

"Simple is the new black"

Project 333: Experiments in Living with Less is a great source of fashion inspiration for those of us wanting to reduce consumer spending (and "stuff") and increase our giving. Project 333 suggests reducing your closet to just 33 items. You will spend less time deciding what to wear, and have more money to make a difference for someone who needs your help.

Claire Knowlton
Board President

BBC Radio on Giving, Morality, and Relative Wealth

I recommend the BBC Radio's 4 piece, "Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is." Giles Fraser interviews Peter Singer and Giving What We Can's Will MacAskill to help answer the question,"If you believe the world should be a fairer place, does morality demand that you give away your money to those who are poorer than you - even if you don't think of yourself as rich?"

Laura Gamse
Media and Outreach Director

Counterintuitive? Saving lives leads to fewer births

Thanks to volunteer Boris Yakubchik for finding this article addressing the widespread misconception (and frequent excuse for not giving) that helping the poor only leads to more population explosion, when in fact the opposite is true.

Amy Schwimmer
Director of Operations

Documentary about South African Artists

The Creators is an ambitious documentary exploring the creative visions of six artists who live and work in post-apartheid South Africa. Chronicling the stories of these remarkable individuals across artistic media—ranging from graffiti art to hip hop dance, from opera to rap—The Creators is a compelling meditation on art as both political resistance and social reform. The documentary was shot and edited by a South African crew, and produced and directed by Laura Gamse, Media and Outreach Director for The Life You Can Save.

The Creators is available for online streaming for a limited time this month. Watch online or rent/purchase/stream the DVD on Amazon (free for Prime users).

Rhema Hokama
Managing Editor

Supporter Story
Jose Oliveira

Jose Oliveira

Jose Oliveira, an art teacher in Portugal, is an ardent champion of effective altruism. Read his story (in English or Portuguese)

These were the first words I ever read from Peter Singer:

First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad.

Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.

Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.

Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save, pgs. 15-16.

At that time (June 2011) I didn't know how influential Peter Singer was, but by reading this simple and clear argument, even if you don't believe this to be a moral obligation, it’s very hard to justify doing nothing, especially when we are so many times richer than those people who live in extreme poverty and we know there’s so much evidence of aid effectiveness.

Giving locally vs. Giving overseas (Inspired in a slide from a presentation by Julia Wise & Jeff Kaufman)

The book "The Life You Can Save" had just been published here in Portugal, and even before I read it I feared the hard subjects it addressed: poverty, hunger, disease, human suffering, death, etc. So I really didn't want to read it, because I strongly suspected I would feel compelled to act, changing my behavior and maybe losing some comfort and peace of mind.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to think about suffering all the time?
Finally it took me two sleepless nights to read it (in July 2011) and to find out it was all about something quite different: it was about alleviating someone's suffering or even saving lives. And that, besides being perfectly bearable, it’s also extremely fulfilling. Then another set of problems became apparent.

How can we effectively eradicate extreme poverty and all the suffering it causes?
Soon after I read the book, I decided to start some research and social networking to raise awareness about Effective Altruism. So a few days later (in August 2011) I created a Facebook Page and a Group where I have been posting translated information on a daily basis until this day. And that brought me closer to the Effective Altruist community and to volunteer directly with TLYCS. In fact, most of my free time is now spent with EA volunteering. Finding out that we could be the first generation to eradicate extreme poverty is a huge responsibility but also a lifetime opportunity.

Did TLYCS really change my life?
If you read a book and that leads to this amount of change, would you consider this to be a life changing experience? These are some of the changes that happened to me, so you be the judge:

  1. Started effective giving (now up to 10% of my income),
  2. Started volunteering (almost all my free time, holidays included),
  3. Changed my diet (according to ethical -- and health -- standards),
  4. Changed my online behavior (mostly EA social networking),
  5. Changed my consumer behavior (reducing waste and futile spendings),
  6. Stopped being so self centered,
  7. Became happier.

Maybe not everyone can donate up to 10% or more of his income, but if one’s donations go to the most effective organizations, then one can also have a great impact even for a small amount of money, and that is surely an example to be followed.

Would you fear this change or embrace it?
You might think that these are the qualities of someone morally superior or some kind of modern saint, but I can assure you no one treats me like I’m Super(moral)man. In fact, if someone had told me 5 years ago I would be like this now, I would hardly believe it. It would have been easier for me to believe that the next reader could achieve much more than me. So until this day I have given away eighteen TLYCS books.

So here’s my final question:
If you had to read a book that might change your life, which you would then give to someone with the same purpose, and that could eventually change the whole world for the better, what book would it be?

This Month in Giving
8th March

International Women's Day #IntWomensDay

Celebrate women's achievements and call for greater equality. 2015 Theme: #MakeItHappen

The website includes a list of 2015 events by country. Also see Oxfam America's suggestions for celebrating women's day, or help fund a woman's life-healing Fistula Surgery through Fistula Foundation.

21st March

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Promote equality across backgrounds and cultures.

22nd March

World Water Day #WorldWaterDay #Wateris

Celebrate, Change, Prepare. This year's theme: 'Water and Sustainable Development'.

Consider providing safe water for 50cents per person through Evidence Action.

23rd March

Earth Hour Day

Celebrating hope for mobilizing action on climate change, Earth Hour is the single, largest, symbolic mass participation event in the world. Join millions of people in 7,001 cities and towns across 152 countries and territories in switching lights off for an hour as a massive show of concern for the environment.

Highlights from Our Blog
  1. The Life You Can Save: 2014 in Review

  2. How Far Will Your Donation Go? Introducing the Life You Can Save's Charity Impact Calculator

  3. Why Individual Donors Matter: Charlie Bresler Interviews PSI's Karl Hofmann

  4. Clean Water Is a 'Best Buy' for Saving Lives

  5. Can old-school pamphleting engage 21st century college students in Effective Altruism?

The Life You Can Save is a 501(c)(3) - an official non-profit registered with the United States Internal Revenue Service. Donations to The Life You Can Save are tax-deductible to individuals filing taxes in the U.S.

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