October 2014

The 15th anniversary of Peter Singer's New York Times article "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" seems like a great time to kick off our new newsletter format and our newly redesigned website. This month, we share the perspectives of three of our recommended charities fifteen years after the publication of Singer's influential article. I also share my personal thoughts in my closing reflections.

These new formats--and more importantly our expanded content--are part of our ongoing commitment to improving the quality and quantity of the information we bring to you, our subscribers. We hope you'll read the newsletter as you might a newspaper, finding favorite sections and returning to read more throughout your day and week. Also browse our Learn More section on the website.

We hope you'll be inspired to share our newsletter and website with your circle of friends, family, and colleagues--particularly those who may be new to effective philanthropy.

Charlie Bresler
Executive Director, The Life You Can Save

In October's Issue

Charity Voices
This month three of our recommended charities--GiveDirectly, Fistula Foundation, and Possible-- share their reflections on advances in effective giving over the 15 years since "The Singer Solution to World Poverty."
Team Picks
Informative and thought-provoking pieces about the power of private giving from this month’s web: news articles, a Stanford free online class, the newly launched Effective Altruism Forum, and short videos capturing two charities’ breathtaking work reversing preventable blindness.
Supporter Story
Ben Lawent, a Boston-based supporter of The Life You Can Save, shares his journey toward effective giving--and how his decision to help the world's neediest people has been an unexpected source of personal happiness.
This Month in Giving
What can you do to restore a child's eyesight in rural Myanmar? How can you help provide micronutrients to a Rwandan child so their growth will not be stunted? Learn what you can do this month to celebrate World Sight Day, World Food Day, and more!
Highlights from Our Blog
How do you stay motivated to give? Do the religious have a special obligation to help the world's poor? What recent successes have our recommended charities achieved? Be engaged and inspired by favorite posts from our blog this month.
Closing Thoughts from the Executive Director
We've made great advances in reducing global poverty since Peter Singer published "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" 15 years ago. But 1.2 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty today. Charlie Bresler suggests ways each of us can work toward the goals in Singer’s seminal article.

Charity Voices

This month we feature reflections from three of our recommended charities on the 15 years since publication of "The Singer Solution to World Poverty."



In 1999 Peter Singer wrote: “I accept that we are unlikely to see, in the near or even medium-term future, a world in which it is normal for wealthy Americans to give the bulk of their wealth to strangers.”

Fifteen years later, thanks to the effective altruism movement and advances in technology, we are much closer to that “unlikely” world than Singer expected. Since GiveDirectly launched three years ago, we have helped thousands of donors -- in the US and around the world -- to quite literally give their money to strangers living in poverty by funding direct cash transfers.

The barriers to sharing excess wealth are rapidly falling away. Looking at the world of international aid in 1999, Singer anticipated that “practical uncertainties about whether aid will really reach the people who need it” would be one of the main objections to his ethical argument. Since then, mobile payments technology and the evidence base for cash transfers have expanded to cover most of the developing world. As a result it’s now possible to transfer money directly to the poorest people on earth – efficiently, securely and at scale. In effect, it makes the ethical choice facing us all even more pronounced.

At GiveDirectly, we have seen donors of all kinds take up the ethical challenge that Singer poses. Extremely wealthy individuals who had given up on international aid have come off the sidelines and started giving directly to the poor, inspired by the evidence and clarity of impact. One donor decided to give half his inheritance. Another gives half his income directly to the poor – income from working at a local IT company. It seems that Singer’s ethical argument will surely hold up for another fifteen years, but his conjecture that such actions on the part of individuals are not likely to become “normal”, may not.

Joy Sun
Chief Operating Officer (domestic), GiveDirectly

Fistula Foundation

Fistula Foundation

In The Singer Solution to World Poverty, Professor Peter Singer set out the provocative argument that each of us with money beyond our immediate needs has a moral obligation to use a significant portion of that money we don't need to help alleviate human suffering. He challenged each of us to seek out organizations and opportunities that help 'the least among us' meet their basic needs for survival.

At Fistula Foundation we focus on helping women--often destitute-- have surgery that can transform their lives from incontinence and isolation to health and vitality. These women are injured in the first place because their societies have failed to provide for a basic human need: the ability to safely bring a child into the world.

To make our work as effective and efficient as possible, helping the most women we can, Fistula Foundation, like other new nonprofits, is turning away from a more traditional 'top down' development model -- where solutions are imported from the developed north to the poor south -- and instead favoring action driven by dedicated partners in the very communities where the poverty exists. These capable people know their communities best, and can drive change. By allowing them to tell us what projects and programs are most needed on the ground, and not the other way around, Fistula Foundation has been able to reach more women in more places than ever before - more than 10,000 women received fistula repair surgery through Fistula Foundation's local partnerships in just the last five years.

15 years after its publication, "The Singer Solution" continues to be one of the most relevant and thought-provoking pieces on global poverty that I know of. Professor Singer's commitment to the world's most vulnerable populations makes him deeply inspiring to me. We are honored to be a part of The Life You Can Save, and are grateful to Professor Singer and the entire TLYCS team for their support!

Kate Grant
Chief Executive Officer, Fistula Foundation



What's incredibly powerful in the way charitable giving has shifted in the past 15 years is the impact social media, technology, and digital communities have had on the way we support and engage with for-impact organizations.

Because of new technology, donors can engage with organizations in new ways. People can “donate” their birthday through Charity:Water by fundraising for clean water on their special day; others can videotape themselves pouring ice water over their heads for the ALS Foundation. People can donate a portion of their Amazon purchase to their favorite charity though the Smile.Amazon.com portal, or use the popular payment platform Venmo to give to Possible with one tap, directly delivering life-changing healthcare to a person in need.

The way stories spread online and how our world now interacts with technology creates a whole new experience for donors, while increasing the amount of reach, impact, and continual funding organizations receive. The more we can harness these new ways of giving to support effective organizations, the faster we will make progress in the fight against poverty.

Laura Schwecherl
Marketing Director, Possible

Team Picks

Team Favorites from the Web this Month

Seva: In Let There Be Sight, Seva donor Turk Pipkin chronicles his journey with a Seva medical team to a remote surgical eye camp in Nepal's Himalayas where hundreds of people had their vision restored. Special thanks to musician and long-time Seva supporter Jackson Browne for use of his song "Doctor My Eyes."

Fred Hollows: The Foundation recently supported the largest eye camp of its kind in Myanmar. Led by Dr Sanduk Ruit, the surgical team performed over 1,200 eye operations over two weeks. To show you how they achieved this, we set up a time lapse camera. What they achieve in 80 minutes has to be seen to be believed! Donate today so Dr Ruit can continue his wonderful work.

Watch Dr. Ruit's Work Watch 'Let There Be Sight'

The ice bucket challenge is a symbol for much that’s wrong with contemporary charity: a celebration of good intentions without regard for good outcomes. It is iconic for what I call donor-focused philanthropy—making charitable giving about the giver, rather than about those who need help. In my previous article I mentioned one damaging aspect of donor-focused philanthropy: that it encourages a culture of great praise for small gifts. I believe this culture trades a small short-term gain in donations for a long-term harm by undermining a charitable attitude according to which there are serious problems in the world that desperately need our help, and that won’t be solved by a bucket of ice water . . .

Read More

Giving 2.0: The MOOC, is a Stanford University-sponsored online course intended to teach givers of all ages, backgrounds, incomes and experiences to give more effectively. Taught by social entrepreneur, philanthropist and bestselling author Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, Giving 2.0: The MOOC will teach you how to assess nonprofits, create a high-impact philanthropic strategy, volunteer more effectively, use existing, free technology for good and more. Course participants will engage in an actual grantmaking process during which up to $100,000 of Learning By Giving Foundation capital will be allocated to student-selected nonprofits . . .

Read More

More and more philanthropies are taking the lead in combating international health crises. The Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation donates at least five percent of its assets each year to fight Polio Myelitis, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and other infectious diseases across the globe. Last week, they committed $50 million “to support the scale up of emergency efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak,” and Paul Allen has pledged $9 million . . .

Read More

Effective altruism is a growing community based around the idea of aiming to do the most good that one can. This site is intended to be an introduction to the topic and is currently under development, and the full site will be taken live in due course . . .

Visit Now

Supporter Story

Ben Lawent

In this section, we feature an account of an ordinary person who discovered the world of effective philanthropy. This month, read about Ben Lawent, whose discovery of Peter Singer and effective altruism has made many aspects of his life richer.

A couple years ago, I read The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer. Singer argues that people should donate their money to effective charities up to the point where any additional giving would harm them more than it would help others. Singer’s book has inspired me to become an effective altruist, which means that I try to do as much good as I can with my time and money. Before I read the book, a primary goal of mine was to maximize my time for friends, books, culture, nature, and travel. Now, I've come to view myself as having an ethical obligation to work hard to help others.

I believe I am happier now than I was before I read Peter Singer. I derive a great deal of happiness from my giving, and I still have ample space in my life for family, friends, and leisure activities. The concept of using a significant portion of my salary to help others has infused my professional work as an actuary with a new significance. Now, analyzing actuarial models is directly connected with my passion for making the world a better place.

In addition to finding satisfaction from giving itself, I really enjoy the community aspect of the effective altruism movement. I have found a wonderful effective altruism community in Boston, full of people who are passionate about making a positive difference in the world. We have dinners together every couple months, and the EA student organization at Harvard sponsors many great lectures. I also enjoy connecting with effective altruists in other cities when I travel.

In the future, I look forward to continuing to give as much as I can to effective charities and to helping build the effective altruism community.

This Month in Giving

9th October

World Sight Day

In celebration of World Sight Day, Focusing Philanthropy is matching all donations to Seva over $1000--dollar for dollar! Seva has helped restore eyesight to 3.5 million people through low-cost and free cataract surgeries, transforming lives for only $25-$50. You can support Seva's work during this matching opportunity from now until World Sight Day on October 9th at Seva.

15th October

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day

Obstetric fistula occurs in the world's poorest countries when women have long obstructed labor. Not only does the mother--often a teenager-- lose her baby, but she can be left with a tissue tear, or fistula, causing leakage of bodily wastes, and subsequent ostracism. Over one million women suffer from fistula; it costs only $450 for Fistula Foundation to deliver surgical repair and rehabilitation. You can help restore a life at Fistula Foundation.

16th October

World Food Day

Food fortification is one of the most reliable and cost-effective methods of improving critical micronutrient health. Project Healthy Children's food fortification programs in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America prevent birth defects, childhood blindness, and fatal bleeding during childbirth. You can help save lives for only 25 cents per person per year. Visit Project Healthy Children to learn how.

Highlights from Our Blog

How would Jesus have us respond to extreme poverty?

It is strange to think back upon our previous lives and to marvel at how utterly different our present is from our past. Growing up in Hawaii in the early 90s, weekends were the sole domain of God. At my family’s evangelical church, my four younger sisters and I heard many Sundays of bible lessons—stories that never ceased to astonish and amaze me with their imaginative scope . . .

Read More

PHC closer to micronutrient fortification for 70m people.

Thanks to the work of Project Healthy Children, Liberia published its revised food fortification standards in November 2013, making the import and production of fortified food products both mandatory and legally binding. PHC's success in Liberia has brought us closer to our goal of designing and implementing comprehensive food fortification programs in seven countries, which will benefit 70 million people . . .

Read More

Feed your elephant. Four ways to stay motivated.

It's not always easy to sustain your motivation to give. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt uses the metaphor of an elephant and a rider in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, to describe the emotional and rational components of our minds. The elephant represents the emotional, intuitive self: it’s big, powerful, and stubborn. Here are some tips for how to "feed your elephant" and renew your commitments . . .

Read More
Charlie Bresler - Director of The Life You Can Save

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Peter Singer’s New York Times op-ed, "The Singer Solution to World Poverty." When Singer published his piece in 1999, nearly 3 billion people lived on less than $2 USD a day. We know the facts about extreme poverty, Singer argued, and more importantly, we have the financial resources to drastically ameliorate its devastating effects. In light of this, what are our moral obligations to the world’s poorest people?

“Now you, too, have the information you need to save a child's life.” Singer writes. “How should you judge yourself if you don't do it?”

We each have a personal moral obligation to those living in extreme poverty. And the good news is that in the 15 years since Singer published his piece, the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day has decreased significantly. From 1999 to 2010, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa decreased 10 percentage points—from 58 percent to 48 percent. And globally, despite significant increases in the world’s population, far fewer people live in extreme poverty today than was the case thirty years ago: roughly 1.9 billion lived in extreme poverty in 1981; that number was reduced to 1.2 billion by 2010.

The statistics show that extreme poverty can be solved. But despite successful poverty relief efforts in recent decades, the fact is that 1.2 billion men, women, and children still continue to live without adequate food, sanitation, clean water, or basic health care. These people present 1.2 billion reasons why Peter Singer’s piece still holds great urgency today, even fifteen years after its publication.

What can we do about extreme poverty?

Every time I read Peter’s article I am extremely uncomfortable, and I suspect that you feel similarly. So we are in this together – we are now even more than usual acutely aware of our moral shortcomings! The question is what to do about these feelings?

Most of us aren’t ready to live up to Peter’s moral ideal, which is to give away all our money to effective charities except what we need for necessities. I know that I certainly don’t live this way, and I imagine that few of us do. Assuming we are not willing to respond in the most moral way that Peter suggests, there are still many things we can do to fulfill our intentions to give. Here are a few ideas:

  • Take Peter’s Pledge.
    If you have not done so, consider taking the Pledge.
  • Top your personal best.
    Give more money to highly effective charities each year than you are currently giving – Peter recommends twelve of these charities on our website.
  • Spread the message.
    Actively share your thoughts about giving with your circle of friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. Help The Life You Can Save spread the word. Share our website and those of our recommended charities.
  • Stay motivated to give.
    Place behavioral cues around your home and work that remind you of your commitment to fighting the devastating effects of extreme poverty. The cues that are most effective vary from person to person, but here are a few suggestions:
    • A picture on your refrigerator that reminds you of your commitment. You can take one from our website.
    • Calendar a goal every month, or better yet every week. The goal could be to talk with someone about extreme poverty, to hold a fundraiser for one of our recommended charities, or to give a certain amount of money away each month.
    • Stay updated by reading our newsletter each month – they are getting better and better!
    • Change your computer’s screensaver to remind yourself of your commitment to fighting extreme poverty.

These behaviors are not a substitute for meeting Peter’s goal of only spending what you absolutely need and giving the rest away to effective charities, but they are a start. In our personal journeys toward increased giving, we must always remind ourselves of our goals and our intentions.

Am I already giving enough?

We must be wary of a phenomenon that social psychologists call "moral licensing," a topic that Brad Hurley discusses this month in a post on The Life You Can Save blog. In essence, moral licensing means that by doing one good deed, we may take ourselves off the hook to do more, or other,good deeds.

For our purposes of falling short of the most moral way of giving, let’s be aware that doing good relative to others, or even our own “personal best,” does not let us off the moral hook. We must stay aware of the ideal way of giving even as we improve our own giving behavior. This awareness makes us uncomfortable, so the natural tendency is to suppress the feeling or even worse, change our vision of the ideal (see my letter in last month’s newsletter) so as to justify our behavior.

If all this sounds terribly hard, it is because it is really, really, hard. The easiest thing would be to congratulate ourselves for what we are doing, rather than focus on the ideal. But however hard living with our shortcomings is, it does not compare to watching one’s child die of a preventable disease, or knowing that a friend’s preventable blindness could be cured for $25-$50, or that a woman we know suffering from an obstetric fistula could be given a new start for $450, or that our child could be dewormed of debilitating parasites for a mere 50 cents!

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue of our newsletter and, more importantly, for your commitment to help fight the devastating effects of extreme poverty.

Good living and good giving,