I have always wanted to make a difference. I think most people do.
As a young teenager, I remember giving away all my Christmas money after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. I understood that I didn’t actually need that money, and there were other people who needed it desperately. As I grew older, I began to realise that this desperate need doesn’t go away just because the news cameras have moved on, or is only present in the wake of a disaster. Extreme poverty is an everyday fact of life for thousands of people, a fact not deemed newsworthy only because of its constant, ongoing nature.
Perhaps because of this, by and large we accept poverty as an insurmountable problem. Sometimes we raise funds or donate money, but most of the time it is something we’d rather forget about, feeling powerless to really help. We worry about government corruption and charities working ineffectively. In a way, I think this helps relieve us of a sense of responsibility – if there’s nothing we can do, we needn’t do anything.
Yet I didn’t want to give up. So throughout my studies, I continued to try to make a difference. I attended protests and did sponsored runs in fancy dress. I baked cakes, rattled tins and raised thousands of pounds organising charity gigs for local bands. All this was deeply rewarding and greatly enriched my life, boosting my CV and my wellbeing.
But I chose my charities because I liked the sound of their work, or because a cause or idea took my fancy. I hoped for the best, but I also doubted myself. Was this really helping? I didn’t want to ever stop caring, or to become apathetic or cynical, but neither did I want to be a hopeless idealist.
I had to up my game.
Through much research and steering by likeminded friends, I found effective altruism. Suddenly my hopes and doubts weren’t fighting against one another, but working together. By critically examining how charities spent their money, I could choose to give to only the most effective.
I learned that while poverty remains a huge problem, we are getting better and better at finding the best ways to solve it. Evidence about the best methods for tackling poverty is constantly growing. You perhaps wouldn’t know it, but over the last twenty years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has halved.
While looking for the best places to give, I found that The Life You Can Save recommends sixteen of the world's most effective charities, and GiveWell provides detailed information about why many of these charities are so effective at what they do.
I also decided I needed to give consistently, and hold myself accountable for doing what I’d always wanted – to make a difference, and to continue to make a difference throughout my life. I don’t earn a lot in my work as a teaching assistant, but I earn enough. After giving away 10 percent of my relatively small salary, I’m still in the richest 11 percent of people in the world. You can see where you stand relative to global wealth by using Giving What We Can’s salary calculator.
Now I know I am making a difference – most people could do the same.