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“I would rather have it said, ‘He lived usefully,’ than, ‘He died rich.’”
Benjamin Franklin (letter to his mother, 1750)
Giving What We Can is an international society dedicated to eliminating poverty in the developing world. We evaluate global poverty charities and encourage people to give 10% of their income to those that are the most cost-effective. The society stemmed from the ideas of moral philosopher Toby Ord, who founded Giving What We Can in 2009 after four years of planning and discussion.
During his studies at Oxford, Ord found out just how much he could contribute through simply donating his money and it was this that lead him to set up the charity: “I discovered that by donating most of my future income to the most efficient charities, I could save around 50,000 years of healthy life. Since I already had most of the things I value in life on my student stipend, I realised that my money would do vastly more good for others than it could for me and decided to make a commitment to donating to the most effective charities I could find. Many people contacted me asking how they could do this as well, and so I set up Giving What We Can.”
The charity was influenced by a community of ethicists; Ord’s idea for Giving What We Can reflected the ideas of Peter Singer and Thomas Pogge among others. Discussing the topic of our obligation to the global poor with Singer inspired him to show people just how big an effect they could have by taking the problem seriously.
It was when William MacAskill, an academic at Oxford who is now Vice President of the charity, met Ord that the plans for Giving What We Can really gained momentum. Ord explained the idea to MacAskill and together they began to push it forward, with MacAskill doing a lot of the initial research into cost-effectiveness.
After the launch, Giving What We Can grew in status as it received significant media attention and within a year 64 people had joined the society, their pledges amounting to $14m. Since then Giving What We Can has continued to grow both in number and reputation, with over 250 members from 17 countries and chapters established in the US, Britain and Australia. We are now a registered charity with almost $100m pledged to charity from members, Toby alone pledging over $1m in his lifetime. We hope that one day the idea of donating 10% of one’s income to effective charities will become the norm, not an exception.
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