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Potential Story Angles
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Giving What We Can is an interesting organisation and offers many possible angles for stories, including:
Giving What We Can three years on
Giving What We Can was launched in 2009 by Toby Ord, a moral philosopher at Oxford University. He started with the simple concept of donating a significant amount of his yearly income to charities addressing poverty in the developing world, and set up the society to promote this message. 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.
After its launch, Giving What We Can grew quickly in status, recruiting 64 members who pledged £14 million. Peter Singer is among these members. Since then Giving What We Can has continued to grow in both number and reputation, becoming a registered charity and an international organisation, with over 250 members from 17 countries and ten chapters established in the US, Britain, Switzerland and Australia.
The organisation celebrated its three year anniversary on 14th November, and its 261 members have collectively pledged to donate over £100 million over the course of their lives. This is equivalent to 4 million years of healthy life; a huge reward for a relatively little sacrifice from each individual. Our dream is to ensure that the idea of pledging to donate a portion of our income to organisations most efficiently addressing the staggeringly unjust distribution of global wealth will become a norm.
Putting Ethics into Action
Toby Ord (the founder and director of Giving What We Can) is a research fellow in ethics at the University of Oxford. Giving What We Can is his attempt to put some of the important ideas of recent practical ethics into action in the real world. He says:
“Many people agree that global poverty is one of the biggest moral problems of our time, but very few people are prepared to donate a large part of their income to help eliminate it. I decided to put my money where my mouth was and to set up a society for people who want to join me in this. Ideally it will become a well recognised way of living one’s life, something akin to being a vegetarian.”
Dr Ord is not the only member of Giving What We Can to come from a background in ethics. Renowned philosophers Peter Singer and Thomas Pogge have been well known for giving a significant fraction of their incomes and were quick to sign up, along with half a dozen graduate students in the field of ethics.
Taking Giving Seriously
When people give to charity, they don't always think about whether they could do even more good by giving to a different charity. The members of Giving What We Can take this consideration very seriously. They are aware that their choice of where to donate their money means the difference between saving a single life and saving a life every day of their careers, and they are willing to follow the numbers in order to make the biggest contribution they can.
Of course, there are times when it is difficult to compare benefits of very different types, but there are a surprisingly large number of times when following the numbers gives a clear winner. For example, it is unclear whether it is better to save one person's life or to cure two other people of blindness, but other things being equal, it is clearly better to save a thousand lives than to cure two people of blindness and many of the choices are like this.
The other way in which the members of Giving What We Can take giving seriously is that after recognising just how cheap it is to make significant improvements in people’s lives, they decide to direct a significant part of their income towards achieving these amazing benefits.
Providing Advice on Where to Give
We’ve all heard impressive-sounding statistics from charities about how much good you can do for people in developing countries for mere pennies. These claims promise a great deal, but are often very difficult to interpret. For example, are the quoted prices the cost of the medications alone, or do they include the costs of delivery? Are they the costs to protect a person from the possibility of illness, or the cost needed to protect enough people such that on average one case of illness will be averted? Do they include the administration costs of the program? Does the organisation have other programs between which the money will be split?
Giving What We Can aims to use the best research on aid effectiveness from organisations like the World Health Organisation to help people work out where their money can do the most to help people. It turns out that there is a vast discrepancy between the most effective and least effective programs, and donors can do much more with their donations if they give them to the more effective programs: it is the difference between saving one live and saving a life every day for your career. Giving What We Can doesn't promise to be able to work out the best charity, but has found charities that are at the forefront of effectiveness and shares this information with the public to allow others to do more with their donations.
Defying the Credit Crunch
While much of the world is focusing on tightening the purse strings, the members of Giving What We Can are defying the spirit of the times by committing to give at least 10% of their income to those who have much less.
The next big thing?
While we currently promote charities dedicated to eliminating tropical diseases in the developing world, our research is shedding light on initiatives that could make our list of recommended charities within the decade. Among these are political advocacy charities. They use several means such as mass protests, lobbying MPs, and circulating educational tools to advocate for political change. Their goals range from increased government support for certain programs, changes to international trade rules to better rights for minorities.
This is an area with great potential, with several examples of highly effective campaigns. For example, Giving What We Can estimate that in previous years, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (GN) generated $7 for direct NTD control with every $1 invested in its advocacy work. We are continuing our work to evaluate the difference that successful political advocacy charities make, given a small budget, and expect that within the decade, such charities will supersede our current top-recommended charities.
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