Blog post

Member Profile: Alexandra Berlina

5 min read
14 Dec 2020

This profile is part of the "People of Giving What We Can" series.


What is your effective giving story?

When my husband Pavel and I we were students, money tended to run out by the end of the month; then we began supplementing our scholarship money with freelance translation and interpreting, and suddenly we had a bit more money than we needed.

The feeling was pleasant, but it also made me itchy -- it didn't seem fair to spend money on a cappuccino when I knew that the same tiny sum could help an ill child get better somewhere. (Argh, it's so hard to talk about these things without sounding terribly mauve and banal!)

For quite a while I made myself crazy, sometimes donating all we had and sometimes very little. Pavel was always a balancing influence, and finally we decided that we could spare 20% of our income. It was truly liberating not to reconsider how much to donate and where all the time but to have made a decision and stick with it -- though sometimes I still think it's too little and make a small additional donation to some particular cause.

Why do you give?

It's just math, really: if spending, say, 10 € can improve my life only marginally, and someone else's life considerably -- or even save it, for instance, by ridding a child of worms and strengthening their immune system -- then it makes more sense to spend it on someone else. I couldn't live with myself if I did nothing.

Besides, I have it really easy: adopting a traumatized child, say, is incomparable to merely giving away some money; what we do is the simple thing. And we hardly deny ourselves anything, the kids get the books and games they want, and we don't live on bread and water.

It's not hard to give -- it's hard not to. Actually, you can say giving is an egoistic instinct: when I get depressed, I can always tell myself "at least I'm of some use to others -- even to some people I don't know," and this really helps.

Why did you take the Giving What We Can pledge?

When I took The Pledge I was so happy to see there are other people out there who feel like I do -- most of my friends don't, and it makes me feel rather strange sometimes.

Plus, I think it's good to shout out into the world what we do, modesty be damned: I want more people to join us!

What are the issues in the world that you care most deeply about?

Children pull at my heartstrings, and these things seem obvious enough: No child should die whom today's medicine can save. No child should be mutilated. No child should be denied education. Most people who live in high-income countries make enough money to make a difference.

When I donate additionally and spontaneously, it usually concerns children, especially girls. But it's crucial to give effectively, so that the money does the most good it can, so I try not to get side-tracked by particular stories too much.

Which organizations do you give to (and why)?

Pavel and I spread 20% of income over SOS Children's Villages, Doctors without Borders and whatever is deemed most effective by current charity evaluations.

Do you ever find it difficult to give?

We're both freelancers, so there is no pension fund, and we do have to save a bit. We'll have to see if we can manage the usual 20% this year when our income has suffered from COVID-19 (I hope we can). What I find actually hard is not giving but talking about giving without sounding like an insufferable do-goody. But you can't let people die for stylistic reasons, can you?

Do you try to effect change in any other way?

My husband and I are still only pescatarians; veganism or even vegetarianism is difficult with kids -- but as soon as there's affordable milk and meat from the test tube, we'll be buying it. We have no car. I've considered volunteering at a charity, but working more and giving more appears more effective. My husband Pavel is a member of the party Partei der Humanisten (Humanists Party).

What effective giving tips would you like to share?

Don't be shy about spreading the word. I sign off with 'I donate 20% of my income to effective charity' -- and I've recently learned that one of my clients took the pledge, too.

What suggestions do you have for other people considering the pledge?

If you're considering giving, try it! People who give are happier and live longer.

Have any books or documentaries or articles or studies significantly changed the way you see giving?

Not original, but it must be named: "The Life You Can Save" is a must-read, and it's currently available as a free download and a podcast).

Tell us a bit more about yourself, what keeps you busy, what makes you tick.

After a stint in academia, I became a freelance translator and interpreter -- mostly into English, but my most recent book translation was a new German version of the Russian classic "The Master and Margarita." I've always loved reading, and translation is the closest form of reading there is, so I'm immensely lucky in my work -- which is one of the reasons why I think I should share.

I live with my two kids and my husband Pavel in Düsseldorf. He was my first boyfriend and does double duty as my translation partner (we share the site He, too, originally comes from Moscow; he, too, thinks that atheism does not liberate one from moral obligations, but quite the other way around. (Sometimes I suspect we're twins.) We made the decision to donate 20% of our shared income together a few years ago.

This interview is part of the "People of Giving What We Can" series which profiles a selection of the Giving What We Can community. The Giving What We Can is a community of people from all walks of life, with different perspectives and motivations for giving -- all united by their desire to make a significant commitment to use their income to effectively helping others. Read more member stories. Share your effective giving story to help inspire others to give more, and more effectively.

For more information about Giving What We Can we recommend you check out our frequently asked questions, our effective giving recommendations, our giving pledges, and our homepage.