Cause area

Improving human wellbeing

If you want to help people living today, supporting global health and development is a pressing matter. There are millions of people in low-income countries whose lives could be improved (and even saved, in some cases) by evidence-based, cost-effective interventions.

Please note that this page was formerly titled "Global health and development" — we have since changed the name to better reflect the causes and organisations we now recommend in this area.

Why is improving human wellbeing important?

Many people alive today are not afforded with the opportunities they should be. As of 2015, over 700 million people are living in extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than roughly $2 USD per day — and that number already adjusts for the difference in what one dollar can buy in a higher-income country versus what it can in a lower-income country. Millions of people — almost all from low-income countries — die each year of preventable and curable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrhoeal disease. Mental illness accounts for 10.5% of the global disease burden, with illnesses such as depression and anxiety affecting millions on a daily basis.

Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do — and your donations can have a substantial impact. We recommend some of the best charities and organisations improving human wellbeing.

Examples of work improving human wellbeing

Improving human wellbeing encompasses a range of specific causes that are all aiming to save and improve the lives of people today.

Reducing poverty and illness

By improving the healthcare and economic conditions of the world’s poorest, you’re helping others live the happy and healthy lives they deserve. The top charities working on these problems are able to save a life for approximately $5,000 USD. The fact that this number is so low reflects extreme inequality in how the world’s resources are shared, but it also means that individuals from wealthy countries have a tremendous opportunity to change (even save) someone’s life for a comparably low cost.

To learn more about reducing poverty and illness, we recommend:

Improving education

Education is one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce poverty and improve health, gender equality and economic growth. Yet millions of children around the world are not getting the education they need to reach their full potential.

To learn more about why improving education is an effective way to improve lives today, we recommend Founders Pledge’s research report on education. You can read more about who Founders Pledge are and why we trust them here.

Improving mental health

Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can cause tremendous amounts of suffering, as well as having major economic costs. Yet, treatment can often be effective and inexpensive. For those who see people’s subjective experiences as uniquely important, working to improve mental health is a promising way to improve the lives of people alive today.

To learn more about why improving mental health is an effective way to improve lives today, we recommend Founders Pledge’s research report on mental health. You can read more about who Founders Pledge are and why we trust them here.

We also think there are some good resources on mental health as a pressing cause from the Happier Lives Institute. They’re particularly focused on “subjective well-being” which is a term for how people feel, moment to moment. Their key ideas are available here.

Empowering women

There are many barriers to women's empowerment, including legal discrimination, social norms and gender-based violence. But there is evidence that interventions can overcome these barriers and improve women's lives. Empowering women and girls is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty and improve health and education outcomes not just for women, but for their children and families as well.

To learn more about why empowering women is an effective way to improve lives today, we recommend Founders Pledge’s research report on “Women’s Empowerment”. You can read more about who Founders Pledge are and why we trust them here.

There are also excellent resources on Our World in Data:

Why might you not choose to prioritise causes improving human wellbeing?

We think that many of these causes offer robust way of doing good. This means we're confident that, by supporting our recommended charities in this area, you are significantly improving other peoples' lives.

However, there are a couple of common reasons that some people are reluctant to support this cause area.

You might think you can do more good elsewhere

Depending on how you weigh the suffering of nonhuman animals compared to humans, you may decide to prioritise ending factory farming. Or, you might think what matters most is improving the lives of future generations because, even though there are a large number of people in poverty, there is an astronomical number of people who could live in the future.

We think these are important considerations, each requiring judgement calls that depend on your worldview. Read more about how we recommend prioritising between causes.

Common doubts about the effectiveness of international aid

There are other reasons that some people choose not to prioritise global health and poverty that we do not find persuasive. For example:

We generally recommend giving via a fund (here’s why). These are our top-rated funds improving human wellbeing:

These are our top-rated charities improving human wellbeing:

Learn more about how we chose which charities and funds to recommend.

Other ways to help

There are other ways to help.

  • You can use your career to help make progress. We recommend looking at the openings listed on 80,000 Hours Job Board to see whether you can contribute to this area, or could build the skills most needed to make progress.
  • You could support Charity Entrepreneurship, which supports entrepreneurs as they develop new charities to address pressing issues.

Learn more

To learn more about global health and development, check out the following resources:

Our research

This page was written by Michael Townsend.

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