This profile is part of the "People of Giving What We Can" series.
We recently spoke with Adriana Saso-Graves from Saint Paul, Minnesota. They shared with us their effective giving story, including their journey to effective giving, what motivates them to give, and what organisations they give to.
I am a 22-year-old recent graduate of Macalester College. I received my BA in Philosophy and am now working towards developing a career in data science and machine learning, which will hopefully allow me to earn to give while also working at the cross-section of ethical AI and animal rights. I consider myself, above all else, a lifelong learner. I believe strongly that we should continuously better ourselves and engage ourselves in a community that will hold us to the standard that we are capable of achieving.
My effective giving journey began about 2 years ago when I took an ethics course to complete my philosophy degree. I, like many other students, was introduced to EA and utilitarianism during my studies. During the COVID pandemic, I received payments from HEERF (Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund) designed to support students from low-income backgrounds. They were very generous payments and I began to set aside, for the first time in my life, a decent amount of savings. I paid off my credit card debt. I didn't feel so financially insecure. I realized that it was ludicrous to take and keep all of the HEERF funds that I was being given.
I live in the Twin Cities and during the unrest following the murder of George Floyd, I used whatever amount I arbitrarily designated as “extra” to directly support Black peers, or sent them to mutual aid funds in the Twin Cities. As the unrest died down some, I realized that while I was mostly content with the way that I had spent my extra funds, I was also seriously considering how I would have used it if I had kept it and if I could have spent it better. I realized that even in my days of economic insecurity I could definitely spare at least $10-15 per month.
So I set up $5 automated payments to Feed My Starving Children, an organization that delivers nutritionally complete, vegan meals for $0.25 USD to children in need. I also set up small, recurring payments to AMF. My history with financial insecurity has prevented me from signing the pledge, despite the fact that I have known of its existence for some time. I have known what it's like to have to make it an entire month with $8 in your bank account (yes, just $8, and nothing in savings).
I also just went to Starbucks with a $10 gift card and bought a quadruple shot large soy latte and the total came out to $8. To be clear, I'm not ashamed of this purchase. The latte was delicious and the gift card was, well, a gift. But it occurred to me that there were many ways in which I could revamp my budget and increase my giving if I really committed to it. I haven't been in a position where I only had $8 to my name in over 4 years. I went home and calculated "How Rich Am I" and realized I was in the top 94% globally and I knew then I needed to sign up.
Mostly it's the realization that almost nothing I could pay for with 10% of my income would outweigh the utility it could have for another person, especially when donated to an effective organization/charity. Granted, I do not have children and only have 2 cats, and my immediate family and I are in good health.
If I make $937 after taxes every 2 weeks making $15/hour, I often think about what I can do with that extra $187 per month. Groceries? Eating at my favorite plant-based restaurant? A new pair of running leggings and a book? That $187 can buy between 62.3 and 93.5 malaria nets (assuming the cost estimate is between $2-3 per net). Annually that's around 1,000 malaria nets for people who desperately need them.
Alternatively, that's 748 meals for children suffering malnutrition if I donate it to Feed My Starving Children (in other words, over 2 years of providing a nutritionally complete meal daily to a starving child). If I do that monthly, that's 8,976 meals, or 24.5 years' worth of daily nutrition. Is there anything right now that would be a better investment? If so, how? If I was in need of a malaria net or if I was suffering malnutrition and starvation, what choice would I hope for?
Sure, that $187 might help me feel more comfortable or hopeful about my future if I were to put it away in savings, but it helps someone else feel exponentially more comfortable or hopeful about theirs, considering that if I were ever in a place where $187 would make a huge difference in my life, I know that within a number of years my government, my family, and my friends would probably help me figure out how to get back on my feet. And there are millions of people for whom that sort of socio-political infrastructure does not exist.
I took the pledge because I know that whatever amount I donate will go farther for someone who lives in a country where $1 USD has much higher purchasing power. One may think that this could have an undesirable effect, in that someone could limit their giving since they might think that they don't need to give much to have a sizable impact. I, however, find it's the complete opposite for me. Giving as much as I can AND knowing how far my donations can go highlights the importance of giving to effective charities. What are the issues in the world that you care most deeply about?
There are so many issues that I care deeply about, but among the biggest are animal rights and climate change (big intersection there), as well as global poverty (perpetuated by issues related to malnutrition and universal basic income), and access to reproductive choice including birth control (for male and female individuals) and abortion.
Against Malaria Foundation - They’re highly cost-effective and work on a cause that has a clear path to impact.
Feed My Starving Children - They’re a religious-based organization that does not perform missionary work. They bring stability to children/communities who are lifted out of malnutrition.
GiveDirectly - They provide direct funds to individuals living in extreme poverty.
On occasion, sure. My career just got started and I make $15 an hour. In many metropolitan areas, this is the socially accepted or legal minimum wage. At times, I worry about slipping into the kind of financial insecurity that I have experienced previously, and I fear that donating will limit the full expanse of financial freedoms I have. I’ve found that often it's been the opposite, however. Realizing that I do have extra funds to spare and having seen the ways in which I am able to prioritize other things makes me feel much more eager to increase my income to do more good, but also makes me feel more satisfied with my current financial situation. Although at times, yes, there is a little voice in the back of my head that says "why can't we just wait until we are making $XX,XXX per year?" which is the same voice that says "why can't we just go to the gym tomorrow instead?" It's a stupid voice and I choose not to listen to it. Just because I can't have the impact I want to right away, it's certainly a bigger impact than I would have if I didn't give.
Yep! I volunteer at a local farmed animal sanctuary, I volunteer with the Humane League, and I also volunteer packing meals at Feed My Starving Children. In addition, I am working with my partner on an animal rights campaign and I am also working on opinion pieces related to topics of effective altruism, animal rights, and veganism.
If you're at all hesitant, I would set up a monthly recurring donation of $5 and see if you notice it missing. If you can't commit to 10% of your income, try 5% or even 1% and scale up when you have extra funds. If finances become a struggle, think of ways you can be involved in organizations that don't make as much money. Donating your time can sometimes not be as effective as donating your funds, but if you can convince others to donate their funds, that's no small accomplishment. If you can do both, that’s fantastic.
Sometimes I like to ask people what's the dumbest thing they ever spent $20 on. Or if they remember the last time $20 fell out of their pocket and what effect it had on them. Was it a bummer? Probably. Would it have made them feel better to have given that $20 intentionally to an effective charity? Almost always.
I feel a lot more grateful generally speaking. I want to avoid the idea that we should always feel grateful just because others may have it worse, but thinking about the ways in which it could be worse does make you realize all the ways in which things are genuinely good. When I have a bad day, I usually come home and take a shower with hot water, have a nutritionally sufficient meal, and I can take a nap in my bed in my decently safe neighborhood. For most of human history, it has not been this easy to have your needs met.
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.