This profile is part of the "People of Giving What We Can" series by Alexandra Heller.
What are you currently up to in life?
I’m a computer science student at Copenhagen University and work for IBM as a consultant.
Why did you join Giving What We Can?
I was introduced to Effective Altruism through LessWrong in eighth grade, about six or seven years ago. I interpreted it mostly as a wacky idea. “Helping other people, wouldn’t that be crazy?”, not giving it much further thought than that. Years later I began donating to AMF and by accident stumbled upon a Danish fundraiser on their webpage. That’s how I was introduced to the Danish EA community.
I decided to attend one of their events, and to my surprise I discovered there was an entire community of people who were keen on doing it seriously. I immediately felt at home. I spent the following year actively participating in their events and getting to know the international EA landscape. I took the pledge to signify for myself that I was serious about the community and wanted to dedicate myself fully to it.
There’s also a selfish motivation for doing it. Before joining the Effective Altruism movement, I would see all the suffering and injustice in the world, knowing that I was living in the wealthiest part of the world, had been given every opportunity one could ask for, and was doing nothing to help. “It’s just a drop in the ocean,” I would tell myself, riddled with guilt, because I deep down knew I wasn’t doing my part. When I started giving, that guilt completely disappeared. No TV or other purchase could make up for the peace I gained through giving.
How do you track your contributions vs. your income?
I am currently donating most of it to the Effective Altruism Funds through the Giving What We Can website — that’s all the tracking that I need. I do my best to write in donations I make outside of EA Funds as well.
What organisations do you give to?
I really like the four Effective Altruism Funds. I specifically decided that, while I can easily spend hours upon hours researching where to give, there are already people spending all their time on this. I put full trust into the people who have been managing them; I’ve met them at conferences and I sincerely believe they will do a better job than I will.
I value future and present life equally so I probably skew towards making sure that future humans exist in a world worth living in. But I also make sure I’m also giving to charities that are trying to do good now. If you stop caring about animal lives and global poverty, it’s going to be a hard sell to others that you’re doing the most good by donating your money to all these weird things that are not obviously important. I think it’s essential that we spend at least part of our donations on causes that anyone would find undoubtedly good.
Do you try to effect change in any other ways?
I’m pretty active in the Danish EA community. We try to do outreach with the typical community-building stuff. If you convince even one person to join the cause, and she/he is as capable as yourself, you have effectively doubled your impact.
I am vegan, which is funny because I used to rather dislike vegans. But then I joined the Danish Effective Altruism community and basically every one of them were vegan. I thought, “There’s no way that every one of these people, whom I agree with on basically everything, happen to all be wrong on this.” The fact that animals suffer is hard to care about when you’re eating meat. You cannot eat meat and truly acknowledge the suffering you’re causing at the same time. It’s one or the other. Only months after quitting did my empathy for animals come to the surface.
Is there any change you most hope for in the world?
I’d really like to see a culture of niceness and giving in the West. In Danish society, it’s all too common to view oneself as the victim: “Maybe society is too capitalistic or maybe not capitalistic enough, but one thing is for certain—it’s definitely those other guys’ fault.” I’d like to see us adopt a mindset of cooperation and eagerness to help where we can rather than viewing ourselves as fighters against a perceived tyranny.
Have you ever talked to anyone about Giving What We Can?
Many times, but it’s not something I ever try to sell. It easily comes across as self-righteous. Instead it’s better to be a person who is successful and enjoying life; people will start wondering why. You can start by doing rather than telling. Telling people what they should do will not work. Pushing your values onto others only breeds resentment.
Have any books, documentaries, articles, or studies significantly changed the way you see giving?
Looking apart from the typically recommended books, one book that I took much from is The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I think many people will find Ayn Rand’s idolization of the individual problematic. I mean, the villain is a guy who donates money to the poor and the hero is somebody who sabotages the construction of a low-income housing project. Not exactly EA stuff. But the book made it blatantly apparent to me how much time and energy I spent conforming to others’ worldviews. The Fountainhead helped me become my own person, rather than someone whose self-worth rests upon validation from others. If you have a nagging thought of “am I good enough?”, maybe this book is for you.
Stories of people suffering have also changed my perspective. It’s nice to say, “look, one million people die of this every year,” but I would never relate to it on a deeper level. Reading one person’s story of experiencing these terrible situations, that will inspire me to be a better person and help, while reading yet another set of statistics won’t inspire much action. Ideally statistics should be more meaningful than the story, but I’m not a perfectly rational person and I think pretending to be can lead you astray.
There’s no secret that the EA community is not that diverse, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be. Trying to put an emphasis on diversity could be really healthy. I don’t see why my parents couldn’t do Giving What We Can, yet they don’t. We could do a lot of good done by spreading it to people. You don’t have to be interested in the AI destruction of the world to be involved.
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.