What We Can Achieve

Deworming clinic organised by the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI / schisto.org)

You do not have Javascript enabled. Some elements of this website may not work correctly.

Extreme poverty, along with the problems it causes, is probably the worst ongoing disaster in the world today. It has many and complicated causes, including war, corruption, trade policies, debt, climate, disease and famine. Many of these are themselves by-products of poverty, creating a vicious cycle.

Of the 7.15 billion people alive:

  • 702.1 million live on less than USD 1.90 per day.[1]
  • 663 million lack clean drinking water.[2]
  • 793 million people are undernourished.[3]
  • 100 million children don't complete primary schooling.[4]
  • 781 million adults cannot read or write.[5]
  • 3 million children will die each year from preventable diseases.[5]

What we can do

The scale of poverty is immense, and it is easy to think that we in the developed world are powerless to do anything about it. However, the facts tell a very different story.

Official estimates from the United Nations 2013 Human Development Report show just how unequally split the spending, income and health figures are for countries around the world:

  • Military spending worldwide exceeded $1.4 trillion in 2010, more than the GDP of the world’s 50 poorest countries combined.
  • Average gross national income (GNI) per capita in very high HDI countries is more than 20 times that in low HDI countries.
  • Life expectancy in very high HDI countries is a third higher than in low HDI countries. In 2010, the global under five mortality rate was 55 deaths per 1,000 live births, though spread unevenly across HDI groups. Low HDI countries had the highest rate (110 deaths per 1,000 live births) followed by the medium HDI countries (42), high HDI countries (18 deaths) and very high HDI countries (6 deaths).

These figures show just how unequal the global distribution of wealth still is.

What you can do: effective giving

Maybe you don’t give much to charity, but feel like you should. Maybe you’ve been put off by scare stories (often accurate) about donations going to waste due to political corruption or poor planning. Or maybe you haven’t thought much about what your donations could achieve.

If any of this applies to you, our message is simple: It’s good to give generously, but it’s just as important to give effectively. The difference in effectiveness - the good done per dollar donated - between different charities can be startling.

For an example of the difference that effectiveness can make, suppose we want to help people suffering from blindness:

  • In a developed country this would usually involve paying to train a guide dog and its new owner, which costs around $40,000.
  • In the developing world there are more than a million people suffering from trachoma-induced blindness and poor vision which could be helped by a safe eye operation, costing only about $100 and preventing 1-30 years of blindness and another 1-30 years of low vision, according to Givewell.org
  • For the same amount of money as training one guide dog, we could instead prevent 400-12000 years of blindness.

And there are even more effective ways to give, which can transform the lives of hundreds of people. If a typical US citizen gave 10% of his or her income to the right NGOs, then every year they could:

  • Distribute 700 mosquito nets, preventing 190 cases of malaria and 2.2 deaths, or
  • Treat 7,100 people for neglected tropical diseases.

Over the course of a lifetime we could leave an incredible legacy of diseases prevented or cured, and lives extended. We can do all of this without leaving our countries, without changing our careers, and within our means.

Taking action

At Giving What We Can we feel that given these facts, we are obliged to do something about extreme poverty. That’s why we've each made a public pledge to give at least 10% of our incomes to the charities we believe will do the most good in the world. Whatever our incomes, we will all have a tremendous effect on thousands of lives.

If you're ready to start help saving lives, you can join us today by committing to give 10% of your income to effective charities (1% of the spending money for students and people who have little or no income). If you’re not ready for that, sign up with us to Try Giving, which allows you to choose how much of your income to give, and for how long.


  1. "Policy Research Note No.3: Ending Extreme Poverty and …" 2015. 29 Mar. 2016 <http://www.worldbank.org/en/research/brief/policy-research-note-03-ending-extreme-poverty-and-sharing-prosperity-progress-and-policies>

  2. "WHO | Progress on sanitation and drinking water." 2015. 29 Mar. 2016 <http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/jmp-2015-update/en/>

  3. "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 | FAO | Food …" 2009. 29 Mar. 2016 <http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/>

  4. "Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges …" 2015. 29 Mar. 2016 <http://en.unesco.org/gem-report/report/2015/education-all-2000-2015-achievements-and-challenges>

  5. "WHO | Levels and trends in child mortality 2015." 2015. 29 Mar. 2016 <http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/documents/levels_trends_child_mortality_2015/en/>