Effective altruism is the project of using evidence and reason to figure out how to best contribute to helping others, and taking action on that basis.
Effective altruism is:
(i) the use of evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to maximize the good with a given unit of resources, tentatively understanding ‘the good’ in impartial welfarist terms, and
(ii) the use of the findings from (i) to try to improve the world.
The first part of the definition (i) refers to effective altruism as an intellectual project (or ‘research field’); and the second part (ii) refers to effective altruism as a practical project (or ‘social movement’).
The effective altruism community (the 'social movement') is a collection of people and organisations who use their resources (e.g. money, time, social capital) on the project of trying to effectively improve the world.
Giving What We Can is one of the organisations formed in the early effective altruism movement (read more about our history) and continues to remain very active within it.
The term effective altruism was coined by the team who founded The Centre For Effective Altruism. They were looking for a phrase that described the persuit of finding better ways to help others and taking action on that basis.
Altruism is all about selflessly helping others. It is taking actions to help others, even at an immediate cost to ourselves. For example, giving your lunch to someone who is hungry is altruistic because it helps someone who is hungry, but at a cost of being hungry yourself.
However, research shows that while altruism may "cost us" in a material sense, it often enriches our lives because giving makes us happier. Therefore being an altruist is often actually a "positive sum game" where both parties benefit.
Being effective simply means that we are being successful at producing a desired or intended effect (or result). For example, if we desire to help someone but it hurts them then we are not being effective. If we can spend $10 to buy food for one person, or $10 to buy equally healthy food for ten people then the second is more effective.
If you’re inspired by the ideas of effective altruism, there are many ways you can take action:
- Donate to effective charities or take a giving pledge (read why pledging can help)
- Find a fulfilling career that does good
- Attend an effective altruism conference
- Get involved with the effective altruism community