Effective Altruism and the future of doing good: Is ‘doing good’ enough?

Larissa GWWCLarissa Rowe, Communications Manager at Giving What We Can, writes about the Future of Doing Good from a fresh perspective. Giving What We Can is a not for profit organisation which researches which charities have the highest impact and encourages individuals to donate to them. Giving What We Can is part of the wider Effective Altruism movement, combining head and the heart to find out what will achieve the most good, and then doing it:


“What is fantastic about this discussion is that it is formed by people passionate about the social sector and its power to transform the lives of others. But are we setting our sights high enough?

Sonia’s report identifies many of the challenges of the social sector. A wide array of charities compete for limited resources. They are pushed to over emphasise successes and struggle to accurately measure the results of their work, especially in a climate where donors often have skewed biases against the administrative investment needed for long term success.

The social sector is full of brilliant people working to do good and yet public trust in the sector is still at its “lowest level for eight years”. How can we address these challenges in a unified way?


What if instead of all working in competition, all trying to address different questions, were all trying to answer the same, one question: how can I do the most good possible?

The is the question a new social movement called Effective Altruism is trying to answer. Effective Altruism combines the heart and the head, using reason and evidence to find ways to make the biggest difference. Reason allows us to look beyond the charities closest to our hearts and find the areas where people are in the most need. Evidence helps us identify which interventions which can achieve the most good.

All other things being equal wouldn’t we all want to help people more as opposed to less? After all, most of us would agree that all lives have equal value and people deserve to be treated equally.

When some interventions can be hundreds of times better than others the choices we make can mean the difference between helping one person, and helping hundreds for exactly the same amount of time or money. That is not treating people equally.

For example if you had $40,000 to spend you could choose to fund one guide dog for one blind person or pay for surgery to cure 2,000 people of blindness. With limited resources we are already making these sorts of choices every day. How would you feel if you were one of the 2,000?

Sometimes the more effective solutions are also counter intuitive. Such as paying for deworming tablets for primary school children improving educational attainment better than school subsidies. Until we measure outcomes we might not spot the best options.

By using reason and evidence to work out what interventions and what charities do the most good we can provide a unifying vision of what the future of doing good looks like. One where we use our limited resources to fund the things that will help the most people first and work our way through the world’s problems from there.

This levels the playing field and restores faith in charities by creating a culture of transparency and accountability across the board, independent of government interests or charity size.

We may not have all the answers but this provides a framework to work together to answer the same question: how can I do the most good?”


Is Effective Altruism a powerful solution to some of the biggest social issues? Is it applicable in every setting? Have you used Effective Altruism principles when donating to charity? What works, what doesn’t?

Write your own response to this blog, or any of the other #FutureGood debates. Comment below, and tweet at @givingwhatwecan and @Larissa_rowe


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