We see the images, hear the voices, read the stories, and we are moved. We want to do something. We feel compelled to contribute, to fix the problem, heal the pain, save lives. In our heart-centered haste to do good, might we compound the problem? Is our “obvious” solution to the problem truly the solution?
Nick Bostrom, Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, began pondering these same questions decades ago. He wondered, “What should one do if one wants to have the greatest expected positive effect on the world?”
In 2003, Bostrom co-founded Giving What We Can, and in 2009, he set up the Centre for Effective Altruism.
The thinking behind Effective Altruism (EA) is a radical departure from how we engage in philanthropy. EA moves us beyond the “feel good” involvement in the problems of the world.
How to Bring Systemic Change
Effective Altruism defines itself as “a research field that employs superior evidence and meticulous reasoning to determine the optimum way to help others.” EA is a model of philanthropic behavior. At the same time, it is also a community of individuals who genuinely want to bring systemic solutions to the most pressing problems global societies face.
A New Way to Think About Charity
Charity rushes in to “fix” a problem, but frequently it creates more problems. With logic and reason, we might understand that the problem is merely a symptom. If we step back and peel off the layers, we can find the roots.
Effective Altruism employs a few core criteria when considering philanthropic projects. They must be:
· Large scale problems affecting the most vulnerable
Additionally, interventions must be cheap and highly effective, and there must be measurable metrics of success.
Using EA to Guide Our Charitable Donations
At first glance, EA can seem counter-intuitive, but the idea is to optimize the amount of good that can be achieved. For example, you might think that the best way to improve the educational achievement of impoverished children in Africa is to donate money to a charity that provides books. However, it has been proven that contributing to a deworming program will have a more significant impact. According to scientific studies, deworming reduces absenteeism by as much as 25 percent. If children can come to school, they will learn.
Corporate Social Responsibility
As entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, we have a responsibility to look beyond the matrix of expanding market share and increasing profits. We call it “corporate social responsibility.” But are we manifesting this responsibility in a way that has a lasting impact? How do we become real partners in a global effort to move beyond “talking points” and into sustainable solutions?
I believe that the Effective Altruism model helps us shift from the heart to the intellect, to use logic and reason. As entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, we are accustomed to using logic and reason. These are drivers behind our business decisions, strategic plans, product development, and so forth. The challenge is to remember to utilize this same matrix when prioritizing our corporate social responsibility in the world.