Giving money away can be very personal. It’s based on your preferences, perspective on the world, personal experience, and more. So this section will only give a short overview of top charities and their QALY (or other relevant) indicators.
A few things that I think you can keep in mind when reading the following:
- Your giving can radically change (or save) someone’s life. For as little as a few thousand euro/dollars, you can prevent a child from dying.
- The wrong donation can accomplish nothing. Even many well-intentioned projects fail to deliver any QALYs.
- Your donation is most effective where people have the least. In a developing country it will solve ‘easy’ (read: neglected) diseases, prevent more hunger, save more lives.
- The time you take to consider where to give can be your most impactful hours spent. If you decide to donate, or donate more effectively, a few hours of research may translate into multiple lives saved, thousands of blind people prevented or kids dewormed.
- But, we don’t know all the (unintended) consequences of our giving. You could even say that we’re quite clueless about most of the effects of giving. For brevity, I’ve not highlighted the uncertainty much more below.
Another interesting essay that speaks to this question of where to give is ‘Scope Insensitivity‘ by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Here he argues that the amount of money we are willing to give is not coupled to the amount of good it does. Or at least not when we haven’t thought about it much. Recommended reading.
GiveWell is the best authority on this account and their staff spends thousands of hours researching charities each year. Also worth reading are (very similar) recommendations by The Life You Can Save, Founders Pledge, and EA Funds.
Malaria sucks. It’s a mosquito-borne disease that comes from mosquitos. If you get malaria you will become ill, or die. Malaria mostly affects women and children. Each year 228 million people will get malaria, of which 400.00 will die (67% of whom are children under 5). (this used to be close to a million people in 2000, progress is being made)
Malaria can be prevented by long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (AMF), some medications (chemoprevention, Malaria Consortium), and vaccination (but currently only 40% effective in kids).
The estimated costs of malaria in Africa is $12 billion (health care costs, people not working, less tourism).
Deworming can prevent many bad outcomes. One of these is blindness (see the text at the top). Other outcomes are better school attendance (less absence due to illness of kids) and other outcomes later in life. A deworming treatment costs $1.
Other most-effective charities
Next to these two, other programs focus on vitamin supplementation and the distribution of cash. The latter is a good example of something that is very effective (if given to mothers) but still 10-15 times less effective as spending directly on malaria prevention.
The information above is (mostly) based on GiveWell.
Mental health accounts for 10% of the global disease burden. The costs can be felt by almost every person on this earth. If you haven’t dealt with mental health issues, you definitely know someone who has. The global costs are estimated at $2.5 trillion.
In many countries around the world, there is almost no money spent on mental health (less than $2 per person). In middle- or low-income countries there are almost no psychologists, there is a stigma on mental health disorders (everywhere), and no priority on fixing the problems.
Some charities are working on fixing this. They employ people from local communities (e.g. elder women) who learn basic talk therapy skills.
Note: The best estimate is that they prevent one year of depression (MDD) at $248 which is equal to 1-3 sessions with a therapist in Europe. If compared to AMF, the costs of adding extra good years (QALYs) are within an order of magnitude.
Note 2: I’m personally working on psychedelics and their potential for the improvement of mental health. My estimate (also see Founders Pledge) is that for many years it won’t be as effective as Strong Minds or similar organisations.
Animal welfare can be improved from two directions. Giving is most effective when done via campaigns that influence big companies. This is done effectively by the Humane League (recommended via Animal Charity Evaluators). Their corporate outreach campaigns have resulted in many improvements in (factory farm) animal care.
Another route is by reducing (eliminating) animal products (meat, milk, etc) use. Next to animal suffering, there are many other good reasons like fighting climate change, lowering the chance of a next pandemic, and many more (e.g. see this essay). A charity that is working effectively on offering meat/milk/etc alternatives is The Good Food Institute.
Personally, I’m less clear on the QALYs that these companies can add (there is more uncertainty, from how large their influence is to the level of (human-comparable) suffering animals have). But that doesn’t mean that these charities and your personal impact aren’t important.
Note: Effective animal charities offer a good example of how our first intuition and what is effective differ. Most money for animal care is spent on shelters for dogs and cats, whilst the same people continue eating live cooked fish, and pigs.
Within effective altruism, there is less focus on global warming. It’s my understanding that, how bad these effects may be, the bad effects of malaria and other areas are worse/cheaper to prevent.
However, global warming can be a multiplier for other bad outcomes. It could make the area that mosquitos live in larger, lead to mass migration (less stable world), lost harvest, and more.
Currently, we don’t have a good way out. Reduction and replanting are two things that we’re doing (not very well). Solutions like capturing carbon from the air and geoengineering are being developed.
One thing to consider with regard to climate change is the following two scenarios (about which I need to learn more). In the first scenario we limit economic growth (so the world is 200% richer in 2100) and we have 2°C degrees warming. In the second scenario we continue growing (300% richer) and there is 4°C degrees warming, which world would be better to live in?
A final note on climate change. Your most effective personal action here would be the money you donate to effective charities – not taking the train or flying less often. Or in other words, the CO2 (equivalent) that you can prevent with a donation is so much larger than taking a bike instead of a car (which you should still do). The next best thing to do personally, not having kids. See this great report by Founders Pledge for more.
We are currently creating minds that one day will bypass us. There is no physical law that says that we can’t make artificial intelligence (AI) that is more creative than us.
When this will happen is hotly debated. When that data/period comes, we should better make sure that we’ve created a benevolent ‘God’.
The AI safety community has been working on this problem for many decades and is (in some respects) now just part of the AI research agenda (as car safety research is in car development).
Besides reading a few books on this problem/challenge, I can’t say that I know what is best to do here as an individual donor (again, my uncertainty/lack of knowledge if a donation does any good).
In the future, many billions more people will roam this earth (and the universe). Their lives should be as valuable as life happening right now, but as there are many more (possible) people in the future, should we then not do our very best to make sure that the future is good?
Longtermism (which is a growing part of the EA movement) argues that interventions geared towards improving the change that our future will be good add the most QALYs.
Although I agree with the premise, I’m personally not familiar enough with the literature to say that I know if we (through charity) can be effective in helping here. I would need to do more research.
How to Give?
If you’re in The Netherlands, you can find out which charities have an ANBI (NGO) status here via ‘Doneer Effectief‘.