As a hopeful high school student preparing my Yale application, I came across a webpage outlining what Yale looks for in an applicant. Top of the list were the ability to make the most of opportunity, a passion to cultivate talent and an outstanding public motivation — a “concern for something larger than themselves.” Life on campus has convinced me that this maxim is true for many of us. I have found that the desire to positively impact the world is what motivates what many Yalies choose to study and engage in. By and large, this is a student body that places value on doing good — so what place should giving to charity hold in our community?
Charity has become an almost tainted word. The numerous connotations attached to charitable organizations — misdirected funds, government corruption, donor dependency and poor planning — have led many individuals to shy away from charitable giving. This instinct is valid in itself; we need to make sure that the resources we put toward addressing global issues are used to best effect. The issue lies not in the act of giving itself but in the way we give. Our resources can be used to combat disease, improve education and make a tangible difference in others’ quality of life — but this requires that we approach giving to charity with thorough consideration of how our donations will be used.
Focusing in on the most effective charities operating today demonstrates the potential of charitable giving. Thanks to aid efforts, smallpox has been eradicated. Cases of guinea worm, a debilitating parasite, have gone from 3.5 million to just 25 in the past 30 years. Distributing insecticide-treated bed nets has reduced malaria cases by 68 percent over the last 15 years, saving around 6.2 million lives. And the impact is not limited to health benefits. Interventions such as regular deworming treatments have been shown to increase school attendance, leading to increased adulthood earnings, a crucial step in breaking the cycle of poverty.
But the question remains: how do we ensure that the money we donate effects a real positive impact? This is a question that Effective Altruism, a movement that espouses the idea that we should use every available resource and skill in our efforts to improve the world, attempts to tackle. If we want to do the most good possible, we need to employ reason and evidence to ascertain how to best improve the lives of others with the funds we give to charity, rather than ticking the “charity” box and feeling good about our altruistic efforts. We dedicate time and energy to discerning the most advantageous car purchases and the best medical treatments for our ailments. Why don’t we apply the same logic when donating to charity organizations?
Luckily, we are not alone in this endeavour. Organizations such as GiveWell conduct in-depth research to identify charities that are poised to do the most possible good. They have targeted charities such as the Against Malaria Foundation that are incredibly impactful, transparent and insufficiently funded. When we remove charity from the realm of ideals and treat it with the same rigorous analysis we apply to other domains that matter to us, giving can create global change.
The fact that the average Yale graduate earns around $66,000 within 10 years situates us securely in the most affluent 0.7 percent of the global population. This gives us the ability to provide considerable support to charities that are equipped to effect the positive change we want to see in the world. Facts such as “800 million people live on less than $2 per day” and “22,000 children die each day due to poverty” are thrown at us constantly. The magnitude of the issue can seem overwhelming, but that should never prevent us from attempting to do the good within our reach and from giving what we can to improve the lives of others.
What would the world look like if giving became the norm? When faced with the scale of global poverty, it is easy to forget how powerful our pooled resources could be. If the world’s richest 10 percent (which includes the average Yalie) gave 10 percent of their earnings to charity, it would result in $4 trillion directed toward improving the world. Just a fraction of that could drastically improve the conditions of millions across the globe. The Giving What We Can movement, in which individuals pledge to donate 10 percent of their income, is working toward realizing this future. This commitment can have a remarkable impact on the wellbeing of others — and for the average Yale alumnus, giving 10 percent of their income away results in their still being in the richest 0.8 percent of the world’s population.
Giving to charity is not, of course, the only way or even the best way to have a positive effect on the world. Our career choices, voting and advocacy can create more widespread and lasting change than our individual monetary contributions can. But donating and political activity are not mutually exclusive; they are complementary ways of living out our ideals.
There are many reasons to give: a sense of personal duty, the fact that giving to others makes us happier people or simply a concern for something larger than ourselves. Whatever the reason, effective giving has the power to bring us a step closer to the kind of world we want to live in.
Rachel Calcott is a first year in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .