On Sunday, 16th August I made a pledge. A lifelong pledge to give 10% of my income to causes that do the most good.
This is something I should have done a long time ago, and for years I had found excuses not to do so. I was saving for a house. I was building financial security. It wasn’t my fault that injustice and hardship existed elsewhere in the world.
But it is. It’s totally my fault.
The food I eat is transported and grown with petroleum products which support corrupt regimes that keep people in poverty. The electricity that powers my laptop, the trains that I catch, and the public lighting I enjoy, comes from environmental destruction and greenhouse gas emission. The animal products I use are the result of cruelty and suffering.
My personal choices can lessen the negative impact I make on the world, but no amount of being car-free or using green energy will eliminate the damage I’m causing. But there is something I can do. I can take responsibility. I can try to make amends.
I live in one of the richest countries on Earth. I have financial, health, housing, and food security. I have valuable and transferrable skills. I’ve had opportunities that much of the world’s population—even those here in Australia—simply never had. At a relatively small cost to me I can make a large difference elsewhere, and I feel it is my moral obligation to do so.
The most effective charities in the world are very effective. 200 million people suffer from malaria each year, and of those, up to 800,000 will die. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 500 people die per day, the vast majority of which are children under five.
But you know what stops malaria? Bed-nets. Treated with insecticide, these not only protect the people they’re distributed to, but they kill the mosquitoes that spread disease, protecting the entire community.
The cost of distributing a net in the DRC—one of the most difficult places in the world to work—is about $7.50 USD, inclusive of all expenses, which include follow-up studies to ensure correct deployment and use. For every thousand children protected with nets, 5.5 lives are saved¹.
The cost-per-life-saved is a little higher than one may get from naive calculations; not every net is used effectively, nets need to be replaced over time, and there are other factors at play. GiveWell estimates a cost of just under $3,500 USD per life saved. Through lifelong giving I have the opportunity to impact many lives, and to do genuine good in the world.
To make sure I remain committed to this pledge, Thomas Hendrey has pledged with me, and we’ll be checking each other’s progress each year. But I would also like you to join me in doing good. Even if you pledge just 1% of your income for a year, that’s a real diffence that can be made. I’ve chosen to do this in conjunction with Giving What We Can, as they provide tracking and support for pledgers, but I am also personally willing to provide social support in helping you keep that pledge. One of my biggest psychological barriers was finding other people to join me in doing good.
¹ Lengeler, Christian. “Insecticide-Treated Bed Nets and Curtains for Preventing Malaria.” In Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, edited by The Cochrane Collaboration. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2004.
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