Blog post

Why I joined Giving What We Can as a student

4 min read
14 Jul 2014

‘1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty.’

I think what happens to a lot of us when presented with a statistic like this is the following: we have a fleeting thought about how awful it is, and we then carry on with our lives: worrying about an exam, choosing between cereals at the supermarket, scrolling through our Facebook newsfeeds.

Just over a year ago, I decided this statistic needed more than just a fleeting thought. 1.2 billion people live without enough money to meet their basic needs – their needs for things like food, sanitation, healthcare, and shelter. It didn’t seem right that just because I was born in the right place, at the right time, I have easy access to all these things and much, much more.

After I decided this was a problem I’d like to do something about, the next question was whether it was possible to help. Should I volunteer? Raise awareness? Donate to charity? Would any of these actually do any good? I think there’s a bit of a misconception within the world of ‘doing good’ that giving money is too easy. For something to really make an impact, it has to be hard, right? Well… no, actually.

Something that’s really exciting to me is the opportunity we have to alleviate the suffering of others through our donations. The most effective charities can significantly and quantifiably improve people’s lives for astonishingly small amounts of money. Giving What We Can’s recommended charities work in developing countries as there, our money goes further and problems can be very cheap to tackle [1]. For example, less than $0.50 per year treats a child for intestinal worms [2], which benefits their development, education and general health. It costs around $6 to purchase and deliver one malaria net, an intervention that is proven to reduce malaria cases and child mortality [3].

That’s not to say other ways of helping the poor, like volunteering and raising awareness, aren’t valuable. Furthermore, the two aren’t mutually exclusive: giving money doesn’t mean I can’t give my time too. However, there’s no escaping the fact that money can make a huge impact: buying 10 years of deworming treatment for the cost of a latte seems like an unrivalled opportunity to me.

After I decided it made sense to donate to the most cost effective charities, I then had to ask myself how much I should donate. I’ve now pledged to give 10% of my earned income throughout my career. People often ask how I donate 10% when I’m a student, but if you’re not earning, Giving What We Can only requires you to give 1% of your disposable income. I’m glad I’ve taken the pledge before I start earning, as it means I won’t notice the drop in income when I start giving more and can form good giving habits right from the start of my career.

10% may seem like a lot, but I’m confident that living on 90% of my income will enable me to live a happy, healthy and comfortable life, whilst saving for the future. I don’t believe that extra 10% will increase my happiness significantly, and I certainly don’t think I will spend it on anything as valuable as multiple years of healthy life for another person. Furthermore, being part of Giving What We Can is a really fun and exciting part of my life: I get to hang out with friendly, like-minded people who are continually questioning and improving on the knowledge we have about the best ways to help others.

The last question I had to ask myself was why pledge, and why so publicly? Although I’m relatively young, I want to make sure I live up to the values I hold strongly today. Pledging ensures that my fleeting thoughts about the suffering of others are, and continue to be, more than just thoughts.

Talking openly about giving is not something that’s widely done in our culture; in fact, I still find myself a little shy when talking to friends about Giving What We Can. However, we’re more likely to give if we know others are doing the same, so it doesn’t really make sense to keep quiet about it, as inspiring one other person to do the same doubles my impact. Finally, I’d like to see a world where using significant amounts of our wealth to help others is a completely normal thing to do, and being part of this community takes us one step closer to that.

  2. “Deworming: A Best Buy for Development.” J-PAL Policy Bulletin, March 2012