It’s not every day you go to an event that may change your life – even if it’s only in a small way. One such event was Monday last week when I went to the Intelligence Squared lecture on effective altruism (podcast of the event here).

Effective altruism is the concept of using your time or resources (i.e. money) to have the greatest impact for good in the world. It argues, for example, that giving money to western charities that are doing research on curing cancer is significantly less effective than giving the same amount of money to groups that provide insect repellent infused mosquito nets. The cost of each example of the latter is much cheaper and the donation you give is therefore more likely to have a significant life changing effect on far more people.

Behind this concept is the idea that a human life has the same value whether it’s someone who is like you or someone in a different culture on the other side of the planet.

This is part of the continued movement to expand the number of people who are in-group to the majority of people to eventually include everyone. Cultural and nationality barriers are so often the causes of things like immigration issues – never mind foreign aid. While so much of the world is seen as other those most in need will often be deprioritsed simply for being different.

So, what does this mean for me? I’ve always given quite a bit to causes and I feel the same social pressures as everyone else when someone I know completes a sponsored event or takes part in a charity drive. It will be hard to stop doing that and move fully to effective giving. Annie and I already have quite a bit invested in Kiva but that mostly came from gifts of money we asked for instead of presents at our wedding.

I think the next steps will be to look at the money I donate on a regular basis and decide if that can be spent more effectively. On top of that I can stop donating to instances of charity that are right in front of me and instead put the money into an account I can donate effectively later.

Let’s see if this works.

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