Giving effectively — diversified “giving” portfolio under EA

by Eva Ye


When it comes to making charitable donations, one almost always compares his available resources to no more than a drop in the ocean. Yet the concept of "wealth" is relative. Most people are more affluent than they think on a global scale. Individually, we are one drop, but together, we are the ocean. Unfortunately, many individuals fail to recognize the immense impact they could collectively create by harnessing the ripple effects of individual altruistic acts. How can individuals realize the incredible power of their small actions? How can we give effectively?

Assuming we have a couple thousand dollars on hand to give, we would then wonder, what kind of impact can we maximally create? For example, should we donate to feed the underprivileged in the local community in Sham Shui Po? Or adopt EA's utilitarian mindset to help the kids suffering from malaria in Africa, where our money can go further and assuage a more dire situation? Even if we found one most-effective way of using the money, how can we ensure that there exists a responsible and reliable charitable organization which takes great care in spending our money wisely?

Following EA's evidence-based approach to finding the best way to help, organizations such as GiveWell have conducted in-depth research to put together a list of charities that are large in scale and focus on public health and global poverty. Contributing to those causes, though not directly solving systemic problems at their root, indirectly alleviates the effects of systemic issues by saving as many lives as possible.

I, along with many others who had been associating doing good with community-based philanthropic activities, might wonder — does this approach sometimes turn a blind eye to the people who are starving right in front of us? Although it took a while to adapt to the hard-and-fast cost-effective-oriented mindset in "calculating" the value of a cause, EA's pro-utilitarian approach does not downplay the importance of a range of other ethical theories, such as personal virtues, freedom, and equality. On the contrary, its overarching advocacy of believing that helping others is essential nudges me, and I think many others as well, to reflect on our behaviors more critically and become more aware of what we could have done better to help. Although it might be hard to measure the cost-effectiveness of local charities, if we try to picture the landscape of giving as an investment portfolio — in other words, a "giving" portfolio — then giving locally and giving globally are not mutually exclusive

Indeed, giving overseas might allow one to have the certainty of doing at least some good with lower costs than domestically. Yet, giving locally also gives us an immediate sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, which is necessary for propelling us always to take the high road and value the effectiveness of our actions to help others With a beautifully balanced "giving" portfolio, the drops of our individual efforts will surely come together and form an ocean of compassion and empathy that nourishes the lives around us and those, equally precious, with whom we may never cross paths.