Effective Altruism (EA) is an emerging movement based on a simple idea: that we ought to use reason and evidence to do the most good in the world. This summer I had the opportunity to attend the EA Global conference in Berkeley, which brought together people from the realms of philosophy, international health and development, research methods, nonprofit management, philanthropy and many other fields to think about ways to make our work as effective as possible.
EA strikes a chord with me because it provides broad real-world applications for research techniques such as impact evaluation and cost-benefit analysis. It’s an intriguing way of sidestepping the process and political debates which often monopolize our thinking about programs, in favor of a more outcomes-based model. In the EA way of thinking, how much money programs spend on administration or fundraising doesn’t matter; nor whether they are religious organizations, NGO’s or any other structure. Rather, what matters is how effective they are in leveraging funds towards improving people’s lives.
As a relatively new movement, EA still has a number of questions to answer. For example, it tends to prioritize incremental, person-level change over systemic change, and it favors easily measurable outcomes over those that are less hard to measure. It also tends to overlook opportunities close to home in favor of those abroad, as the cost-benefit ratios for interventions in the developing world tend to be higher. But the community is thoughtful and embraces self-reflection, and all of these considerations are seen as ripe opportunities for future exploration.
For more on effective altruism and how you can help, visit the following resources:
- The Effective Altruism website.
- The Centre for Effective Altruism
- Peter Singer’s book and website delineating the philosophical underpinnings of EA, The Life You Can Save.