Activist filter: What is the cause with the most leverage/greatest need?
October 2, 2013 9:34 PM   Subscribe

One day I googled "what is the most effective way to help the world" and found a link that told me to "identify a cause with lots of leverage".
posted by defmute to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Iodized salt
posted by Jacqueline at 9:45 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: The post link was an error; it looks like this is what it was supposed to be. OP, you can let me know if this isn't right.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:19 PM on October 2, 2013

These guy and gals have spent a long time trying to answer that question:*

See also "effective altruism":

See also GiveWell:

There are one or two other "do good" aggregators/raters out there.

*Disclaimer: Some of these guys are friends of friends.
posted by zeek321 at 10:21 PM on October 2, 2013

Clean-burning, efficient cookstoves.
posted by Good Brain at 10:30 PM on October 2, 2013

Best answer: As zeek321 said, there is a worldwide movement that is dedicated to working out exactly this problem of how to help the world in the MOST effective way possible, and assist those in the GREATEST need. It's known as the effective altruism movement.

Rather than guessing or using gut instinct, what these effective altruism organisations do is use the best available evidence and research to assess proven impact on the ground. For example, we know iodized salt (mentioned above) is a good thing that helps people, but is it the absolute best way to help those in need – or is there a cause which is maybe hundreds of times more effective?

Here is a list of the proven, most effective causes according to Oxford-based Giving What We Can. Here is a different list from Peter Singer's Life You Can Save project.

You'll see that one particular cause keeps coming up over and over again in all the research: the Against Malaria Foundation. It's a charity which distributes insecticide-treated mosquito nets in Africa to stop kids getting malaria. A great deal of independent research suggests that this is -- to our best knowledge -- is the absolutely most effective way of saving a life in 2013. A life-saving net costs around $3-$4.

From your title and tags, you mention activism and issues such as the environment. At the moment, the evidence we have suggests that donating your cash to effective, cheap, life-saving health interventions makes a really tremendous impact. It's harder to measure the effects of activism, but the page linked above discusses options for political activism and climate change. If those issues are as important to you as saving lives on the ground, you may wish to support an organisation like Oxfam which combines both effective action to tackle poverty on the ground together with lobbying (eg to improve conditions for poor cocoa farmers, women's rights, etc) and climate change activism. It gets the tick of approval from the Life You Can Save project as highly effective too.
posted by dontjumplarry at 11:53 PM on October 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

I would think that donating to causes that (effectively) advance girls' and women's educational opportunities worldwide has to be one of the highest-leverage means by which to "save the world".

Not only does this help drastically improve the quality and duration of the girls'/women's lives, but it also helps reduce the world's population. That is because more education --> fewer children.

Basically, the world needs fewer people to be sustainable, and getting girls and women better educated (which implicitly includes access to birth control measures) is a hugely powerful way of doing that.

See Population Matters.
posted by Halo in reverse at 2:15 AM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

When I looked into this recently, I went in thinking I was after education charities, particularly for girls and women, as Halo in reverse mentions. My mind was changed when I read (in many independent places) that dollar for dollar, educational outcomes in poor countries are improved more by indirect means than by direct ones, specifically by dealing with problems that make kids too unwell or too hungry to concentrate at school, or even to physically manage the trip to and from school. Turns out that dealing with Schistosomiasis (parasitic worms) is one of the most cost efficient ways to increase participation in education!
posted by lollusc at 3:04 AM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

1. Don't rely on givewell for anything.
2. Check out GiveDirectly, and some of the reasoning for and against it.
3. Consider that charity begins in your own neighborhood. If you're in America you don't live far from people who are sick, or poor, or elderly or undereducated or all of the above. The Church I belong to preaches that while it is important to help people wherever they may live you can make the most impact by joining together with your literal neighbors to improve the lives of the least fortunate around you, whether by joining a charity effort or getting involved in influencing local politics. That takes time, energy and ingenuity rather than money, which is far more precious anyway, and indeed has the most leverage since you will see the long term effects of your work. Not to mention the fact that it benefits you directly as well, since it makes your neighborhood better, giving you a better shot long term to be in a position to give more charity.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:43 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

i know that in areas of africa people don't have clean water to drink. the people walk for hours to get water that gives them illnesses. clean water is just so basic to life. here's a group i personally know who help build water wells for africa.
posted by wildflower at 1:57 PM on October 3, 2013

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