Part 2: Your opportunity to do a great deal more good

*The original article is from the main Effective Altruism website. © Centre For Effective Altruism; Parts of this article are adapted for Singapore's context. 

How one person can make a great difference

History contains many examples of people who have had a huge positive impact on the world.

Irena Sendler saved 2500 Jewish children from the Holocaust by providing them with false identity documents and smuggling them out of the Warsaw ghetto.

Norman Borlaug’s research into disease-resistant wheat precipitated the ‘Green Revolution’; he has been credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives.

In Singapore, the first prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his government's economic strategies helped the country move out of poverty and high unemployment. The city-state developed from a poor country in 1965 (GDP per capita of US$ 516) to the third wealthiest country in the world (GDP per capita of US$ 56,284 in 2014).

Photo courtesy: The Straits Times,  24 Mar 2015

Photo courtesy: The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

These people might seem like unrelatable heroes, who were enormously brave or skilled or who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

But you too can have a tremendous positive impact on the world, if you choose wisely.


How YOU can make a difference

The simplest way to see this is to look at the impact your money can have. If you’re reading this, then you are probably astonishingly wealthy in global terms. Have a guess at how rich you are by global standards and then take this test to see how rich you really are.

For example, if you earn the typical income in Singapore, and donate 10% of your earnings each year to the Against Malaria Foundation you’ll probably save dozens of lives over your lifetime.

Source:   Doing Good Better  , by Will MacAskill, 2015

Source: Doing Good Better, by Will MacAskill, 2015

This is such an astonishing fact that it’s hard to appreciate.

Imagine if, one day, you saw a burning building, kicked the door down, ran in and rescued a small child. You’d feel like a hero — it would be one of the most important days of your life.

What the evidence shows is that you can do that, every one or two years, for the rest of your working life.

Real-life hero:  Mr Shanmuganathan saving a 3-year-old child     Photo courtesy:  Alvin Lim

Real-life hero: Mr Shanmuganathan saving a 3-year-old child

Photo courtesy: Alvin Lim

What’s more, this doesn’t even take into account the long-run benefits of your actions. Because Irena Sendler saved those Jewish children, generations of people are now alive because of her. Similarly, by helping people in poverty now, you provide benefits to the community that echo for decades.

And your potential for having a positive impact isn’t just confined to money. As well as being among the richest people in the world, you’re probably also among the most highly educated and highly skilled.

And, in fact, it’s plausible that you can do even more good with your time than with your money. For example, Lincoln Quirk, inspired by effective altruism, co-founded Wave, a company that’s poised to enable hundreds of millions of additional dollars of remittances to flow to poor countries.

Whether you choose to give, to serve or to create solutions, the likelihood is that YOU are able to make more of a difference to people's lives that you might realize.

YOU can change someone's life. 


(To be continued...)

Wanyi Zeng