Why Poverty?


This is the second in a series of posts. The first was: Giving What We Can is Cause Neutral.

Given that Giving What We Can is cause neutral, why do we recommend exclusively poverty eradication charities, and focus on our website and materials on poverty? There are three main reasons: the fact that eliminating poverty is morally (relatively) uncontroversial, the robust evidence base for poverty eradication charities, and the importance of thoroughly understanding the charities we recommend. In this post I’ll describe these, and how they impact on our decision making.

Standing together

Giving What We Can is fundamentally trying to establish a baseline for action. Many of the claims effective altruists make seem initially strange and counter-intuitive. But there are some that should be really broadly acceptable: People’s lives and health matter equally whether they are born in the UK or Sierra Leone. We should help people more with our money if we can, even if that means doing the extra bit of research into which charities are the most effective. Those of us lucky enough to be on the median income in the UK have an amazing opportunity to help others simply due to the fact that even when we give away 10% of our income, we’re still in the richest 5% of people globally. We hope that these ideas can bring people with fairly different moral stances together, and can start people thinking both about how to compare the effectiveness of different organisations and about how much they can and would like to help others in their lives.

In order to do this, it’s important to demonstrate the importance of comparing cost-effectiveness within a space that people can broadly agree on. At the same time, we need to weigh that against really making a big difference in getting people to donate more cost-effectively. Some people would likely only be initially interested in hearing about the difference in cost-effectiveness between charities helping people in the UK, for example. But the differences in the good done between charities in the UK and those working in places where people are in extreme poverty seem to be much greater than those between different charities all working in the UK.

We are trying to strike a balance: having enough focus that people can find agreement and are galvanised to act, but being broad enough in the focus area that it plausibly encompasses the most effective interventions. Aiming at eliminating global poverty seems to strike such a balance. Early in our history, we thought that the best way to do this was to focus exclusively on poverty alleviation interventions, and never to mention other cause areas. The more general concept of effective altruism has caught on far more than we expected it to, indicating that people are more open to and inspired by cause neutrality than we had thought. We have therefore been increasingly highlighting areas other than just global poverty.

A robust evidence base

Another consideration for us in which charities to recommend and publicise is riskiness of charities: it doesn’t just matter what the expected value of a donation to a charity is, but also how likely it is that the donation might have no impact. Many people are disillusioned with charities in general, after the horror stories they’ve heard about charities wasting money that was entrusted to them. An important element of our work is persuading people that there are charities that are well-evidenced out there, who will definitely do good work with the money they are donated. Providing that thorough evidence base is important in encouraging people to donate in the first place – all the more so given that we are asking people to donate significantly. Making sure that people’s donations do in fact have an impact is important in making sure that they don’t get disillusioned later. We hope to normalise significant giving throughout people’s lives, not just in the short term.

Well-informed recommendations

Given the significant ask we make of members, they reasonably expect us to have a really thorough understanding of the charities we recommend. Our historical expertise has been in global health, though we have been increasing our scope (including for example climate change), and expect to continue to do so as we increase our research capacity.


These reasons together have meant that we have historically focused entirely on global poverty, and expect to continue doing so for the most part. That’s not to say we will continue with just the same approach. For example, one possibility we’re currently considering is developing an online platform that would allow people to input their preferred risk profile and how inclusive their moral system is, and would make donation recommendations based on that.