After attending the EA Student Summit this past weekend, I realized how few EAs are aware of the EA-aligned organization One for the World (OFTW). Therefore, I figured it would be helpful to write a forum post explaining what OFTW is while arguing that EA should focus on growing OFTW chapters alongside EA student groups.
[For reference, I’m the co-founder and co-president of OFTW Brown. I also help run Brown EA and have been a facilitator for our introductory and in-depth fellowships, so this post is based on my experiences with both clubs.]
What is One for the World?
One for the World is an international, chapter-based movement of students working to end extreme poverty by encouraging their peers to pledge to donate 1% of their future earnings to effective charities. It seeks to change charitable giving by raising awareness about effective giving and creating a culture of sustained giving. OFTW partners with GiveWell to recommend which charities students should donate to.
Why might OFTW chapters be highly impactful?
OFTW is less intellectually and personally demanding than Effective Altruism
One for the World offers students who want to make a difference in the world an opportunity to engage with EA—through exposing them to the ideas of effective giving and evidence-based reasoning—in less personally and intellectually demanding ways than EA. From my experience, many college students know which career/ cause-area they’d like to work on early on in their undergraduate degrees. For these undergrads who already have pre-existing plans they don’t want to change, EA becomes less appealing to them. It’s harder for them to commit to being cause-neutral. They might feel pressure to change their career trajectory, and there are two main negative outcomes when this occurs. (Not including if the student changes their career trajectory; I see that as a positive outcome.) First, the student engages in motivated reasoning about why their career-choice is impactful by EA standards but feels less supported by EA. Second, the student chooses to leave the community. OFTW, however, doesn’t explicitly focus on encouraging students to pursue highly impactful careers. Therefore, OFTW is less personally demanding of its members. OFTW also has a low barrier to entry: while students can join an executive board or become a student ambassador, the majority of people involved in OFTW only attend an event or two and take the pledge.
OFTW is not as intellectually demanding as EA for several reasons. Since it is a cause-specific organization working to alleviate extreme global poverty, that essentially erases EA’s central work of evaluating which causes are the most important. Students don’t have to compare the value of alleviating global poverty against mitigating existential risks, improving animal welfare, or improving institutional decision-making. Furthermore, OFTW encourages students to give to GiveWell’s recommended top charities. Even within the realm of global health and development, OFTW has already done the work for students in compiling the most impactful interventions. Taking the 1% pledge is significantly easier than comparing interventions across a wide variety of cause areas.
OFTW can engage students who don’t significantly care about making a difference in the world and offer them the chance to make an impact
For students who don’t prioritize doing good, OFTW may be their sole interaction with EA concepts. Many students’ career decisions are based on social norms or their desire to make lots of money after college. Essentially, OFTW can tell those students that yes, you can “sell-out” while making an incredible impact and saving lives. Even better, the more money you make, the more you’ll be able to donate and save even more lives! Through taking the pledge, regularly giving to effective charities, and seeing their outsized impact, maybe those students will be more likely to reconsider how they can make a difference with their careers.
Giving 1% is easier than giving 10%
Encouraging students to take the 1% pledge is more tractable and marketable than other EA giving pledges. While Giving What We Can is an admirable organization, I can’t imagine many college students would quickly agree to donate 10% of their future earnings. However, we’re able to frame the 1% pledge in a multitude of appealing ways: Did you know, 1% of the average Brown grad’s starting salary is equivalent to the cost of 3-4 cups of coffee per week? What could you do with 99% of your income? The average American gives 2-3% of their earnings to charity, see what giving 1% can do! The financial ask is consequently smaller, though less impactful.
Also, OFTW does not impose any kind of ceiling on people who take the pledge. There are two sets of default pledge amounts on the various chapter “checkout-out” pages: (1%, 2%, 3%) and (1%, 3%, 5%). OFTW is attempting to A/B test which defaults lead to larger pledges. While most do pledge at or below the 1% level, there are many who give well above the 1% level. OFTW intentionally markets the pledge as an “at least 1%” and encourages those who have pledged >1% to share their level of giving regularly.
[One caveat: Counterfactually, OFTW could be anchoring donors who would’ve given >1% at the 1% level. OFTW is currently working on ways to evaluate this anchoring effect and the organization’s counterfactual impact.]
OFTW may engage more students than EA university groups, significantly contributing to the growth of the effective-giving movement and potentially redirecting more money
Since OFTW is less intellectually and personally demanding, appeals to a wider range of students, and financially feasible, I believe OFTW can interest more students than EA university groups. Consequently, this could significantly contribute to the growth of the effective-giving movement and redirect more contributions from individuals outside of EA than from people within the community. If you assume that the average EA and non-EA college graduate will make roughly the same income, and that >10x more people are willing to donate 1% of their income than 10%, then non-EAs could contribute more to effective charities than EAs. For reference, it’s estimated that roughly 5% of Americans tithe (give >10% of their income to charity). If this probability distribution is similar among American college students, this implies that almost 20x more American college students would be willing to donate 1% than 10%. Although these are only back of the envelope calculations, it nonetheless shows how OFTW has the potential to redirect more individual contributions than other EA organizations such as Giving What We Can. When scaled, widespread small-scale donations can be more impactful than fewer large-scale donations.
OFTW can introduce students to EA
One for the World can also serve as an entry-point into EA for universities who have closely aligned chapters. Many people, myself included, were drawn into EA after hearing ideas such as Peter Singer’s TED Talk and learning how our money goes further overseas. Global health and development—which is OFTW’s focus— is the most popular and marketable portion of the EA community. Especially since OFTW’s speaker series brings in many prominent figures within EA (Will MacAskill, Toby Ord, Peter Singer, etc.) to talk to OFTW chapters, this offers a great chance to help grow the community.
[I’ll add one caveat to this: OFTW chapter leaders should be knowledgeable about EA and/or direct students to EAs who can offer a stronger introduction to the movement. Given recent discussions regarding the importance of first impressions in EA, OFTW chapters need to be careful about how they portray EA and effective giving. We want to avoid spreading common misconceptions about EA like “EA’s main focus is ending global poverty” or “EA doesn’t care about social justice and systemic change.”]
OFTW is fairly neglected, tractable, and scalable
On the ITN framework, growing OFTW seems important, tractable, and somewhat neglected. OFTW is very scalable since chapters are easy to start at any university. Each chapter has access to a wealth of resources, advice, and funding from pre-existing chapters and OFTW’s full-time staff. As far as neglectedness, there are only around 75 chapters out of the tens of thousands of colleges, universities, and graduate schools worldwide. Lastly, OFTW has considerable potential for growth: it could redirect tens of millions of dollars. If we could convince just 0.1% of the roughly 4 million new American college graduates each year to pledge to donate 1% of their (~$50,000) annual salaries, that would redirect an additional 2 million dollars each year towards effective charities! OFTW doesn’t even need to expand to a significant number of schools to make this feasible: at Wharton one year, over 15% of the graduating class took the pledge. Additionally, over time as more students graduate and take the pledge, this effect would compound into tens of millions of dollars in annual donations. (For reference, GiveWell processed $54.1 million dollars in donations in 2019.) These estimates don’t even account for the fact that several OFTW chapters already exist in Australia, the UK, and Canada.
We can save lots of lives!
Lastly, and what I see as most important, OFTW can save a lot of lives! If we use GiveWell’s 2020 cost-effectiveness analysis which estimates that it costs between $3,000 - $5,000 to save a life and assume the average college grad will work 40 years and make around $50,000 on average, this means the average pledge saves at least 4-7 lives. Again, if that same 0.1% of American graduates donated 1%, that could save an additional 16,000-28,000 lives per each graduating class. And then the number of expected lives saved compounds as more students graduate. (If OFTW targets universities or graduate schools where students go on to particularly high earning careers, the effect will be even larger.)
We need both OFTW chapters & EA student groups
To clarify, I’m not writing this post to argue that OFTW chapters are more impactful than EA student groups or that we should prioritize OFTW over EA student groups. I firmly believe in the Effective Altruism movement and in supporting the growth and development of student groups. EA student groups offer a variety of opportunities and insights that OFTW lacks or offers to a lesser extent: in-depth conversations on how to do the most good, a framework and mental tools for how to view the world, etc. Instead, I hope that college campuses will continue to nurture both OFTW and EA student groups. I believe they can have a symbiotic relationship where EA drives the research methods backing OFTW recommended charities (through GiveWell), OFTW acts as a feeder into EA, and OFTW engages students who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in EA. As Rossa O’Keeffe-O’Donovan wrote in a prior blog post, OFTW is a potential vehicle to expand the reach of Effective Altruism. (A small sample of 32 qualitative interviews conducted by OFTW has already indicated the feeder effect exists: a third of interviewees changed their career plans to be EA-aligned and five took the GWWC pledge.) Many Brown students in our fellowship programs have also expressed frustration that they don’t know where and how to apply EA principles in their day-to-day lives—I believe OFTW is a great place to start!
- OFTW is less intellectually and personally demanding than Effective Altruism.
- OFTW can engage students who don’t significantly care about making a difference in the world and offer them the chance to make an impact.
- Giving 1% is easier than giving 10% and can reach more than 10x as many people!
- Because of the three reasons listed above, OFTW may engage more students than EA university groups, significantly contributing to the growth of the effective-giving movement and potentially redirecting more money.
- OFTW can serve as an entry-point to EA.
- OFTW is fairy neglected, tractable, and scalable.
- We can save lots of lives!
Potential Counterarguments & Responses:
EA student groups are more important and impactful so we should focus on them.
I don’t have the evidence to answer this question but it would be interesting to compare the impact of OFTW chapters and EA student groups. I’d imagine that EA student-group members’ career/donations will have a larger impact than simply increasing donations to effective charities. However, I see OFTW and EA as having a mutually-beneficial relationship where neither detracts from the other. At some universities, OFTW is even a branch of their EA student group. OFTW and EA appeal to different demographics, therefore it’s useful to have both groups to appeal to a wider audience.
OFTW isn’t the best organization to introduce students to EA since first impressions are really important
I agree with this in some respects if OFTW chapter leaders are unknowledgeable about EA, ineffective at explaining the movement, or prone to misrepresenting it. That’s why I added a caveat to my argument above about why OFTW leaders shouldn’t try and introduce club members/pledgers to EA unless they’re knowledgeable about the movement themselves. However, I’d argue that EA student group leaders could face similar challenges in terms of being able to accurately and effectively represent EA and create a welcoming environment. EA is simply hard to introduce regardless of who’s responsible since many ideas in EA are not intuitive. Therefore, some people may be more responsive to EA if they're exposed to effective giving and evidence-based reasoning through OFTW before they learn about longtermism, x-risks, and the broader Effective Altruism movement.
If you’re a student reading this and your college or university doesn’t have a One for the World chapter, I highly recommend starting one! You can find more information here about how to start a chapter: https://www.1fortheworld.org/start-a-chapter.
You can also reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Starting a OFTW chapter was undoubtedly one of the best decisions of my college experience so far and I’d love to talk to any current or future chapter leaders :)
[And thank you to Jack Lewars, Evan McVail, Kennan McClung, Abhishek Pandya, Emma Abele, and Ruthie Cohen for all your input and edits!]