William MacAskill is a University of Oxford philosopher, who questions the effectiveness of seemingly altruistic actions, particularly in his book Doing Good Better. In this case, he argues against donating to disaster relief programs.
A controversial opinion, but according to MacAskill, the dramatic nature of recent disasters make us complacent about ongoing, everyday disasters such as poverty and disease.
Disasters are associated with emergencies that must be addressed instantly. This, of course, is true, but issues like poverty-related deaths and disease should receive the same treatment. Currently, they aren’t getting the same “emergency” response from donors.
For example, for every death that occurred due to Japan’s Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, aid organizations received $330,000 in donations. Foreign aid and philanthropy, on the other hand, receives $15,000 for every person who dies from poverty-related causes worldwide, according to MacAskill's calculations.
So the question is, whilst donating to emergency disaster relief is surely helping people, is it the best way to do so?
In Doing Good Better, McAskill applies the law of diminishing returns to the charitable sector and argues that the more people that donate to a charitable cause, the less of an impact your personal donation will have. With this law in mind, it makes much more sense to donate to charities that fight everyday disasters like extreme poverty rather than emergency relief, since many other people are probably already donating to the latter.
This law is a difficult one because it tells you that when you're pulled in by an emotional story and want to help by donating, you should resist the urge to do so. Your money is needed more for charitable causes that address the constant threats to human life that are no longer classified as “emergency.”
Still, you may have a particular urge to donate to the disaster field. You still can, but optimally not to relief, but to prevention. While we can’t prevent an earthquake, we can build earthquake resistant buildings and aim to never build structures where tectonic plates meet. It is possible to prevent hundreds of people dying and the destruction of cities. Disaster-prone areas should have mitigation measures in place to eliminate or reduce the impacts and risks of hazards before the disaster occurs, which of course need funding.
As climate change brings harsher and more frequent natural disasters to all corners of the planet, we better be prepared for when they hit, not in desperately saving lives, but containing the damage. Developing countries with poor infrastructure struggle much more than the developed world and they need funding, not after the disaster strikes, but before.
So if you like the idea of making the most effective impact with your money, perhaps save the donations for perennial problems such as disease, or starvation and disaster prevention in developing countries, which can benefit much more people for a much lower cost.
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Arunachalam Muruganantham is an innovator from India who first became known in 2012 thanks to his machine that produces cheap and durable menstrual pads for women in India. Six years and a lot of success later, his story is now a Bollywood movie by the name of PadMan.
Muruganantham first started to work on his innovation thanks to his wife. Upon seeing her use old rags that he “wouldn’t even clean his two-wheeler with”, he started experimenting with different materials using his wife and sisters as test subjects.
Menstrual pads in India, at the time of Muruganantham’s first foray into the research, were too expensive for most women to use regularly and the social stigma around menstruation added to the lack of access to hygienic menstrual products.
Still, 40 percent of women in India don’t have access to sanitary products during their period.
Back in his homemade lab, Arunachalam Muruganantham’s first tries weren’t going so well and, eventually, his wife and sisters got sick of their roles as guinea pigs and went back to their rags.
He tried to find volunteers to test out his inventions but as menstruation was and still is a taboo in India he had trouble finding anyone who was willing to speak to him about her experiences.
Thus, Muruganantham decided to test his ideas on himself, devising a concoction from rubber and animal blood. However, some people from his village caught him and he was ostracised for both his “crazy” ideas and his openness about the topic of menstruation.
Even his wife broke up with him.
Despite all of this, Muruganantham kept on with his research, believing that he was onto something. And he was indeed. It took him years but he ended up inventing a machine that can produce low cost sanitary pads.
In 2014 Muruganantham was on the Times list of 100 most influential people for all his contributions to women’s health in India; In 2016 he was given the Padma Shri by the Indian Government, the fourth highest civilian award.
Muruganantham’s research and invention not only brought affordable and hygienic menstrual products to women in India but his work also has contributed greatly to the fight against the social stigma against menstruation in the country.
PadManis another step towards defeating the stigma. Only a few years ago even talking about menstruation was frowned upon in the country but now it is the subject of a Bollywood film starring one of India’s most prominent leading men Arijit Singh.
Talking about menstruation, along with providing women and girls hygienic, and affordable, menstrual products both saves their lives and greatly improves them.
"My name is Rosa Anders. I’m 14 years old and I am afraid for my generation. I am afraid of the environmental chaos climate change will bring and how it will impact me and my peers' lives. I’m just a teenager so I don’t have the solutions to these major world problems, but I believe part of it lies in individual actions.
I am a member of the youth council of War Child. War Child is an organization that helps children who are or have been in a war. They do this by giving the children a safe place where they can play, get an education and psychological support.
I am not a child of war. On the contrary, I had a very safe and privileged childhood, so why am I on the council? I believe if policies are made for children, they should have a say about them too.
The youth council of War Child advises the organisation on policies. War Child is in the process of creating a youth council in each of the fifteen countries they are active in. This way, eventually there will be youth advising War Child around the world. Until then, since children at war can’t speak up directly, we — the free children — should do our part.
I was always interested in War Child and find what they do very important, and I always wanted to help them, but I never really knew how. I think this is a common issue that young people have. There are so many world problems that need to be solved: Child marriage, discrimination, war, climate change, the list does not end. But I don’t think we are helpless.
For example at War Child Netherlands, with the help of an external expert, we have been making a list of all the things we can do to save energy and make the building War Child operates in more sustainable. We put stickers on all the meat in the fridge, indicating how much water was used for its production and how much CO2 was emitted. We also added a Youth Council sticker asking to choose for alternatives to meat.
Any young person can join youth councils, collect money, participate in fundraising events, for example, The Dam Tot Damloop or Cityswim in the Netherlands. We can contribute to spreading the word about world issues and possible solutions by giving presentations in schools. It is very important to realize not everything is just for adults.
I think that if we all work together and everyone does something we can solve these world problems. I’m not saying that everyone has to be an activist, what I mean is that if everyone does something, and it doesn’t even have to be something big, then it helps. From making a donation to spending one day a month working at a charity, we can all contribute to make this world a better place.
Every year, Forbes magazine publishes a list of the 400 richest people in the US. How the list is compiled is pretty straightforward: it is a list of US citizens (and permanent residents) who have made the substantial majority of their fortunes in the US. It’s a list of billionaires.
Forbes doesn’t explain in detail how they calculate the net worth of the people on the list but we know that they take into account both the assets these people have (companies, cars, boats, planes, islands,...) — and their debts.
Each year, the list is pretty much the same. Same names switching ranks, making a few more or a few less million each year; mostly men, mostly white, mostly above 40.
However, this year brought a new addition to the list: a philanthropy score. For the first time, billionaires are ranked not just on how much money they have but also on their generosity. Each billionaire is scored on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the most generous.
The two main factors behind Forbes’ methodology in calculating philanthropy scores are an estimate of each individual’s total lifetime giving and the percentage of their fortune they have donated. In some instances, Forbes explains, billionaires have been bumped up or brought down based on other factors like personal involvement in their charitable giving.
Here are some highlights from the newly introduced philanthropy score:
Out of 400 people who have a net worth of at least $2.9 billion, only 29 received the highest score of five.
In terms of percentage, right-wing media’s favourite boogeyman George Soros was the most generous: giving 79 percent of his wealth, $32 billion, to his own philanthropic network Open Society Foundation.
In not-so-surprising news, Bill Gates has donated the most with $35.8 billion, 27 percent of his fortune.
Jeff Bezos, who moved from the second richest in 2017 to the richest person in the US in 2018, breaking Bill Gates’ 24-year streak, only received a score of two out of five.
76 of the 400 richest received the lowest possible score meaning: to date, they gave away less than one percent of their fortune or less than 30 million.
Amongst these 76 is US President Donald Trump, the first billionaire president in US history.
But here’s the thing. We should approach the philanthropy scores on this list, as well as the people, with a grain, neigh a family-sized salt shaker, of salt.
Firstly because, the system these people manage to get rich on, capitalism, is one that eats the poor and the disenfranchised. As apparent by the overload of white men with at least a middle-class background on the list, if you’re not born with these qualities and an added bonus of inexplicable and unearned entitlement, ‘making it’ is nearly impossible.
Second, Forbes only calculates the amount and the percentage of donations. Where these donations go and their impact isn’t a part of Forbes’ methodology.
Take, for example, The Koch Brothers who share the number seven spot on the list with $53.5 billion net worth each. Both Kochs have a philanthropy score of 4 and Forbes estimates that each has donated two percent of his fortune. However, The Kochs are infamous for their right-wing politics and disregard for the environment. The brothers are founders of so-called non-profit organisations like The Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity, a think thank and a citizen activist group, which essentially are tools for policy change that serve the Koch’s financial and political interest. Nevertheless, they are non-profit foundations on paper so donating to them still adds to the philanthropy score.