Effective Altruism: The Fight Against Extreme Poverty

Fight Against Extreme Poverty
Extreme poverty is a complex global issue and figuring out how to best alleviate it is a complicated challenge. The effective altruism movement aims to help solve this challenge by using data-driven evidence to find the best ways to fight against extreme poverty.

What is Effective Altruism?

Effective altruism involves using data and evidence to determine the best methods to help improve the world with its limited resources. For example, one important aspect of effective altruism is determining which issues experience neglect. These are issues that receive relatively little attention and funding in comparison with the value of solving or mitigating these issues. Effective altruism also promotes the use of data and transparency when looking at the success of charitable initiatives. With proper data, it is easier to determine if an initiative is helping improve lives, as well as how cost-effective it is.

Many frequently consider extreme poverty a neglected issue in effective altruism, because just small amounts of additional money and resources could substantially improve or even save a life if used effectively. William MacAskill, the author of “Doing Good Better,” estimates that it would cost just $3,400 to save the life of someone living in an impoverished country.

Many people want to help improve the world and have the ability to save a life, as McAskill explains, but the data involved in effective altruism and struggle to determine the best charitable initiatives overwhelms them. Some effective altruism organizations recognize this and conduct research for their donors to help them have the largest individual impact on those living in extreme poverty.

One for the World (OFTW)

Founded in 2014, One for the World (OFTW) is a relatively new organization that creates a portfolio of the most effective charitable initiatives fighting extreme poverty across the world. These are charities that provide enough data and are transparent enough to determine their efficacy and change as the data changes. These are frequently charities that help people meet basic health needs because they are low cost and high reward. According to OFTW, just $2.50 in the hands of the right charitable program can provide someone with an antimalarial bednet. Correspondingly, OFTW’s “Top Picks” are primarily charitable initiatives that focus on health, including vitamin A and antimalarial drug distribution to children, antimalarial bed net distribution and deworming. The remaining top pick is GiveDirectly, which provides one-time cash transfers directly to those living in poverty.

In addition to this unique portfolio of charities, OFTW also asks for donations in a fairly uncommon way. The organization focuses primarily on college campuses and encourages students to pledge 1% of their post-graduation income to these most effective charities. It is a great way to raise awareness among young people about effective altruism and the fight against extreme poverty, and college students in wealthy countries typically have a high future earning potential.

Kennan McClung, Director of Growth and Development at OFTW, explained to The Borgen Project that “[t]he OFTW pledge is important for college students to make because it is so simple, so easy and so effective. Without changing your lifestyle at all, you can markedly improve the lives of hundreds of people every year, saving multiple lives over the course of your career.” OFTW gives individuals the opportunity to have a large individual impact on the fight against extreme poverty.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the work that OFTW does is all the more important. McClung also touched on this, explaining that “[t]he looming economic recession is going to have disastrous effects in the developing world, with hundreds of millions of people expected to fall back into extreme poverty and years of progress expected to be erased. It’s more important than ever to not only support people living on so little but ensure that we are doing so in the most effective way possible.” It is also important to note that anyone, not just college students, can take the 1% pledge and start giving right away if in the position to do so.

McClung emphasizes that “OFTW members pursue a wide range of different careers, engage in other forms of philanthropy and volunteering, and have a diverse array of interests and values. That said, we are all united in the belief that we can live very reasonably on 99% of our incomes, and are committed to doing our part to make the world a better place — effectively.” Anyone can take the pledge and start improving lives today.


Givewell, a partner of OFTW, is another research-driven organization to find the most effective charities working on a variety of causes, although particularly extreme poverty. It provides OFTW with a list of the most effective charities fighting global poverty. Individuals can also lookup various nonprofits on the website to see how effective they are according to Givewell’s measures.

Effective altruism uses data to determine which charitable initiatives are the most effective at combating neglected issues. Extreme poverty is among the most neglected, and therefore research to discover the best ways to fight it is extremely important. Giving to charities that provide data and have shown that their efforts are successful is ideal, but often it can be very time-consuming and overwhelming for an individual donor to complete alone. This is where charities like OFTW and Givewell step in, completing this important research and encouraging donors to give to the best charitable programs based on the available data. OFTW and Givewell have found that many of the best initiatives work to help provide for basic health needs, such as antimalarial bednet distribution and deworming.

Effective altruism can seem complicated and overwhelming at first, but it does not need to be. It simply aims to find the best ways to help improve lives using data. Fighting extreme poverty is a key issue in effective altruism because relatively small amounts of money can have a substantial impact if used effectively. Organizations like OFTW and Givewell do the heavy lifting for donors and determine which charitable initiatives are most cost-effective, could best use additional funds, are transparent and have a track record of success. This makes fighting extreme poverty in very effective ways possible for many people around the world.

– Kayleigh Crabb
Photo: Flickr