March 2018: Still or sparkling?

Earlier this year, in a retro move back to the 80s, we bought a SodaStream so we can make our own sparkling water at home. Up until this point our weekly shop included purchasing ten to twelve bottles of sparkling water and lugging them home – from the cashier to the car in a trolley, from the supermarket to home in the car and then carrying them inside. Oh, what a hardship it was.

Which of course makes my guilt all the greater when I think that for not that much more than a few SodaStream machines, our March donation will provide safe water to 797 community members for a whole year via ‘Dispensers for Safe Water’.

Every year over two million people die from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes. Childhood diarrhea alone, caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, kills more than 315,000 children each year.

Dispensers for Safe Water was named a Standout Charity in 2017 by GiveWell.

So as we set the table for dinner of the evening and check who wants what to drink – still or sparkling? –it’s yet another reminder to be so so grateful for the life of privilege we are enjoying.

February 2018: Give a man a rod

Probably fair to say a lot of us have heard the proverb, ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’

Too true, but our February donation goes to an organization that takes it one step further. Because sure it’s great to know how to fish, but honestly it’s still pretty useless if you don’t have a rod or a hook or any bait.

So the One Acre Fund, a program run by Evidence Action, provides smallholder farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa, not only with the knowledge and training they require but with access to the tools and resources that go along with that.

Why farmers? ‘When farmers prosper, their communities prosper too. Children who have enough food to eat attend school more often and have better performance. They’re also healthier and are less likely to suffer from stunting and other developmental delays. When farmers have extra income, they invest it in education, they build businesses in their communities, and they help neighbors in need. And when they practice sustainable farming techniques, the environment around them benefits as well, so that future generations can continue to grow nutritious food from the land.

These are some of the poorest farmers in the world. More than 50 million smallholder farmers in the regions serviced by the One Acre Fund are unable to grow enough food to feed their families.

Our February donation provides 23 families of six, with the tools to increase farming and food production and profits by 50 per cent in a single season.

January 2018: Money for mates

I’ve always loved sponsoring any of my friends or colleagues when they’re fundraising for causes that mean a lot to them. It is in fact my favourite type of giving because multiple people gain from it – the person raising the money, the person giving the money and the person receiving the money. The triple threat of fundraising, if you like.

So I was delighted to receive two requests for support this month from friends who are doing crazy long walks and runs to raise money for… Fred Hollows and Oxfam.

My triple threat suddenly became a quadruple threat, with the added bonus that their chosen causes are officially approved effective altruism charities.

So this month – which was a ‘poor’ month because I took the whole month off work to hang out with the kids so we are donating only out of one salary – we’ve split our donation between our friends’ worthy causes.

Through our amazing ex-neighbour who is walking the Oxfam Trail, our money will provide a farmer in Malawi with fertilizer, seeds and tools to market and sell produce.

Through our equally amazing current neighbours who are both doing the Fred Hollows Coastrek, our money will provide screening for 250 children in Laos.

Happy trails to you all.

December 2017: The expert road to effectiveness

A blog reader recently asked me how we decide which charities are the most effective ones to give our money to each month. The short answer – we turn to the experts. There are a couple of organisations dedicated to specifically identifying the ‘top’ charities from the perspective of an effective altruist.

When looking for ideas we generally head first to The Life You Can SaveHere an expert panel uses three criteria, pithily encompassed as the ‘three Es’ – evidence, efficiency, execution – to identify recommended charities.

Because effective altruism is ruled by the head not the heart, where possible we also like to donate to charities that we can claim as a tax deduction. More money can then be donated later in the year when it’s tax return time. The Life You Can Save has a search function where you can explore recommended charities based on their tax-deductible status in the country you’re donating from.

From here, you can also calculate the impact your particular donation will have. Which we love to do.

In December we’d decided to donate to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, which facilitates school-based distributions of deworming tablets, primarily in countries such as Ethopia, Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Madagascar, Mozambique and the Sudan. In 2017, SCI aimed to deworm close to 50 million children and at-risk adults.

Schistosomiasis is carried by freshwater snails and is transmitted through contact with contaminated water during everyday activities, such as bathing and washing clothes, where access to clean water is limited. STH is caused by a group of intestinal parasites, and are transmitted by eggs present in human faeces, which contaminate the soil in areas where sanitation is poor. Adult worms live in the intestines and feed on host tissues.

It’s a serious issue. The World Health Organization estimates that 206 million people have schistosomiasis and 1.5 billion have STH. These infections can result in anemia, stunted growth, reduced school attendance, impaired cognitive development, reduced worker productivity and internal organ damage.

SCI works with national governments to create and scale mass school-based deworming programs, which have a strong track record of success. These programs provide school children with pills that protect against the most prevalent neglected tropical diseases. The programs are highly cost-effective, generally at around 73 cents per child per year.

Using the ‘impact calculator’ on The Life You Can Save website we were able to calculate that 858 children would receive treatment as a result of our donation.

So a serious issue, with an effective solution. Thanks to the experts.

November 2017: Keeping Fred’s vision alive

When I was thirty, I had laser surgery on my eyes. It cost me a couple of thousand dollars, but I felt it was worth it as it meant I no longer had to wear glasses or contact lenses for my relatively mild short-sightedness. If anyone asks me about it in the years since, I say it was well worth the money.

I almost feel ill when I compare that now to the millions of people in developing countries who stay needlessly blind because they live in poverty. Do you know how much it costs to restore eyesight to a lot of these people? $25.

If you live in a developing country, and you are blind, it arguably has a larger impact on your life than if you are blind in a developed country. If you are blind in a developing country, chances are you will not be educated. You will have no independence. You will not have the ability to work or make a living.

Our November funds went to the Fred Hollows Foundation, and will provide eye cataract surgery to 27 people in developing countries.

The Foundation, set up by humanitarian and eye surgeon Fred Hollows, works in more than 25 developing countries with the aim of making sure everyone, whether they’re rich or poor, has access to high-quality, affordable eye health. They are working towards a world where no person is unnecessarily blind.

It’s pretty clear to see, with knock on effects of increased education, employment and independence, good eyesight is a key element in breaking the cycle of poverty.

October 2017: Double it, and double it again

It’s that time of year… tax return time. Such a pain digging out all the necessary bits of paperwork, swearing as I do that next year I will keep better records, but a bonus when our returns come in. And tax return month means more money to give away as it’s added to our 5% pledge, effectively doubling our contribution for the month.

Around the time we were starting to think about how to donate our month’s funds, an article by Mark Handby was published in The Age about the Bangladesh refugee camps: It’s hard to work here but almost unimaginable to live here.

The article paints a bleak picture of the conditions Myanmar refugees are facing in a bid to simply survive the coming days. If you’re lucky, shelter is a tarpaulin. There is hardly any access to any form of toilet. There is little safe water to drink. Monsoon season means the camp is muddy, in places up to the knees. Yet in the coming dry season the heat will dry up the few water sources. And every day, thousands more people arrive in the camps.

Our October funds went to the Red Cross Myanmar Crisis Appeal – which aims to provide desperately needed food, medical equipment, toilets and water pumps. It is not on the official list of ‘effective charities’, however at the time the Australian Government was pledging to double all donations made by individuals, effectively doubling what our – already doubled for the month, thanks to tax time – contribution could do.

In his article Mark says, and I paraphrase: Although conditions are extremely tough and precarious, I see evidence everywhere I look of how the people are welcoming, resilient and resourceful. They support each other despite their hardships. It fills me with hope among all the anguish. I have seen how a little help can go a very long way to providing the basics that everyone here deserves. It can show these resilient, loving, brave people that they are not forgotten; that they matter.

September 2017: Give your birthday to make them smile at Christmas

Through my job I am lucky enough to have met a gorgeous colleague who lives and works in the Côte d’Ivoire in Africa. She has been out to Melbourne twice and it’s been lovely getting to know her.

This year Doris was recognised at work for a charity she has set up, ‘Gift your birthday’. People pledge their birthdays to the charity, and instead of presents their family and friends donate money or goods. The ‘Gift your birthday’ organization then arranges four events each year to pass the money and goods on to people in need in Côte d’Ivoire – orphans, handicapped children, those living with ill health or in poverty.

Doris visited Melbourne for the second time in September and spent a fun day with our family – bbq breakfast Aussie style overlooking the water and the city views, fiercely contested soccer match (turns out Doris loves her soccer as much as my son loves his), stroll through the local market, all topped off with ice cream in the sunshine.

Lots of fun and also a great opportunity to hear more about the charity Doris has set up, her motivation and her experience.

As a result, our September donation was made directly into the bank account of ‘Gift your birthday’. The money goes towards their last event for 2017, the ‘Make them smile for Christmas’ campaign. The event aims to provide 150 children who are handicapped or living in difficult conditions with Christmas presents, as well as equipping the canteen of a local centre in Côte d’Ivoire.

Our pale blue dot is definitely a kinder place thanks to people like Doris.

August 2017: A heartstring split

One of the fundamentals of effective altruism is that it is… effective. It is a rigorously unsentimental approach to charitable giving. Under the principles of effective altruism money is given to the ‘organisations that will do the most good with those resources, rather than those that tug the heartstrings’.

However, when your eleven-year old daughter is sitting at the dinner table advocating passionately – and at considerable length – that we donate our money to Care Australia because of the work they do to help the needy in Australia, it is – it turns out – impossible to say no.

Ensuring our kids are tuned in to the inequality in the world and the position of absolute privilege they have been lucky enough to be born into, is a nice side benefit of exploring effective altruism as a family.

So this month we split our donation: 50% has gone to Care Australia, not necessarily the most effective use of the money, however it still is enough to help four women to each start a small business. And, as my daughter said in her arguments for this use of the money: feed a man (or woman) a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life.

Our other 50% went to Oxfam again, a proven effective organization. This month’s money will build three latrines for those without homes because of disaster or conflict.

Because we love to quantify our donation, we worked out that based on ten people being able to use the loo every hour (a fairly generous six minutes each) and if it was used 24 hours a day (a big assumption in hindsight), seven days a week, 52 weeks a year – well, that would all add up to a whopping 87,360 loo visits. And that’s just for one toilet. Multiplied by our three latrines and we’re looking at 262,080 trips to the toilet a year.

A clear case of not flushing our money down the loo.  

July 2017: Intellectual nourishment

The idea of sending my kids to school without a good, healthy breakfast inside them fills me with a mild terror. How would they concentrate? How would they learn? Would they make it through to recess time without breaking down? These are privileged kids who rarely go a couple of hours without something to snack on or declaring they’re ‘starving’.

Yet each day literally millions of children across the globe turn up for school on an empty stomach. Or they don’t turn up at all.

Provision of a daily school meal is a proven, strong incentive for families to consistently send their children to school. Not only do the kids get access to at least one good meal a day, it means they are at school and learning. It’s an important tool in increasing the education of a whole generation and helping break the cycle of hunger and poverty.

Our July donation went to Oxfam – one of The Life You Can Save website’s highly effective charities. Specifically it went towards providing school meals to encourage students to attend and stay in school.

Our month’s donation was enough to provide school meals every school day for 23 children for a whole year.

Making school lunches for our own kids is a relentless chore. It’s like groundhog day. Here we are another morning, here we are at the kitchen bench making up the school lunch boxes. Again. Weren’t we just here yesterday?

Yet now, for the next year, as we make school lunches for our own kids – a roll, a piece of fruit, a sweet treat – we can mull over the fact that firstly we’re lucky to have the means to do so, and secondly that somewhere later today 23 kids will have their own school lunch courtesy of us.

It’s definitely food for thought.

June 2017: Stopping the world’s second deadliest animal, one bite at a time

Have you ever asked your kids or a group of friends what they think is the world’s deadliest animal?  It’s a great conversation starter. My kids kicked about some ideas when we asked them – sharks are pretty vicious, but they don’t have access to that many people ocean-bound as they are; maybe lions, they’re not called king of the jungle for nothing; rhinos are very heavy, if you live in Melbourne you know for sure a rhino on a skateboard is just as dangerous as a tram.

In reality, sharks come in at #20 on the world’s deadliest list, lions at #14 and poor old mis-represented rhinos don’t make the list at all.

Up nearer the top of the list of world’s deadliest animals, the tinsy-tiny-hugely-annoying mosquito is coming in at #2. Mosquitos are carriers of fatal diseases – malaria and dengue anyone? – which kill up to 1,000,000 people every year.

In 2016 there were 216,000,000 cases of malaria globally, and 445,000 malaria deaths. Seventy per cent of malaria cases are children under five.

The most effective way to avoid contracting malaria, is to avoid getting bitten by a mosquito.  And long-lasting insecticidal nets, providing protection during overnight sleep when those annoying pesky mozzies are most active, are the most effective way to avoid getting bitten.  Yes, more effective even than the good old mozzie zapper we used to all have in our back yards – ah, the serenity of mozzies getting fried against the electrical wires.

Nets are cheap – $2 each. The Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) spends 100% of donated funds on nets and ensures the nets get to those who need them most.

Our June funds went to AMF. CEO Rob Mather sent us this (presumably auto-generated but lovely all the same) email: I am catching up on some of the recent donations to AMF and wished to thank you for your generosity and support. It is very much appreciated. 100% of your AUS$829.21 donation will buy 289 long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) and protect an estimated 520 people. That’s an entire village. Brilliant.

In our first month of effective altruism we were told we had helped an entire village. I can’t begin to tell you the joy this brought me – and still does – and to see my kids high-five each other when they read Rob’s email was priceless.

And, in case you’re left wondering… the world’s #1 deadliest animal?  Humans.