May 2018: A salty solution

I love the saying that the cure for anything is salt water – be it in the form of tears… sweat… or the sea. Because really, what ill can’t be cured by a good old cry, a bit of exercise or a dip in the ocean?

So it comes as no surprise that salt is the solution for a serious, but easily treatable, issue – iodine deficiency.

Iodine deficiency is the most prevalent and easily preventable cause of impaired cognitive development in children in the world. Iodine is essential for healthy brain development in the fetus and young child. Iodine deficiency negatively affects the health of women, as well as economic productivity and quality of life. Common disorders that result from iodine deficiency are hypothyroidism, increased cholesterol levels, endemic goiter, cretinism, decreased fertility rate, increased infant mortality, fibrocystic breast disease, atherosclerosis and breast cancer.

It is super cost efficient to add iodine to… you guessed it, salt. Universal salt iodisation programs cost between .02 and .05 of a cent per person to administer. And for every $1 invested, an $81 economic benefit is achieved.

We calculated for our monthly donation we would reach a whopping 16,992 individuals who are currently at risk of iodine deficiency. And this amount was increased further when I accidently gave our donation in US dollars rather than Aussie dollars.

Where would we be without salt?

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.

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.

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.  

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.