Effective Altruism: Donating For Social Impact
Muhammad Ali Alghofiqi
So many people are active but not productive in doing good. With our limited global resources and more complex global challenges, we should transform how we manifest goodness. Effective altruism literacy and social project data transparency are keys to maximizing the impacts of doing good.
Charity plays an important role in solving complex socio-economic challenges. The Gates Foundation alone distributes more overseas assistance than the entire Italian government. Members of US churches and synagogues send four and half times as much money overseas to poor people every year as the Gates Foundation does. (Karl : 2016, ssir.org). Voluntary giving shows how engaged our society is to back up and protect each other’s basic rights.
In Indonesia, the importance of charity was accelerated especially during the pandemic. The CAF’s 2021 World Giving Index declared Indonesia the most generous country in the world. Online donations alone increased by 72% during the pandemic – mainly supported by religion, local tradition, wider government response, digital transformation, and youth involvement through social media. While this deserves praise or celebration, we essentially need to make sure that the charitable funds are distributed in the most effective and cost-efficient ways to maximize the social impact. Why do people donate? And has this large sum of donations proven to be effective in combating societal challenges? People should not only donate because of touchy images and content writing; they must also use strong evidence and logical reasoning in order to make charitable decisions.
In my experience creating a charity program in collaboration with various NGOs in Indonesia, the demand and push of charitable programs’ transparency from the backers are still low. Many backers just donate and forget about the charity they have given. The majority of donors fully trusted the NGOs in terms of program execution, and they pretty much do not care about program evaluation. This, in turn, sustains the low evidence-based charity in our society.
Effective altruism is a movement to donate based on evidence to maximize the benefit for others. Because giving resources is limited, an effective altruist should set a priority list of beneficiaries based on some factors such as scalability and neglectfulness to maximize the impact. A study by Oxford Global Priorities Institute states that promoting effective altruism is one of the highest priority areas, together with reducing global catastrophic biological risk, global priorities research, and shaping the development of artificial intelligence.
In Indonesia, effective altruism is still lacking in society. So many people just donate because of emotional reasoning instead of logical reasoning. It is common because evidence-based donation literacy is neglected. Government, academia, civil society, charitable foundations, and donation platforms should work together to educate society for effective altruism. Collaboration could come in the form of initiatives in building a legitimate think tank or task force that focuses on altruism. An example of such an initiative is Givewell in the US. This think-thank lays the foundation of deep research and logical reasoning in effective altruism.
Effective altruism will maximize the social impact of goodness in our society that is often wasted. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, the Islamic endowment fund (waqf) has a huge potential to create meaningful impacts on society. Yet, too many waqf are given for traditional religious assets such as mosques and graveyards. I don't say that this is bad, but it will be more impactful if we set the priority of the needs of its surrounding society and convert them to sustainable solutions.
The challenge of building effective altruism itself is due to a lack of knowledge about societal challenges. We know that each community has unique problems, hence we cannot push a one-fit-all solution to address issues in different settings. Our homework is to raise awareness and education concerning societal challenges which can inform charitable acts. For example, in remote areas of Indonesia, it might be more important to protect communities from a shortage of basic necessities, while in big cities charities could also be used to curb unemployment or achieve workplace equality.
To address the lack of awareness of effective altruism, the government, education, and civil society should collaborate in educating society to have altruism awareness. Until now, there is no significant educational progress that enhances informed giving intention in the younger generations. They are taught to give, without knowing how to maximize the social impact in spite of limited resources. If this form of knowledge is accessible from an early age, civil society will become not just active, but also productive in addressing various social problems in effective and efficient ways.
Besides literacy, technology also plays an important part in building an effective altruism movement. Effective altruism will have a domino effect to redesign the philanthropy ecosystem. But in achieving that, we need data. Data is the core of an effective altruism movement that pushes the people to report in transparent and response. In the digital era, all activities are easier to be monitored and measured, including social impact activity. We could assess the depth, scale, and duration of various social impacts. All stakeholders should collaborate and adapt to the use of technology to improve transparency. Because the altruist movement is evidence-based, opening accessible information about social projects is important to build the movement.
Technology has become the foundation of evidence-based social impact like effective altruism. But policymakers should decrease the digital gap. Policymakers play an important role to support the ecosystem especially by building a strong infrastructure to build evidence-based data for social impact. For example, the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Communication and Information should support and assess digital donation in the country. With the ever-growing number of donation platforms in Indonesia, including some of the biggest names such as Kitabisa which has changed the landscape of philanthropy to become more transparent in the digital transformation era, everybody should see that this is a great momentum to build our high-performance social impact giving.
Transforming our society’s mindset of altruism is a challenging journey – but it offers a super high return, especially for our future generation that has more complex global challenges. While obviously we have more to-do lists in maximizing the impact of altruism than our hands can handle, let us concentrate for now on effective altruism literacy and social project data transparency.
Ali Alghofiqi is a senior impact associate at Evermos, an Indonesian social commerce backed by a global impact fund. His particular interests are social innovation and responsible economy.
This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 01 Issue 03 — December 2021