Doing Good Better
is a young philosopher who studies and does altruism at the University of Oxford, whose ideas can be seen on his website which also includes a link to his TED Talk. There are plenty of books out there that discuss how those of us with money or time to donate should do so. None is as interesting or useful as MacKaskill’s.
That’s the case in large part because he does not try to give us a single answer. Instead, he focuses son a number of questions one should ask about the organization one gives money or time to:
- How many people benefit?
- Is it the most effective thing you can do?
- How neglected is the area?
- What would happen if it didn’t do its work or you didn’t give?
- How likely is it to succeed?
He goes through a lot of ways of making those calculations, many of which lead us in counterintuitive directions.
But the key may be his notion of QALY (pronounced “qually”) or Quality Adjusted Life Years or the estimated length of time that gets added to the average person’s lifetime as a result of an intervention. While this is also a hard metric to measure, he convinced me that it’s a good one for us to consider and think about QAPY (Quality Adjusted Peace Years) in judging the effectiveness of peacebuilding programs. Alas, MacAskill focuses almost exclusively on health and development issues. Those are hard enough. Developing those metrics for peacebuilding would be also harder.
But still worth doing.
Also useful for someone like me is the advice he gives young people seeking the most meaningful careers. Here, too, he ends up in a counterintuitive place, arguing that you might not always have the greatest impact going to work for a nonprofit like the Alliance for Peacebuilding. As with his criteria for giving time or money, he doesn’t give us an answer, but a set of questions to ask, questions I’ll be laying out with the students I work with.
So, before settling on a job that looks like it does good work, ask yourself:
- How well does my personality fit the job?
- What is my impact going to be while I work at this job, and what will it become?
- How could it contribute to what I can later in life?