Antonia Zimmermann met Rufaida Al Hashmi, one of the co-founders of “Giving What We Can: St. Andrews“, a newly established society in St. Andrews that encourages people to donate an amount of their income to highly effective charities.

Please introduce “Giving What We Can: St Andrews”.

Giving What We Can: St Andrews was founded by Dr. Theron Pummer, Oscar Westerblad, and myself. It’s a chapter of the international society, Giving What We Can (GWWC), which is dedicated to ending extreme poverty in the developing world. Giving What We Can encourages people to pledge an amount of their income to highly effective charities. Charities differ dramatically in effectiveness: some do a 1,000 times more good with donations than others!


“Effective altruism” is the underlying concept of GWWC. Could you explain what it is?

Effective altruism can be understood in contrast with traditional altruism. Most charities start with a certain cause in mind, say cancer research, and then find ways to raise money for the cause. On the other hand, effective altruism starts only with the general goal of doing the most good as possible. We then determine which causes do the most good by evidence and reason. The majority of effective altruists think the most important causes currently are global poverty, factory farming, and extreme climate change.


“Effective altruism” is, first and foremost, a philosophical idea. How does it affect people from other disciplines?

A lot of the work in the effective altruism community is actually being done by economists, psychologists, computer scientists, and people from many other fields. For example, economists have been producing a lot of important research on cost-effectiveness for organisations like GiveWell that evaluate charities. Cause prioritisation is an area in effective altruism that calls for scientists to do highly empirical analysis. Moreover, some organisations like the Global Priorities Project have been doing policy work based on effective altruism related research.


What events have you planned for this semester and beyond?

Our launch event will be a debate in conjunction with UDS and RAG on the 4th of February. We’re bringing four prestigious speakers from around the UK to debate the motion ‘This House Believes Charity Starts at Home.’ For the rest of the semester, we have several external speakers who will give talks on various topics within altruism. One of the speakers will be Peter Singer, one of the founding fathers and leading contemporary effective altruists, via Skype! Beyond this semester, we plan to have more interactive events like discussion groups and giving games in addition to talks. We are also working with the philosophy department on two upcoming conferences, ‘The Philosophical Foundations of Effective Altruism’ and ‘The Ethics of Giving’, which will take place on 29-30 March 2016 and Spring 2017, respectively.


How can we, as students, get involved with both “effective altruism” and “Giving What We Can”?

Come to our events! We aim to have relaxed discussions after our talks, and no prior knowledge of effective altruism is required. We also try to be very inclusive: just let us know you’re interested in helping run the society, and we’ll include you in the planning. More generally, good starting points for learning about effective altruism are checking the Giving What We Can website and reading some of the growing literature on it by authors like Peter Singer and William MacAskill. As students, we should begin thinking of what to do with our money in the future. The average St Andrews graduate will be in the richest 3.6% of the world’s population; by giving 10% of our future income to an effective charity like the Against Malaria Foundation, we each can distribute 554 insecticide treated bed-nets per year, which is equivalent to saving 1 life!




Antonia Zimmermann