How do we maximize our impact given the resources we have?
In this episode, meet Will MacAskill, the eminent Scottish philosopher and bestselling author whose pioneering research on moral uncertainty and the ethics of future generations has played a pivotal role in shaping the effective altruism movement.
“I fundamentally want to make the world a better place. I’m asking the question: how can we do as much as possible to make the world better? That’s what effective altruism is about. There are just so many problems in the world — poverty, factory farming, the chance of the next pandemic — how do we prioritize among them if we want to do as much good as we can?” – Will MacAskill, Co-Founder of the effective altruism movement
Effective altruism is a twofold endeavor emerging as a philosophy and a community. As a research field, effective altruism identifies the most pressing global issues. As a community, it mobilizes this knowledge to maximize positive impact.
MacAskill’s many roles, including being an associate professor at Oxford University, senior research fellow at the Global Priorities Institute, and co-founder of pivotal initiatives like 80,000 Hours, Giving What We Can, and the Centre for Effective Altruism, underscore his commitment to transforming ideas into action.
In an era when unprecedented wealth coincides with heightened philanthropy, the landscape of charitable giving is undergoing a profound transformation. Charities’ inner workings are being scrutinized more than ever before, ushering in innovative approaches that are redefining the very essence of altruism.
“Just as we should care about people, whether they’re in this country or on the other side of the planet, no matter where they are in space, we should care about people no matter where we are in time as well.” – Will MacAskill, Co-Founder of the effective altruism movement
At the core of effective altruism lies a relentless drive to enhance the lives of people worldwide, transcending temporal and geographical barriers. MacAskill asserts that caring transcends time, prompting us to consider the lives of those not yet born with the same urgency as those in the present. The episode delves into the tension between immediate versus future impact, a conundrum that effective altruism addresses head-on.
“I think these guys are pretty sophisticated. And they do a lot of thinking about uncertainty, and how to account for complex effects. It seems this idea of valuing a life 100 years from now, as the same as the person sitting across from me, it’s a really tough thing for people to get their head around.” – Ryan Growney, Co-Founder Service Academy
It reframes the concept of personal sacrifice by illustrating that even small lifestyle adjustments can translate into substantial positive change for others.
“I don’t have a big house. I don’t have a fancy car, right? I do have wonderful relationships. I’ve got wonderful friends. I’m also part of this broader community, effective altruism community, that is inspiring, hardworking people who are really focused on trying to make the world better. And I hope at least we’re really making a positive difference. And that’s just worth more than all the luxury goods that money could buy.” – Will MacAskill, Co-Founder of the effective altruism movement
Mr. MacAskill and the values and efforts of the effective altruism movement have profoundly inspired Ryan and Thomas from Service Academy to answer, “How do we maximize our impact given the resources we have?” They are motivated to help others better understand what resources they have to offer the world, and for young people, it’s not money, it’s often skills and resources. It’s how to apply their strengths through impactful experiences to do the most good and improve their lives in the process.
“Effective altruism is the philosophical equivalent of Service Academy professionalizing effective resource allocation. In the case of effective altruism, it’s for people that have a lot of extra money. Service Academy is looking to professionalize a resource allocation of the young person’s time and service efforts and their resources so they can be most effective, not just in terms of changing the world, but in terms of developing their own skills, towards their own aspirations.” – Thomas Growney, Co-Founder of Service Academy
For Thomas and Ryan growing up in a world where resource allocation decisions hold immense power, effective altruism emerges as a source of optimism and practicality. MacAskill’s ideas and their application resonate with Thomas & Ryan, reminding them that while luxury can bring fleeting pleasure, the personal growth impact and the benefit to humanity, now and in the future, of changing lives is immeasurable. Ultimately, Thomas and Ryan share the view that every life touched matters, and every act of altruism shapes us as better individuals and a better world for all.
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Service Academy is a youth-led social impact organization committed to elevating the social value of youth service and co-creating youth service activities that map to the life skills that young people value.
WITH SPECIAL THANKS — The Service Academy Podcast is created and produced in coordination with MCS Media, executive producers Donny Dykowsky, Dan Strong, Aaron Kheifets, and Mike Bulger.