We are all aware of the many issues our world is facing, from climate change to increasing inequalities and migration flows. Most of us want to contribute to solving these issues. You probably want to contribute if you’re reading this.
Two years ago, I came across a book called “Doing Good Better” at the airport library (my favourite place to kill time waiting for a flight). That’s when I started digging more actively into how to contribute in a way that really matters. Solving inequalities has been my main focus, because it’s the issue I feel the most for. I’ve read a lot on the subject (check my recommended reads below), joined the Effective Altruism community in Singapore, went to conferences, visited social enterprises, discussed with purpose driven individuals, even started a website to showcase inspiring companies with a “scalable” impact.
So here is what I’ve learnt so far.
1) Giving money is the most actionable way we can contribute immediately, and one of the most impactful.
It makes sense simply because the distribution of money in the world is increasingly imbalanced.
You and I are among the 1% richest population in the world. A friend of mine I got to know through the Effective Altruism community in Singapore, Aravind Ragahavan, has committed to give 10% of his salary through a “Giving What We Can Pledge”. As he explains in this video, there is just one reason why we should give : “because you and I are bloody wealthy” (Watch the full video here).
Not convinced? Enter your country and annual net income on this website and it will tell you exactly how rich you are compared to the rest of the world. You’ll probably be shocked.
I’m giving 5%. It made no difference to my lifestyle. I wouldn’t share this if I didn’t think it might help influence others to do the same. You can start with a small amount that doesn’t feel painful – I started with 100 SGD per month. You’ll probably notice that the more you give, the more you’ll want to give.
–> There are organizations that help to make sure your money is in good hands.
Scandals in NGOs have probably shaken your trust, you’re scared that charities might harm local businesses competitiveness, or maybe you think that charities are managed by incompetent idealists. To re-establish trust, organizations like GiveWell and Epic have conducted in-depth research and due diligence on charities.
- GiveWell recommends charities based on their effectiveness, to make sure you make the most of your money. You can find their list of charities here.
- Epic’s focus is on NGOs and social enterprises working to address injustices experienced by children and youth worldwide, and they are developing solutions such as a mobile app to increase transparency and stay connected with the organizations they support. You’ll find their selection here.
2) Impact investment and crowdlending are great alternatives to donations.
And each euro you contribute will be used to generate more money that can be invested again. That’s what happens when you invest in local businesses in developing countries, get dividends and reinvest them. Your money goes a longer way.
There are a few ways to do this.
- I’m giving to OikoCredit, a Dutch organization that invests in fair trade companies, microfinance institutions and SMEs in many developing countries. Oiko Credit invests or lends your money to these social enterprises. As an investor, you’re invited to the annual meetings and you can either receive a dividend or reinvest that dividend annually.
- If you don’t want to go through an intermediary, you can lend money directly to micro-entrepreneurs or students using crowdlending platforms, e.g. Kiva or Babyloan, or participate to the equity of a social enterprise via platforms such as Lita.co (for France & Belgium).
- You can also fund projects, for example you can participate directly to the funding of sun energy plants in Africa. The Sun Exchange is a crowdfunding platform for solar projects in Africa. Once the plant is built, you get a share of the rental income over 20 years. The Sun Exchange has already pulled in funding for five projects, including an 18-kilowatt rooftop solar plant for a Cape Town-based nonprofit and a 60-kilowatt system for an elephant park in Knysna, on South Africa’s south coast.
3) You can also contribute your skills.
How? By doing what you can do best. Don’t paint the walls of a school in Africa if you are an expert in digital marketing. It might sound fun to go abroad and do small skills jobs (that’s called “volunteerism”), but that’s not really helpful. Especially since a local could have done that job.
4) Think big, but start small and start today.
I’ve wasted time overthinking and strategizing on the most efficient way to have the largest impact. If you want to have an impact, you can already do your bit today.
Think big, but start small. Start where you are, with what you know, test and learn along the way. That’s the lean startup methodology, a recognized approach to build new businesses, and it applies to any kind of social enterprise as well.
5) We matter
Gandhi said “You are the change that you want to see in the world”. This might however seems difficult to apply. You probably feel overwhelmed with the amount of issues to solve. Will my small contribution make any difference? As long as there will be corrupted governments and companies whose only goal is to make profit, you might feel your contribution won’t matter.
One should not forget that governments follow the public opinion to be re-elected, and enterprises follow consumer trends to sell and make a profit. They also need to satisfy their employees to keep them. Therefore, you are really leading the change, as an elector, an advocate, a consumer or an employee. What you buy, what you eat, what you share on social media, what kind of company you apply for, it matters.
- “Doing Good Better” by William MacAskill which inspired the Effective Altruism movement that I’m now part of in Singapore and exists in a few cities in the world.
- “A World of Three Zeros: the new economics of zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero carbon emissions” : the latest and most updated book from Muhammad Yunus, founder of the microfinance pioneer Grameen bank.
- “Give Work” by Leila Janah, founder of Samasource and LXMI, two social businesses, on how giving work should be the key focus for social entrepreneurs to lift people out of poverty. Samasource has employed more than 9,000 people in Kenya, Uganda, India, and Haiti.
- “Utopia for Realists” by Rutger Bregman on how a universal basic income, a shorter work week and open borders are realistic solutions to a better world.
- “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries on how to start a successful business – the methodology applies to social businesses too.
These are just my ideas on how to matter : I’d be happy to learn from yours!
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