FAQ Topic: Effective Altruism

What is effective altruism?

Effective altruism is an approach to philanthropic giving that focuses on maximizing the good from one’s charitable donations. This evidence-based approach first identifies issues where the next dollar spent could have the greatest impact on human welfare, and then supports the most effective charities tackling these issues. 

In his book, The Life You Can Save, Princeton ethicist Peter Singer asserts charities operating effectively in low-resource countries—where poverty and its effects are most pronounced—are best positioned to make the largest impact. Named after Singer’s seminal book, The Life You Can Save organization is one of the nonprofit sector’s most authoritative voices on Effective Altruism. Since 2014, The Life You Can Save has recommended Fistula Foundation as one of its Top Charities that it believes provides the greatest good for funds spent.

From a health metrics standpoint, healing a woman with fistula is a highly effective intervention—comparing favorably with vaccines and bed nets. 

  • Obstetric fistula is one of humanity’s most disabling injuries, but it can be cured by a surgery that costs $619.
  • The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation rates the health burden of vesico-vaginal fistula (incontinence of urine) on par with complete hearing loss and drug-resistant tuberculosis. It rates recto-vaginal fistula (incontinence of feces) on par with terminal cancer.
  • Empowerment starts with a woman’s ability to work. For the women that Fistula Foundation is in business to treat, their injury – obstetric fistula – leaves them unable to contribute to their communities and families. 
  • Fistula most commonly occurs to women in their twenties, in countries where the average life span is approximately 65 years—meaning a one-time surgical intervention can restore 40+ years of health.

Background resources


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