Oxford academic promises £1m to charity

Dr Toby Ord, a post-doctoral research fellow in Ethics, has pledged to give away £1m to charity before he retires. 

The promise accompanies the launch of a new society called Giving What We Can this evening at Balliol.

Members of the society are to publicly vow to give at least 10% of their future earnings to charity. Ord has already persuaded Peter Singer and Thomas Pogge, the famous moral philosophers, to make the pledge.

The pledge reads, “I recognise that I can use part of my income to do a significant amount of good in the developing world. Since I can live well enough on a smaller income, I pledge that from today until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn to whichever organisations can most effectively use it to fight poverty in the developing world. I make this pledge freely, openly, and without regret.”

Through his donations of £10,000 a year, which will target fighting poverty and disease in the developing world, Ord calculates he can save 500,000 years of healthy life for some of the world’s poorest people. 

Ord currently earns £33,000, but has capped his wages at £20,000. He expects to earn £1.5 million until his retirement at 65, based on average earnings of an Oxford don.

He plans to be able to afford the donations by continuing to budget as he had as student. “My student years were not extravagant, but were immensely enjoyable, with the chief enjoyments such as reading beautiful books and spending time with my wife and friends costing almost nothing.”

He described how he felt all he was giving up was a few luxuries, “I thought that I would make a relatively small sacrifice to help so many people, but it has turned out to be no real sacrifice at all: the sense of engagement in the project of making the world a better place is worth far more to me than some new gadgets or a slightly larger house.”

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Part of Giving What We Can’s aim is to encourage those who donate to charity to consider whether their donations could be doing more good with other charities. The society intends to use research from the World Health Organisation on aid effectiveness. Although they do not promise to find the best charity, they hope to find ones which are particularly effective.

Their website argues, “It turns out that there is a vast discrepancy between the most effective and least effective programs, and donors can do much more with their donations if they give them to the more effective programs: it is the difference between saving one live and saving a life every day for your career.”

Ord believes also believes that “while it is unclear whether it is better to save one person’s life or to cure two other people of blindness, but other things being equal, it is clearly better to save a thousand lives than to cure two people of blindness and many of the choices are like this.”