Living without alcohol may not be an alluring prospect, but that is just one of the New Year’s resolutions made by Oxford students in aid of the Giving What We Can New Year Pledge.
Giving What We Can (GWWC), founded in November 2009, is an organisation dedicated to poverty relief. One factor that distinguishes it from other such organisations is the special emphasis it places on the cost-effectiveness of the charities it supports. That, says GWWC, can make the difference between “saving a single life and saving a life every day”.
GWWC usually raises money through members who pledge 10% of their income to specific charities. But with its New Year campaign, Pledge 2012, the organisation’s Oxford chapter is focussing on those who don’t earn a wage. Instead, it’s encouraging students to forgo some of life’s luxuries, and to donate the money saved to charity.
Although the campaign is barely a week old, support has already been encouraging. The pledge to avoid alcohol has been particularly popular, with almost half of those supporting the Oxford campaign choosing that option. Others are giving up bottled water, snacks between meals and even hair conditioner.
One of the Oxford chapter’s founding supporters, Rossa O’Keeffe-O’Donovan of Balliol College, took a “dry run”, giving up drinking for the month of November. After saving about Â£100, he took the decision to do without alcohol for six months: “When I sat down and figured out how much I have spent on alcohol in my life, and how much good that money could do if given to the right charities, I thought, ‘Why not?’. Friends were surprisingly supportive — the football team let me take initiations with milk — although that wasn’t overly pleasant”.
The most generous pledge so far has come from an unnamed student and lifelong Liverpool FC fan, who has given up his season ticket, a sacrifice worth Â£850 over the course of the year. According to the GWWC website, this pledge alone could save three lives, put 89 children through secondary school or prevent 445 years’ worth of ill health in some of the world’s most deprived areas. Overall, organisers are hoping to raise Â£9,600 in the coming year.
Robert Gledhill, president of the Organisation’s Oxford chapter, says that though the money raised by student pledges is vital, there’s more to the campaign than that. It’s about choosing charities that make intelligent choices about the way they spend donations. “It’s really important for people to know how much more effective some charities are than others”, he says “and something that I’d never really considered it until somebody explained it to me”. “By asking questions about how much disease and disability affect quality of life, we can assess the impact and cost-effectiveness of intervention. So, some charities will restore sight by removing cataracts very cheaply, for example, or a charity may help prevent malaria, or eliminate tropical parasites”.
Julian Savulescu, Director of Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, is a keen supporter of the campaign: “GWWC deal with an important problem by providing a well-articulated, rational solution”, he says. “It’s great to support such smart and idealistic young people, who may well make a difference for the better”.