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Professor inspires wave of charitable donations

The charity Giving What We Can has inspired hundreds of people from around the world to pledge charitable donations totalling 62.4 million pounds since being founded in 2009 by a professor at Oxford University.

Dr Toby Ord, founder of Giving What We Can (GWWC) and a fellow at the Department of Philosophy, pledged in November 2009 to give away everything he earned over £20,000, targeting the charities which could do the most with his money. He started the organisation to encourage others to donate part of their annual income.

The organisation, which now has 296 recorded pledges, gained support quickly with philosophers Peter Singer and Thomas Pogge signing up within months. Supporters pledge to “give at least ten per cent of what they earn to whichever organisations can most effectively use it” for life.

In 2013, GWWC expects another busy year. William Crouch, Vice-President of GWWC and a DPhil student at St Anne’s College, said, “I think that GWWC will thrive. 1000 members and half a billion dollars are two big targets in my mind, and I think that both are achievable in the next few years.”

He added, “It was inspiring to see someone doing so much, and being so enthusiastic about it. No other charity I knew of was motivated by the question, ‘how can I do the most good?’

“GWWC draws on the latest research from health and development economics in order to make its recommendations. Economists do randomised controlled trials, to work out how different interventions compare in terms of the benefit to human wellbeing.”

The organisation works out which charities are most productive, and recommends them to its members. Noting that “some charities are up to 1000 times more effective than others”, GWWC researchers find out the number of “quality adjusted life years (Qalys)” per pound for each charity.

At present, the charities recommended are the Against Malaria Foundation, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and Deworm the World.

Originally launched in Balliol College, GWWC’s largest branch is in Oxford and has since raised £15 million.

According to Ben Hoskin, manager of the Oxford chapter, “As the movement was founded here, virtually all the early members are from Oxford. This strong community is self-perpetuating.”

The organisation aims to be accessible to thrifty undergraduates: over 40 per cent of those who make pledges are students. GWWC have a special pledge designed for students, which commits only one per cent of income until graduation.

Stephanie Crampin, the organisation’s Communications Director and an undergraduate at St Hugh’s, emphasised the importance of students: “Even though students might not have an income, Giving What We Can thrives off the creativity, energy and time that they put in. The organisation has been very successful here in Oxford because of students’ receptiveness to our ideas and their genuine passion to do as much good as they can.”

Most of the organisation’s branches are affiliated with universities. After Oxford, chapters were founded in Cambridge, Rutgers, Princeton, and the University of California, San Diego.

Despite the high number of Oxford students involved, not everyone has been so keen to get involved. Guy Ward, a first year lawyer at Corpus Christi claimed, “It seems risky to commit to a lifetime of giving – you never know when you could hit on hard times.”

But Rebecca Hannon, a first year physicist at Balliol, said “It’s a really generous idea. It would be good to know you’re making a difference.”


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