Want to make a difference? Don’t Work for a Charity. | William MacAskill | TEDxCambridgeUniversity

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if you want to use your life to make the
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world a better place what career should
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you pursue when I was a student I was
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concerned by some of the big problems in
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the world global poverty climate change
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gender inequality so I wanted to know
00:23
the answer to that question I tried
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asking friends and family what I should
00:27
do so I’d go into the University Career
00:29
Service tried going online in order to
00:32
get advice from websites and one piece
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of advice that I just got over and over
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again was want to make a difference work
00:41
for the charity but I never think we
00:44
found a rationale for that it just
00:46
seemed to people like that was the
00:47
obvious advice and I was thinking look
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this is the biggest decision in my life
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this is a decision about how to spend
00:54
over 80,000 working hours I want to know
00:58
that you know some really good evidence
00:59
backs up that decision and I realized
01:02
that if I wanted an answer to that
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question that was really going to
01:05
satisfy me I was going to have to be a
01:07
geek and do the research myself over the
01:10
last four years my colleagues and I have
01:12
been investigating exactly that question
01:14
and we’ve come up with a framework that
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enables young people to help them make
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decisions about what career should they
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should pursue if they want to really
01:25
make a difference and this research has
01:28
led to some fairly big changes in my
01:30
life I’ve changed the focus my other
01:33
search quite considerably I’ve altered
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what I do in my spare time dedicating
01:38
that to social entrepreneurship and I’ve
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changed what I do with my money
01:41
committing to donate at least 50% of
01:44
what I earn over the course of my life
01:46
so here’s the framework you should think
01:50
about two different aspects when you’re
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considering a job that makes a
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difference the first is the impact
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you’ll have on that job like while
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you’re working in that particular
01:59
position but the second is how that job
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sets you up to have a big impact later
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on in your life let’s go through each
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and turn so there’s three different ways
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in which you can have an impact on the
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job
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the first notes the most obvious is just
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a labor that you contribute in your role
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so when we think about model heroes like
02:19
Mother Teresa or kind of common sense do
02:22
good in careers like working as a
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schoolteacher on the charity sector as a
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firefighter that’s because people are
02:28
directly contributing their labor to a
02:30
good cause but that’s not the only way
02:33
you can have an impact in a job you can
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also have an impact indirectly for
02:37
example through your ability to advocate
02:39
for important causes one of my favorite
02:42
examples of this is the eradication of
02:43
smallpox I think that this is one of
02:46
humanity’s greatest ever achievement
02:47
since we have a decayed smallpox in 1980
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we’ve saved 122 million lives and
02:53
Counting
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that’s more lives have been saved than
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if we’d achieved world peace in that
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time period and the person who normally
03:00
gets all the plays and the accolades is
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called Donald Henderson he’s the person
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who led the campaign and he certainly
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did
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terrific work but someone who’s almost
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entirely neglected in history is called
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Victor’s Danoff he was a Minister of
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Health for the USSR and he lobbied the
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World Health Organization in the 50s he
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was the one actually convinced the World
03:23
Health Organization to take on
03:26
eradication as a program an idea that
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was unheard of at a time and if it
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wasn’t for him using his platform his
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ability to influence other people to
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make a difference
03:35
perhaps the eradication program would
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have never gone ahead there’s one
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indirect way in which you can make a
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difference a third way is through your
03:42
ability to donate the most famous
03:44
example of someone doing good through
03:46
their donations nowadays has Bill Gates
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you wouldn’t think if you really wanted
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to make a difference in your life that
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you’d work in computing you certainly
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wouldn’t think to develop an operating
03:56
system like Windows but Bill Gates has
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been able to earn enough that by my
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estimation by the time he dies he will
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donated a hundred billion dollars and
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because he’s using those donations so
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wisely targeting effective causes within
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global health
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I estimate he’ll save upwards of five
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million lives to put that into context
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that’s as if he’d saved the life of
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everyone in my home country of Scotland
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so it’s pretty astonishing now that’s
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the direct impact you can have in the
04:24
job but there’s
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also when you think about pursuing a
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particular job how that job can set you
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up to have an impact later on in your
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life and when you’re just starting out
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you’re coming out of university this is
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a much more important consideration the
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amount of time you’ll spend in later
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jobs is far far greater than the amount
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of time you’ll spend in your first
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couple of jobs and moreover you’ll be
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much more influential in those positions
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it that’s the time later on in life when
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you’re running an organization let’s say
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about a million turning four one so when
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you’re setting out the most important
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thing is to pick jobs and ways to work
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that set you up to have an impact later
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on within that again I think there are
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three things to think about the first is
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how this job point abuse – what I call
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your career capital that means your
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skills the network you build how this
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job functions as a credential the second
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is how this job keeps your options open
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is it opening doors or is it closing
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them and then the final consideration is
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how much you’re learning in the course
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of that job both about yourself what
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areas you can potentially excel at but
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also about what the world needs now
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using this framework kind of listing all
05:39
the most important considerations about
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having an impact in a particular job how
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what does the argument for working in
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the charity sector straight out of
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university look like well surprisingly
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it doesn’t look so strong firstly let’s
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just think about the direct impact you
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have and I think when most people advise
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to say make a difference work in the
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charity sector they’re thinking that’s
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because you’ll have a big impact on the
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job even here it’s not so clear so if
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you really want to make a really big
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difference then you want to be in
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position where you have a really large
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influence over the world but in the
06:12
world as it is today it’s not really the
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charity world that has the big influence
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compared to places like politics or the
06:19
world of business or entrepreneurship
06:21
and innovation now you might think
06:23
people in those these positions
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currently don’t you use that influence
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for good ends but that just shows that
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we need to have more altruistic people
06:30
entering those positions so they can use
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that power for good the second aspect
06:34
aspect concerns effectiveness of
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charities different charities we’ve
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found
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very massively in how they’re able to
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use the sources to benefit people with
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different charities even within those
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are very effective able to provide a
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hundred or a thousand times the benefit
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with the same amount of resources
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benefiting a hundred times as many
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people what’s more when different social
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programs have been tested and these are
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social programs that have been rolled
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out very widely it’s found that 75
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percent of them actually have no effect
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at all and this is crucial when you’re
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thinking about what work to do because
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charity works really competitive so it’s
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very difficult only to work for the very
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most effective charities the ones that
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are making the biggest difference so
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that’s impact on the job when we look at
07:22
the kind of other considerations again
07:24
the picture doesn’t get much better so
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your ability to advocate within the
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charity world isn’t as good as it might
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be in other professions where you have a
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bigger public platform you won’t be
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earning very much so
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it’ll be harder to do a lot of good with
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your donations but even more importantly
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is how this work will set you up to make
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a difference later on in your life and
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charities because there’s so much more
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the source constrains than for profits
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for example they just can’t give you the
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same sort of training that you can get
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in the for-profit world so the skills
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that you’ll develop just generally
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aren’t as you aren’t as good in the
07:59
nonprofit world as they are in the
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for-profit world if you think about
08:02
keeping your options open well it’s much
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easier to move from a for-profit company
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to a non-profit than it is the other way
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around so if you start off working in
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the for-profit sphere then you’ve got a
08:15
wider array of options than you would if
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you work slick for the charity final
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consideration is how much you’ll learn
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in the course of that and that will
08:24
course vary from person to person and I
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think if you’re already interested in
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working with charity sector probably
08:31
have at least a reasonable sense of what
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that’s like both how rewarding that can
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be but also some of the struggles
08:36
involved in that in contrast very few
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people when they come out of university
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have a really good sense of what it’s
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like to work in operations or sales or
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marketing or in management and so you
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could potentially learn a lot more
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working for something even if you think
08:51
that will
08:52
your long-term career path so given this
08:55
flame work working for the charity state
08:58
out of university I think often isn’t
09:00
the best thing to do
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sometimes it can be but I think that’s
09:03
the exception rather than the rule if so
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what’s better
09:07
well I’ll mention five paths that I
09:09
think are really potentially very high
09:10
impact and I would really strongly
09:12
encourage people to think about the
09:15
first one is entrepreneurship both
09:17
nonprofit and for-profit but I’ll focus
09:19
on for-profit so on coke
09:22
entrepreneurship is incredibly socially
09:24
valuable in general economists have
09:27
estimated how much social value gets
09:29
generated by innovative companies and
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they’ve found that for every pound a
09:34
innovative company creates in profit it
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generates 50 pounds of social value so
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even just by creating things that kind
09:44
of useful and get taken up you’re making
09:46
the world a lot better but even better
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than that other ways that
09:50
entrepreneurship does on these other
09:51
criteria so one is in terms of if you
09:55
have a kind of long-term success
09:57
then you’ll potentially earn a lot of
09:59
money that you can use to donate
10:01
effectively also entrepreneurs more and
10:04
more getting seen as thought leaders
10:05
potentially giving you a public platform
10:07
to advocate from the most compelling
10:09
reason though is how this builds your
10:11
skills so perhaps beyond any other sort
10:15
of first career path I think
10:17
entrepreneurship is amazing in terms of
10:19
building your skills you have to learn
10:20
an awful large number of different
10:23
things you have to be the marketer you
10:25
have to be a manager you have to be an
10:27
Operations person all at once and
10:28
because there’s such pressure you have
10:30
to learn those things very quickly
10:32
moreover because you’re getting such a
10:34
wide variety you’re really learning a
10:36
lot about where you can really excel it
10:39
so an example of someone in the
10:41
community of people we’ve advised is the
10:43
delightfully named Lincoln quirk and he
10:46
set up a company called wave and that
10:49
company makes it easier and cheaper for
10:51
immigrants in the u.s. to send the
10:53
miniatures back to their home country
10:55
and this is potentially a really huge
10:57
deal remittances globally amount to
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almost five hundred billion dollars
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that’s several times the total for the
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floo if he can consistently make those
11:10
transfers cheaper then he’s potentially
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increasing the amount of money that goes
11:14
to some of the poorest countries in the
11:16
world by several hundred million dollars
11:18
a second path that I think is
11:20
potentially very high-impact is going
11:23
into research so if you look through
11:25
assessments of the most influential
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people over the course of human history
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scientists innovators thinkers very
11:34
often top those lists and that makes
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sense again this is something that’s
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significantly under supplied by the
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market and I think by governments too
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and if you can focus your research in a
11:45
really high-impact area you can
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potentially have a really outsized
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impact so an example of this in the
11:51
modern era is Norman Borlaug he was a
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fairly regular guy from Iowa but he had
11:56
this one obsession which was to develop
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this short stem disease resistant wheat
12:02
very boiling innovation it sounds like
12:04
Bo radically increased crop yields and
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that precipitated the Green Revolution
12:10
such that when Norman Borlaug was
12:12
awarded the Nobel Prize the committee
12:15
estimated that he’d saved a billion
12:17
lives now even if you think that’s
12:19
hyperbole it’s undoubtedly true that the
12:22
amount of good he’s done is certainly in
12:25
lieu in the order of significantly
12:27
improving the lives of millions of
12:29
people another example of someone in our
12:31
community who’s pursued this path is Ava
12:33
V volt she’s now a postdoctoral
12:36
researcher at New York University and
12:39
she’s already making significant
12:41
contributions to our understanding of
12:42
the use of randomized control trials and
12:45
development that is under the scientific
12:48
method to development in order that we
12:50
can ensure that we’re really helping
12:52
people and helping them as effectively
12:53
as we can
12:54
third potentially high impact path is
12:56
politics we advised one person from
13:00
Oxford Laura Brown who we thought might
13:03
be a good fit for the political arena
13:04
and again if you think about the most
13:07
influential people in history and the
13:09
most influential people today political
13:11
leaders are very often up there so we’ve
13:13
got Abraham Lincoln and Winston
13:15
Churchill and hung some sushi and so
13:18
and what we found is that in terms of
13:21
the ability to actually enter politics
13:24
it’s incredibly skewed depending on your
13:27
background we actually worked out that
13:29
for some Oxford students the chance of
13:31
you being able to become an MP if you
13:33
try to do so is as high as one in three
13:36
and that weapon represents some
13:39
astonishing facts about social mobility
13:42
in the UK but for someone like Laura
13:45
who’s idealistic and really wants to
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make a difference and does come from
13:48
that sort of background doing studying
13:50
politics philosophy and economics at
13:52
Oxford it’s an amazing opportunity to do
13:55
good potentially influencing how
13:56
billions of dollars are spent in
13:58
government spending and legislation that
14:00
can have an impact on a global scale
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also if the she isn’t successful isn’t
14:08
able to enter government still potential
14:10
to do important advocacy work or to have
14:12
a big impact through the policy world or
14:15
through think-tanks fourth option is
14:18
rifle skill building so you might think
14:21
I just have no idea what I want to do
14:23
long term well if so that’s fine
14:26
instead what you can think is I’m just
14:29
going to focus in the next five years
14:30
the next 10 years and deliberately do
14:32
things that can build my skills build
14:34
Who I am as a person so that I can be
14:37
the sort of person the world really
14:38
needs Habiba Islam as someone we advised
14:41
again from Oxford who pursued this she
14:44
was thinking maybe politics long term
14:46
but she wasn’t sure and so she’s entered
14:49
consulting which is this great
14:50
all-purpose business education and
14:53
provides a great potential so that she’s
14:56
in a good position while she works out
14:58
her options perhaps over the next five
15:00
years keeps a lot of doors open such
15:03
that she can pursue something
15:04
high-impact later on and she’s also able
15:07
to make a really significant impact
15:09
through her donations at the same time
15:11
that takes us to the final path that I
15:12
think people should think about quite
15:15
seriously when thinking about how to do
15:16
good and I call that learning to give
15:18
now for some people their comparative
15:22
advantage what they are particularly
15:23
good at isn’t things later two things
15:26
that can directly have an impact there’s
15:28
a lot of ability to take careers very
15:30
lucrative so
15:31
can earn a lot of money like Bill Gates
15:32
did through that you can donate a large
15:34
proportion of Europe earnings most
15:36
effective charities and have an impact
15:38
through your donations even if not
15:40
through other means so Alexander Gordon
15:42
Brown was a graduate of here in
15:44
Cambridge and his particular skills like
15:47
lay in maths and that means he’s been
15:49
able to work on trading in the City of
15:51
London after just a couple of years he’s
15:53
been able to donate well over a hundred
15:55
thousand pounds he’s planning to give
15:58
over 50 percent of his income of the
16:00
course of his life which will amount to
16:02
many millions of pounds again because
16:05
money is so flexible he’s able to target
16:07
that only to the very most effective
16:10
charities and that means that his money
16:12
will be able to do enough to
16:15
significantly improve the lives of tens
16:18
of thousands of people in the world
16:20
today I think talent is far too often
16:22
squandered I think there’s too many
16:25
altruistic people who want to make a
16:27
difference hear this advice Oh work in a
16:30
non-profit then and think that’s not for
16:33
me so I guess I should just give up on
16:35
my autistic aims I think there’s too
16:37
many other people as well who stick it
16:39
out and say ok well I will work for the
16:41
nonprofit then and they do so even
16:44
though they could have had an even
16:46
bigger impact elsewhere
16:47
we each have 80,000 hours of work and
16:51
time that we can spend in our lives I
16:53
think that if we follow the search and a
16:57
very careful and think in a careful
17:00
manner about how to spend those hours I
17:02
believe we can have an absolutely
17:04
extraordinary impact
17:11
you
William MacAskill makes a clever plea to those young graduates who want to improve the lives of others: Want to change the world for the better? Here’s the case for working in finance, rather than for a charity. William MacAskill is a Research Fellow in Moral Philosophy at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He’s the cofounder of non-profits Giving What We Can, which advocates for people to pledge 10% of their income to the most cost-effective charities, and 80,000 Hours, which provides advice and coaching on how to choose a career with the biggest social impact. Between them these organisations have raised over $10 million for charity, with a further $370 million pledged. He is the author of Doing Good Better, to be published August 2015 with Penguin Random House (Gotham imprint) in the US and Guardian Faber in the UK. This book presents a philosophy he calls ‘effective altruism’, explaining how to do the most good though where you give, what you buy, where you volunteer and what career you pursue. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx
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