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

if you want to use your life to make the

world a better place what career should

you pursue when I was a student I was

concerned by some of the big problems in

the world global poverty climate change

gender inequality so I wanted to know

the answer to that question I tried

asking friends and family what I should

do so I'd go into the University Career

Service tried going online in order to

get advice from websites and one piece

of advice that I just got over and over

again was want to make a difference work

for the charity but I never think we

found a rationale for that it just

seemed to people like that was the

obvious advice and I was thinking look

this is the biggest decision in my life

this is a decision about how to spend

over 80,000 working hours I want to know

that you know some really good evidence

backs up that decision and I realized

that if I wanted an answer to that

question that was really going to

satisfy me I was going to have to be a

geek and do the research myself over the

last four years my colleagues and I have

been investigating exactly that question

and we've come up with a framework that

enables young people to help them make

decisions about what career should they

should pursue if they want to really

make a difference and this research has

led to some fairly big changes in my

life I've changed the focus my other

search quite considerably I've altered

what I do in my spare time dedicating

that to social entrepreneurship and I've

changed what I do with my money

committing to donate at least 50% of

what I earn over the course of my life

so here's the framework you should think

about two different aspects when you're

considering a job that makes a

difference the first is the impact

you'll have on that job like while

you're working in that particular

position but the second is how that job

sets you up to have a big impact later

on in your life let's go through each

and turn so there's three different ways

in which you can have an impact on the


the first notes the most obvious is just

a labor that you contribute in your role

so when we think about model heroes like

Mother Teresa or kind of common sense do

good in careers like working as a

schoolteacher on the charity sector as a

firefighter that's because people are

directly contributing their labor to a

good cause but that's not the only way

you can have an impact in a job you can

also have an impact indirectly for

example through your ability to advocate

for important causes one of my favorite

examples of this is the eradication of

smallpox I think that this is one of

humanity's greatest ever achievement

since we have a decayed smallpox in 1980

we've saved 122 million lives and


that's more lives have been saved than

if we'd achieved world peace in that

time period and the person who normally

gets all the plays and the accolades is

called Donald Henderson he's the person

who led the campaign and he certainly


terrific work but someone who's almost

entirely neglected in history is called

Victor's Danoff he was a Minister of

Health for the USSR and he lobbied the

World Health Organization in the 50s he

was the one actually convinced the World

Health Organization to take on

eradication as a program an idea that

was unheard of at a time and if it

wasn't for him using his platform his

ability to influence other people to

make a difference

perhaps the eradication program would

have never gone ahead there's one

indirect way in which you can make a

difference a third way is through your

ability to donate the most famous

example of someone doing good through

their donations nowadays has Bill Gates

you wouldn't think if you really wanted

to make a difference in your life that

you'd work in computing you certainly

wouldn't think to develop an operating

system like Windows but Bill Gates has

been able to earn enough that by my

estimation by the time he dies he will

donated a hundred billion dollars and

because he's using those donations so

wisely targeting effective causes within

global health

I estimate he'll save upwards of five

million lives to put that into context

that's as if he'd saved the life of

everyone in my home country of Scotland

so it's pretty astonishing now that's

the direct impact you can have in the

job but there's

also when you think about pursuing a

particular job how that job can set you

up to have an impact later on in your

life and when you're just starting out

you're coming out of university this is

a much more important consideration the

amount of time you'll spend in later

jobs is far far greater than the amount

of time you'll spend in your first

couple of jobs and moreover you'll be

much more influential in those positions

it that's the time later on in life when

you're running an organization let's say

about a million turning four one so when

you're setting out the most important

thing is to pick jobs and ways to work

that set you up to have an impact later

on within that again I think there are

three things to think about the first is

how this job point abuse - what I call

your career capital that means your

skills the network you build how this

job functions as a credential the second

is how this job keeps your options open

is it opening doors or is it closing

them and then the final consideration is

how much you're learning in the course

of that job both about yourself what

areas you can potentially excel at but

also about what the world needs now

using this framework kind of listing all

the most important considerations about

having an impact in a particular job how

what does the argument for working in

the charity sector straight out of

university look like well surprisingly

it doesn't look so strong firstly let's

just think about the direct impact you

have and I think when most people advise

to say make a difference work in the

charity sector they're thinking that's

because you'll have a big impact on the

job even here it's not so clear so if

you really want to make a really big

difference then you want to be in

position where you have a really large

influence over the world but in the

world as it is today it's not really the

charity world that has the big influence

compared to places like politics or the

world of business or entrepreneurship

and innovation now you might think

people in those these positions

currently don't you use that influence

for good ends but that just shows that

we need to have more altruistic people

entering those positions so they can use

that power for good the second aspect

aspect concerns effectiveness of

charities different charities we've


very massively in how they're able to

use the sources to benefit people with

different charities even within those

are very effective able to provide a

hundred or a thousand times the benefit

with the same amount of resources

benefiting a hundred times as many

people what's more when different social

programs have been tested and these are

social programs that have been rolled

out very widely it's found that 75

percent of them actually have no effect

at all and this is crucial when you're

thinking about what work to do because

charity works really competitive so it's

very difficult only to work for the very

most effective charities the ones that

are making the biggest difference so

that's impact on the job when we look at

the kind of other considerations again

the picture doesn't get much better so

your ability to advocate within the

charity world isn't as good as it might

be in other professions where you have a

bigger public platform you won't be

earning very much so

it'll be harder to do a lot of good with

your donations but even more importantly

is how this work will set you up to make

a difference later on in your life and

charities because there's so much more

the source constrains than for profits

for example they just can't give you the

same sort of training that you can get

in the for-profit world so the skills

that you'll develop just generally

aren't as you aren't as good in the

nonprofit world as they are in the

for-profit world if you think about

keeping your options open well it's much

easier to move from a for-profit company

to a non-profit than it is the other way

around so if you start off working in

the for-profit sphere then you've got a

wider array of options than you would if

you work slick for the charity final

consideration is how much you'll learn

in the course of that and that will

course vary from person to person and I

think if you're already interested in

working with charity sector probably

have at least a reasonable sense of what

that's like both how rewarding that can

be but also some of the struggles

involved in that in contrast very few

people when they come out of university

have a really good sense of what it's

like to work in operations or sales or

marketing or in management and so you

could potentially learn a lot more

working for something even if you think

that will

your long-term career path so given this

flame work working for the charity state

out of university I think often isn't

the best thing to do

sometimes it can be but I think that's

the exception rather than the rule if so

what's better

well I'll mention five paths that I

think are really potentially very high

impact and I would really strongly

encourage people to think about the

first one is entrepreneurship both

nonprofit and for-profit but I'll focus

on for-profit so on coke

entrepreneurship is incredibly socially

valuable in general economists have

estimated how much social value gets

generated by innovative companies and

they've found that for every pound a

innovative company creates in profit it

generates 50 pounds of social value so

even just by creating things that kind

of useful and get taken up you're making

the world a lot better but even better

than that other ways that

entrepreneurship does on these other

criteria so one is in terms of if you

have a kind of long-term success

then you'll potentially earn a lot of

money that you can use to donate

effectively also entrepreneurs more and

more getting seen as thought leaders

potentially giving you a public platform

to advocate from the most compelling

reason though is how this builds your

skills so perhaps beyond any other sort

of first career path I think

entrepreneurship is amazing in terms of

building your skills you have to learn

an awful large number of different

things you have to be the marketer you

have to be a manager you have to be an

Operations person all at once and

because there's such pressure you have

to learn those things very quickly

moreover because you're getting such a

wide variety you're really learning a

lot about where you can really excel it

so an example of someone in the

community of people we've advised is the

delightfully named Lincoln quirk and he

set up a company called wave and that

company makes it easier and cheaper for

immigrants in the u.s. to send the

miniatures back to their home country

and this is potentially a really huge

deal remittances globally amount to

almost five hundred billion dollars

that's several times the total for the

floo if he can consistently make those

transfers cheaper then he's potentially

increasing the amount of money that goes

to some of the poorest countries in the

world by several hundred million dollars

a second path that I think is

potentially very high-impact is going

into research so if you look through

assessments of the most influential

people over the course of human history

scientists innovators thinkers very

often top those lists and that makes

sense again this is something that's

significantly under supplied by the

market and I think by governments too

and if you can focus your research in a

really high-impact area you can

potentially have a really outsized

impact so an example of this in the

modern era is Norman Borlaug he was a

fairly regular guy from Iowa but he had

this one obsession which was to develop

this short stem disease resistant wheat

very boiling innovation it sounds like

Bo radically increased crop yields and

that precipitated the Green Revolution

such that when Norman Borlaug was

awarded the Nobel Prize the committee

estimated that he'd saved a billion

lives now even if you think that's

hyperbole it's undoubtedly true that the

amount of good he's done is certainly in

lieu in the order of significantly

improving the lives of millions of

people another example of someone in our

community who's pursued this path is Ava

V volt she's now a postdoctoral

researcher at New York University and

she's already making significant

contributions to our understanding of

the use of randomized control trials and

development that is under the scientific

method to development in order that we

can ensure that we're really helping

people and helping them as effectively

as we can

third potentially high impact path is

politics we advised one person from

Oxford Laura Brown who we thought might

be a good fit for the political arena

and again if you think about the most

influential people in history and the

most influential people today political

leaders are very often up there so we've

got Abraham Lincoln and Winston

Churchill and hung some sushi and so

and what we found is that in terms of

the ability to actually enter politics

it's incredibly skewed depending on your

background we actually worked out that

for some Oxford students the chance of

you being able to become an MP if you

try to do so is as high as one in three

and that weapon represents some

astonishing facts about social mobility

in the UK but for someone like Laura

who's idealistic and really wants to

make a difference and does come from

that sort of background doing studying

politics philosophy and economics at

Oxford it's an amazing opportunity to do

good potentially influencing how

billions of dollars are spent in

government spending and legislation that

can have an impact on a global scale

also if the she isn't successful isn't

able to enter government still potential

to do important advocacy work or to have

a big impact through the policy world or

through think-tanks fourth option is

rifle skill building so you might think

I just have no idea what I want to do

long term well if so that's fine

instead what you can think is I'm just

going to focus in the next five years

the next 10 years and deliberately do

things that can build my skills build

Who I am as a person so that I can be

the sort of person the world really

needs Habiba Islam as someone we advised

again from Oxford who pursued this she

was thinking maybe politics long term

but she wasn't sure and so she's entered

consulting which is this great

all-purpose business education and

provides a great potential so that she's

in a good position while she works out

her options perhaps over the next five

years keeps a lot of doors open such

that she can pursue something

high-impact later on and she's also able

to make a really significant impact

through her donations at the same time

that takes us to the final path that I

think people should think about quite

seriously when thinking about how to do

good and I call that learning to give

now for some people their comparative

advantage what they are particularly

good at isn't things later two things

that can directly have an impact there's

a lot of ability to take careers very

lucrative so

can earn a lot of money like Bill Gates

did through that you can donate a large

proportion of Europe earnings most

effective charities and have an impact

through your donations even if not

through other means so Alexander Gordon

Brown was a graduate of here in

Cambridge and his particular skills like

lay in maths and that means he's been

able to work on trading in the City of

London after just a couple of years he's

been able to donate well over a hundred

thousand pounds he's planning to give

over 50 percent of his income of the

course of his life which will amount to

many millions of pounds again because

money is so flexible he's able to target

that only to the very most effective

charities and that means that his money

will be able to do enough to

significantly improve the lives of tens

of thousands of people in the world

today I think talent is far too often

squandered I think there's too many

altruistic people who want to make a

difference hear this advice Oh work in a

non-profit then and think that's not for

me so I guess I should just give up on

my autistic aims I think there's too

many other people as well who stick it

out and say ok well I will work for the

nonprofit then and they do so even

though they could have had an even

bigger impact elsewhere

we each have 80,000 hours of work and

time that we can spend in our lives I

think that if we follow the search and a

very careful and think in a careful

manner about how to spend those hours I

believe we can have an absolutely

extraordinary impact