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Manos y planeta Tierra

Effective altruism: impact over intuition

The world is full of problems, and it is laudable that anyone chooses to devote their time or resources to tackling one of them. However, we are often unaware that if we choose to support any good cause, we may be wasting a great opportunity. How is this possible? The answer lies in effective altruism, an international movement that aims to make the maximum positive impact on the world with the resources we have.


Effective altruism

Pablo Melchor, president of Ayuda Efectiva (“Effective Help”)

February 24 2023

The time or money we can spend to help is always limited. If we spend it on one project, we cannot spend it on another. This would not matter if the effectiveness of all projects were similar since we would achieve more or less the same impact: "we would help the same". However, research tells us that the differences in effectiveness between projects are huge. If we are concerned about animal welfare, for example, it is possible that, with the same amount of resources, one project can help hundreds of times more animals than another. This being the case, it seems really important to choose wisely which projects we support.

However, there is an important step before we start comparing projects: the choice of the problem we are going to tackle can have a tremendous impact on effectiveness. A cause-prioritization framework developed in the effective altruism movement  tells us, in a simplified way, that:


Our impact can be much greater if we prioritise problems with three characteristics: large, tractable, and relatively neglected.

Take, again, the cause of animal welfare as an example. As Will MacAskill explains in his 2018 TED Talk:

  • We consume billions of animals as food every year. Most of them spend their lives on factory farms, routinely enduring great suffering. The scale of the problem is therefore very large.

  • There are very effective ways to improve their living conditions (such as campaigning for cage-free egg production), at a cost of just a few cents for every animal we help. There is no doubt that we can make significant progress: this is a tractable problem.

  • There are 3,000 times more farm animals than abandoned companion animals in the US. Yet shelters for companion animals receive 50 times more funding than initiatives to improve the living conditions of animals who spend their lives on factory farms. The second problem is clearly largely neglected.

If we want to achieve maximum animal welfare impact, it makes perfect sense to prioritise living conditions on factory farms. In other causes, the prioritisation framework is equally useful. If we are concerned about health, for example, the impact we can make on the problems affecting the hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty is far greater than on the diseases that get the most media attention. One example is vitamin A deficiency which, among other things, is the biggest cause of childhood blindness: it is preventable at a cost of less than 2 euros per child per year.

From a personal point of view, effective altruism leads us, for example, not to donate simply because a cause matters to us, but to make the decision on the basis of how much additional impact our donation can achieve. This is what we call donating with our head as well as our heart.

If you want to learn more about the ideas and methodology of effective altruism, you can visit or get to know the Spanish-speaking community at


Pablo Melchor

President of Ayuda Efectiva (“Effective Help”), a foundation based on the principles of effective altruism. Ayuda Efectiva uses the donations it receives to fund those humanitarian projects that save the most lives per dollar.

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