Swochchhanda Shrestha


As I have learned about the ideas and methods of effective altruism over the course of the Arete Fellowship, I have become very interested in how these ideas can relate to systemic change. In particular, I think it is interesting to question Effective Altruism’s relationship with systemic change because systemic change is often hard to prove or provide definitive evidence of in the short term, such as through a Randomized Control Trial (RTC). It is much easier to prove that a non-profit organization is saving lives directly by providing the cure to a given widespread and dangerous disease than it is to prove a non-profit’s success in changing fundamental aspects of a society. In addition, many EA charities or movements rely on funds coming in from the developed world to help the developing world, and it could be argued that this can make those most in need very dependent on those in better positions.

However, as I have engaged with more readings and discussions regarding effective altruism, I have found that the movement as a whole is also directly concerned with systemic change and evolving to address it more directly. For example, many EA movements in developing countries have some goal of helping to spread Creative Capacity Building among people living in poverty. Furthermore, although EA is fundamentally concerned with evaluating the objective effectiveness of non-profit organizations, cultural considerations are also now considered and charities which partner with local organizations in order to effectively reach their beneficiaries are preferred. As a result, effective altruists all around the world work to implement not only proven and existing methods of saving and improving lives of those most in need, but also come up with new innovations that could possibly make the world a better and fairer place. These innovations can come in the developing world, by increasing the agency of poor individuals and giving them greater control of the quality of their lives, or it can come in the developed world, by making affluent people more aware of their privilege and the opportunity they have to make a significant positive impact in someone else’s life (often cited as an important motivator but not as often actually followed up on).

Ultimately, the idea that Effective Altruism does not address issues of systemic change at all is an outdated one. Instead, it is true that EA prefers for people with more expertise in cultures where systemic change innovations are attempting to be made, be the ones who work on such movements. In reality, this may lead to more effective systemic change in the long run, as well as allowing the contributions of less specialized altruists to go to less risk-averse causes.