Academic will put £1m where his mouth is
AN ACADEMIC earning £30,000 a year has pledged to give away £1 million over his lifetime to fight Third World poverty.
Toby Ord, an ethics researcher at Oxford University, will donate 10 per cent of his annual salary plus everything he makes above 20,000 for the rest of his career.
Ord is the founder of a new group called Giving What We Can which commits its members – 23 to date – to surrender at least a tenth of their lifetime income to charities.
Most, like Ord, an Australia-born PhD, are philosophers, lawyers or ethicists who believe they will enjoy life with incomes typical of an average student and don't need any extra cash.
Ord alone reckons that he could save the equivalent of 500,000 years of human life by giving away 1m of the 1.5m he expects to earn over his lifetime.
Ord, a 30-year-old research associate at Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute, said: "Life on my current income is very good.
"If I spent the extra money on myself I could go on holiday more often, get an iPhone, eat out at expensive restaurants. It would be nice, but not all that much better.
"So I have a choice between greatly improving the lives of tens of thousands of people or adding a few extras to my life. Put like that, it is an easy choice.
"Once you get used to the idea, it is actually not much of a burden.
"I feel much more purposeful in life. What is difficult is agonising over whether you can justify each luxury.
"By making a pledge you don't have to do that anymore: you just live within your new means."
Members of Giving What We Can have already pledged more than 6m. They include respected philosophers Peter Singer and Thomas Pogge and academics, lawyers and other professionals.
Nearly half the volunteers are students. One of them, science student Becky Langham, said: "I found living on a student income to be well within my means, so I don't think I'll particularly feel any monetary regret or envy. After all, one can't miss what one hasn't had." Her pledge, she said, would be "life-defining".
Ord too yesterday said he had been inspired to make his pledge by just how much he felt fulfilled by a student lifestyle. He said: "My student years were not extravagant, but were immensely enjoyable, with the chief enjoyments such as reading beautiful books and spending time with my wife and friends costing almost nothing.
"I realised that if I were to continue to live modestly like I have as a student, I should be able to give away about 1m."
Ord and his colleagues believe they will make a much bigger impact than most philanthropists by applying academic scrutiny to the charities they support.
Ord handed over a first donation of 10,000 to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, a body that specialises in neglected tropical diseases, one of just three recommended charities backed by the group.
His website explained: "It is not even a matter of some charities being 10 or 100 times as effective: even restricted to the field of health programmes in developing countries, research shows that some are up to 10,000 times as effective as others."
Ord and his friends believe they can save a life in the Third World for as little as 2, a fraction of the cost of doing so in the UK or elsewhere in the developed world.
He said: "I could save thousands of people's lives, and saving one person's life is often thought to be an amazing kind of thing you can do over your whole career.
"As an undergraduate, I often argued with my friends about political and ethical matters. I regularly received the retort, 'If you believe that, why don't you just give all of your money to people starving in Africa?'
"This was meant to show that my position was absurd, but as time passed and I thought more about ethics, I found the conclusion increasingly sensible: why not indeed?"
Ord, who is originally from Australia and has degrees in science and the arts, won't be able to live the life of luxury thanks to his partner. His wife has signed up to give her cash away too.
Members of Giving What We Can either opt for a basic pledge of 10 per cent, or like Ord, agree to also hand over all income over 20,000, as adjusted for inflation.
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