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May 2015

Like everyone, our Team at The Life You Can Save is deeply saddened by the loss of life and the infrastructure destruction in the wake of the earthquake in Nepal.  Our emotional response is heightened by the fact that eight of our recommended charities work there, and many are involved in the ongoing relief efforts (see more under Charity Voices below).  These highly effective organizations continue to need funding and support to aid the Nepalese in a variety of contexts--consider helping to ensure that along with immediate needs, those long-term vital services don't come to a grinding halt in the aftermath of the earthquake in Kathmandu. 

In thinking about how best to help those in immediate as well as long-term crises, the publication of Peter's new book,
The Most Good You Can Do, is an appropriate time to introduce the Effective Altruism Handbook.  I sincerely hope that everyone will read both Peter's new book and this wonderful handbook that Ryan Carey has put together.

Recently, I have put more and more time into fundraising for our Recommended Charities-- an activity that is a prime part of my job.  If any readers would like to help me in this critical effort, I would appreciate it -- please contact me at  Help could take many forms that we can discuss, but throwing an event within your circle of influence would be just one way.

In the meantime, Good living and Good Giving...and Good reading!

Charlie Bresler is Executive Director of The Life You Can Save, an organization founded by the philosopher Peter Singer and based on the basic tenet of Effective Altruism: leading an ethical life involves using a portion of personal assets and resources to effectively alleviate the consequences of extreme poverty.

In May's Issue


Charity Voices


Team Picks


Supporter Story


This Month in Giving


Highlights from Our Blog

Charity Voices
Recent events, initiatives, and even a video game, from our recommended charities
Please look at these charities' websites to see how you can help in the aftermath of the Kathmandu quake as well as with ongoing devastating health and living issues that these charities have dramatic impact on.
After having their health restored by Fistula Foundation's services, Ugandan women become ambassadors to find and help new patients.
See the Fistula Ambassadors at work in Uganda Village Project--in under 3 minutes!

Since 2013, Fistula Foundation has partnered with Uganda Village Project (UVP), a Uganda-based organization working with marginalized populations on issues related to health and sustainable development.

One of UVP's main projects is a Fistula Ambassador program that trains fistula survivors to become change agents in their communities, raising awareness and helping to identify and refer women for treatment. The program was inspired by a woman named Loy.

For 24 hours, Loy labored in a small hospital in the Iganga District of southeast Uganda. The delivery was so difficult that it ruptured her uterus. Tragically, her baby did not survive. Doctors performed a hysterectomy, but a few days later Loy noticed she was leaking urine. She went back to the hospital and learned that she had likely developed an obstetric fistula, a devastating childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labor that renders a woman incontinent. It is most common in developing countries where women have limited access to antenatal care and emergency obstetric services. It is also common, as in Loy's case, for small local hospitals to lack the equipment and expertise to perform fistula repair.

Six months after she began leaking, Loy heard about Uganda Village Project through a friend and approached the organization for help. They brought her to Kamuli Mission Hospital where her fistula was healed --free of charge-- after two operations. Loy’s journey with UVP did not end there, however. She wanted to do something to help other women like her; women who had developed fistula during childbirth but might not know the direct cause or their treatment options. Today, she is the coordinator of the UVP's Fistula Ambassador program, helping reach thousands of people in Uganda and identifying dozens of new patients.

Finding fistula patients can be almost as difficult as treating them. Women with fistula are often isolated and marginalized due to the stigma surrounding their condition, and many are hesitant to come forward. Through UVP’s program, former fistula patients become Fistula Ambassadors in their own communities and beyond. They are trained in basic fistula knowledge and communication skills and are given uniforms and educational materials in order to conduct their own outreach sessions. This has been a particularly effective approach, as women feel more comfortable coming forward knowing that these ambassadors have been through the same ordeal themselves.

The Fistula Ambassador program, inspired by Loy and funded by Fistula Foundation, has been an amazing success. Since it began in 2013, 20 ambassadors from eight districts have been trained by UVP. Together, they have been able to raise awareness about fistula to over 6,400 people and have identified 65 new patients and referred them for free treatment. Fistula Foundation and UVP will continue working together to grow the Fistula Ambassador program and ensure that more women in more areas of Uganda are able to get the treatment they need.

Digitizing Healthcare in Rural Nepal: Why Having an Electronic Medical Record Matters
Our engineer, Anant, conducting EMR trainings with our nurses.

Around the globe, our lives are increasingly transformed by technology, with healthcare perhaps one of the most impressive arenas for these changes.

And in many doctor’s offices around the world, with a few clicks of a mouse, your physician can retrieve all of your medical history through the use of an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system. Until recently, this was not the reality for organizations working in remote  areas, like Possible in Nepal.

EMR’s have many benefits that help "solve for the patient" (a.k.a. making healthcare more accessible and tailored to a patient’s specific needs, and delivering it in a dignified, quality way). Getting an instant record of a patient’s medical history facilitates improved patient care via more accurate diagnoses and treatments, the ability to instantly share health information with multiple clinicians, and reduction of errors and inconsistencies found when recording patient health information by paper. An EMR system also opens up avenues for better reporting, research, and quality improvement, and integrates with digital lab, x-ray, and other systems.

Typically, EMR cost is high, the technology is advanced, and adoption around the world is quite rare — especially in remote settings of poverty.

However, the core of Possible’s work comes down to how effective management systems can improve the quality of healthcare delivery. One of our For-Impact Culture Code principles states, “Efficiency is a Moral Must,” so in order to solve for the patient, we set out to implement our own EMR system.

Therefore, we’re thrilled to announce that after two years of work with ThoughtWorks, we launched one of rural Nepal’s first EMR systems! To read more, go to

Thankfully, the recent quake did not affect the EMR in our district beyond limited internet connectivity throughout Nepal right now, so it should be even more useful going forward.

SCI fan Pierce Burnett developed an app to raise funds for SCI. He hopes it will inspire others to harness opportunities to help charities.
Droplet, a free or 99cts app that helps raise funds for SCI

Online gamers are prepared to pay real money for virtual objects, a concept some people find difficult to understand. Others, like Pierce Burnett, see this as an incredible opportunity and want to play a part in developing the huge altruistic potential video games can offer.

Pierce decided to try his hand creating an app, crafting a game with charitable giving at its core. "Droplet" is the result. 

Self-taught, it took Pierce a year to complete the game design and a few months more to obtain approval for sale in the Android Google play storeApple app store approval took a little longer and finally came through on 25 March 2015.

Including charity as a core component of the game was more challenging than Pierce anticipated. What spurred him on, why didn’t he throw in the towel, and why did he choose SCI to benefit from his project?

“It was the culmination of four years of trying to figure out how best to donate to SCI and how to repay a debt. I heard about SCI in my first year of university when my roommate introduced me to the parasite schistosomiasis, how prevalent it is, and the enormous effect this impossible-to-pronounce disease has on developing nations. Chronic fatigue, just one of the symptoms, leads to a fall in school attendance and attainment, children dropping out, and decreased chances of earning a livelihood. My roommate then told me about his fundraising initiative to convince everyone in the dorm to donate any spare change they had throughout the rest of the academic year to pay to deworm children in Africa. He ended up collecting $200.

Unfortunately, I came on hard times and had to take $100 from the donation money. I naturally felt guilty taking from a worse-off group of people. I wanted to repay him as soon as I was able, but I also wanted to help him spread both word of the charity and create new fundraising channels. I ended up repaying him my sophomore year. Then the opportunity of creating a video game that generates money for SCI presented itself”.

Droplet raises money for SCI in two distinct ways. If you download the ‘free version’, any time you click on an irritating advert, a nominal amount is paid to Pierce, approx. 5¢/3p, of which 50% goes straight to SCI. If you download the paid version, 99¢ in the U.S. and 79p in U.K., 50% goes to SCI!  Every penny counts! Remember that for just 50p, SCI can treat and protect one child for a year against schistosomiasis and intestinal worms.  So show your support for SCI and let’s see how many treatments Droplet can make possible in 2015.  The app can be downloaded from Android Google play store (99cents or free) and the Apple app store.

At SCI we like supporting proof of concept initiatives. If the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hadn’t given us the funding to enable SCI to prove the concept that deworming is possible on a national scale, cost effective and has a huge impact on development, millions of children and at risk adults across Africa would be in much worse health today. Droplet is an opportunity to demonstrate to other developers that doing social good is possible while also making a living. It also provides a fantastic and novel new source of income for SCI.

“I really want to set an example and encourage more video games to incorporate an element of social good. Games are an extremely powerful medium touching the lives of millions of people. Games incorporating charity at their core will increase awareness and support for worthwhile causes” (Pierce Burnett).


IGN conducts Iodine Deficiency Disorder prevention workshop in MENA
IGN workshop participants.

In March, the Iodine Global Network organized a workshop in Dubai on sustainable prevention of iodine deficiency disorders--notably brain damage to infants--and achievement of optimal iodine nutrition. The workshop was hosted by the Ministry of Health, under the patronage of Dr Husain Alrand, the MoH Undersecretary for Hospitals and Clinics. Dr Izzeldin Hussein, the IGN Regional Coordinator for MENA/EMRO, provided technical and organizational support in collaboration with UNICEF-MENA and other partners.

The workshop was attended by 48 participants from all over the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, including the UAE, Oman, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. The countries shared their experiences in USI surveillance and integration of salt iodization and salt reduction programs. For all, it was an opportunity to learn how to address IDD through a successful multisectoral collaboration, and how to sustain progress in emergency settings. For their achievements in sustainable IDD elimination, the Gulf States received a collective award.

The goal of the workshop was to identify opportunities to leverage government and industry commitment and the commitment of regional bodies, such as the Gulf State Cooperation and the existing surveillance systems. All countries provided their Plans of Action for 2015-2020, which will facilitate further tracking of country progress. By building on the existing USI successes across the region, the aim is to make the 4 million newborns and 148 million people who are currently partially unprotected from iodine deficiency a thing of the past in the Middle East and North Africa.

At present only 25 WHO countries remain iodine deficient at the national level (see the latest Global Iodine Scorecard ).

Team Picks

Help decide which effective charities will receive the proceeds from Peter Singer's new book, The Most Good You Can Do.  Play the Giving Game to cast your vote on where $10,000 should be given!

Jon Behar 
Director of Philanthropy Education

Our colleagues at GiveWell wrote this piece, which does a great job of explaining the perspective of effective altruist organizations, like theirs and The Life You Can Save, about responding in the face of a disaster such as the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal .

Charlie Bresler 
Executive Director

I was moved by Wim Wenders's new feature documentary about the career and life of the Brazilian photographer Sabastião Salgado. The Salt of the Earth was shown in film festivals late last year, and is now screening in theaters nationwide. A former economist at the World Bank, Salgado abandoned his professional career in order to begin taking photographs full time. During the 1980s, he documented displaced populations in the Sahel region of Africa to chronicle the deep suffering that arises not merely in the aftermath of wars and natural disasters, but from, as he puts it, "a refusal to share the resources that we already have."

Rhema Hokama 
Managing Editor

Among the growing number of books and articles about effective altruism, I was proud to see two recent items in the Huffington Post: one, by our Managing Editor Rhema Hokama--Why We Should Do Good by Giving Better--answers concerns Nicholas Kristof raised in a New York Times opinion piece about Peter Singer's new book, The Most Good You Can Do; the other, "The Joys of Giving Large," by our volunteer Brad Hurley, explores whether donating generously is as much of a challenge as it would first appear to be.

Amy Schwimmer 
Director of Operations

Supporter Story

Thomas Sittler

The book Poor Economics set student Thomas Sittler's life on an effective altruist trajectory.

I began to think about effective altruism a few years ago when I read Poor Economics, a book by two MIT economists on “the surprising truth about life on less than one dollar a day”. I loved the book, which teems with insight about what drives the economic lives of the world’s poorest people, and contains a lot of surprising evidence about the best policies to improve their lives. (Why, for instance, do the poor borrow in order to save? Read the book.) But I read many interesting books like these, and at the time it seemed to be just another one, like a TED talk watched in fascination only to be quickly forgotten. In fact though, Poor Economics changed my life.

The most important thing the book probably did was to humanize the global poor, turning them from an abstraction into real people I could relate to. For example, whether you lead a privileged life in the rich west or are struggling on less than $1 a day in sub-saharan Africa, procrastination is a real hurdle to reaching your goals. It’s just that we in the rich world have developed so many devices to nudge us in the right direction: compulsory vaccinations, automatic enrollment in 401(k)s, etc. We don’t even have to think about these, whereas the global poor are forced to constantly exercise immense self-control to be able to plan for the future. Poor people face a variety of issues that go far beyond lack of food, and often develop schemes of striking ingenuity to work around the inadequacy of government-provided services. The book compiles the results of a host of randomized controlled trials (very rigorous evaluations of social policies) to show how much poor people’s lives can be improved by things like free bednets or deworming pills.

I realized that there are people just like me, who, by the lottery of birth, find themselves facing massive hardships. We in the affluent world have the power to alleviate these hardships.

This idea had been planted in my mind by Poor Economics, but it was when I read Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save that its full force came into focus. All the issues of western politics, let alone my personal life, seemed to pale in comparison to the extreme salience of one fact: a life can be saved for trifling amounts of money, probably less than a thousand dollars.

What could I do? Peter Singer suggests that we pledge a portion of our income to the most effective causes. But as a student, I have no income to speak of. Donating some of my money would probably make me feel good, but the impact would be so tiny as to hardly matter. I decided that the most effective thing I could do would be to use my time to make sure other, richer people, do more donating. I bought a small box of copies of Peter Singer’s book and started giving them out to strategically selected targets. In December, I began doing some volunteer work for The Life You Can Save, helping them develop the Charity Impact Calculator. This summer, I’ll be spending some time at Giving What We Can.

The picture above is of me running the Paris half-marathon in a Life You Can Save T-Shirt that I made. Wearing the T-Shirt was almost certainly very low-impact. But I was proud to cross the finish line supporting a charity like this one. The impact on me has been high.

Thomas is a student and started volunteering for The Life You Can Save in 2014. He's passionate about doing the most good and thinks that writing for TLYCS is one way he can make a difference as a student. He is also planning a summer internship at Giving What We Can. Thomas enjoys debates about philosophy or politics, Woody Allen movies, and rock climbing.

This Month in Giving

Mother's Day

If you're a mom who isn't into fleeting gifts like flowers and candy, consider asking your loved ones to donate to a charity that effectively supports lifting women around the world out of extreme poverty--e.g. Fistula Foundation, or any of our other recommended charities.


International Day to End Obstetric Fistula 

Watch the powerful video, "A Walk to Beautiful," to see the amazing impact your donation to Fistula Foundation can have in restoring lives of women living with obstetric fistula.


International Day of Action for Women's Health

"This year’s campaign underscores the importance of ensuring that Post-2015 goals and actions comprehensively address women and girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)."

14th & 15th

Highlights from Our Blog
  1. How sponsoring Giving Games can multiply the impact of your donation by Jon Behar

  2. Challenge yourself to live below the line by Claire Knowlton

  3. Altruism Icebreakers by Thomas Sittler

  4. Buying to Give by Brad Hurley

The Life You Can Save is a 501(c)(3) - an official non-profit registered with the United States Internal Revenue Service. Donations to The Life You Can Save are tax-deductible to individuals filing taxes in the U.S.
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