I listen to a lot of podcasts. (If you don’t know what podcasts are, please find out more here.) They help make my commute more interesting. I learn a lot of new things I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. I’ve encountered new blogs to follow, new ideas to pursue, and strategies for work and life just by listening to podcasts.

One of the podcasts I listen to is the one by Tim Ferriss (who is the author of the 4 Hour Work Week). His guests are often phenomenal and I learn about top performers, their routines, idiosyncrasies, and other interesting stuff that they do to stay on top of their game.

doinggoodbetterHe recently interviewed Will MacAskill, a 28-year old tenured Philosophy Professor at the Oxford University! That is just mind-blowing! Mr. MacAskill is perhaps the world’s youngest tenured Philosophy Professor. Not only that, he is also involved in a non-profit organization called 80,000 hours, which helps provide research-based career advice to people. He is the author of the book “Doing Good Better” and co-founded the “effective altruism” movement.

He is not driven by profits. In fact he has committed to giving away anything he earns over $36,000 each year!

Impressive. Yes. But that is not why I’m writing a blog post in response to Tim Ferriss’s interview with him.

Let me tell you my biggest takeaway from this now: I will not donate to disaster relief moving forward. I can probably send money to our church’s Committee on Relief (UMCor), but I have come to realize there are no guarantees that donations toward disaster relief really go to the people who need it, and that most disaster relief organizations are already well funded and able to do so, without my money. I’m better off looking for other ways to support development work.

Here are the items that got me nodding and thinking in many different tangents during the podcast.

  • He had a banter with Tim Ferriss on how “following your passion” can often be a mistake. I have read Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, so I am already aware of some of the arguments that MacAskill is coming from.
  • Working for a non-profit right after college might not be the best option. Because it’s easier too shift to a non-profit organization after working in a for-profit setting. But the reverse could be difficult.
  • While the previous two points were great, my biggest takeaway from this podcast episode is the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of a non-profit/charitable organization in solving the problems it is dedicated to. It is possible to use sound principles and “hack” ways to improve a non-profit organization’s performance.
  • For people who are giving into charitable/non-profit organizations, we should also evaluate if these organizations are really doing good in the world. MacAskill and Ferriss even talked about how easy it is for those who work in the non-profit sector to “guilt” their friends and family into giving to charity whenever they can; and working in this sector can lead to serious burnout.


It sounds counter-intuitive. But if you thought about it deeper, it makes sense.

Disaster relief organizations are already well-funded and they have the resources to carry out disaster relief all over the world. Upon the occurrence of a disaster, the media churn out articles, videos, and pictures from the ground zero, thus creating a sense of urgency. Hence, people feel the need to donate their money.

The problem though, is that, this creates a surplus of money for non-profit organizations, and the money does not always go directly to disaster relief.

Case in point: Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The international community donated millions of dollars for the relief and rehabilitation of the affected region. But to this day, thousands of families and individuals are still waiting on the houses that the government promised for them.

If you want to listen to the podcast in question, please head over to this link: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2015/11/22/will-macaskill/


Don’t Donate Money to Disaster Relief and Other Lessons from Will MacAskill

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