I’ll start with the numbers, which to me are quite extraordinary:
According to our rough estimates, the documented donations inspired by the Jewish Effective Giving Initiative in the past year are enough to provide protection from malaria (nets or a full course of antimalarial medication) to ~20,000 people; to supply ~15,000 vitamin A supplements to children in deficient regions; to fully vaccinate ~200 infants who wouldn’t have been vaccinated otherwise; and to save around 25 lives.*
While these are very rough estimates, and should be treated as such, they are based on some remarkably solid independent research and data and I believe they give a good general idea of the scale of our collective impact in the past year.
When it comes to what these numbers mean, there are many ways of looking at it:
The first thought that comes to mind—or at least to my mind—is that this project is a beautiful thing. Finally being able to say that our efforts have saved many lives, prevented thousands of cases of malaria, and shielded innocent children from horrific conditions like measles and tuberculosis makes me incredibly grateful for everyone involved in this effort, from the leadership of the World Union, through our friends in the effective giving community, to every single rabbi, lay leader, and donor that has contributed to this achievement.
The second thought, or perhaps feeling, is astonishment. While I’ve been completely consumed with effective giving for a while now, I’m still profoundly shocked by just how much a dollar can do in the hands of the best charities working in the developing world. You see, all of the impact mentioned above was the result of less than $130,000 total raised for GiveWell’s Top Charities in the past few months. Preventing a similar magnitude of death and suffering (especially of children) in a developed country like the US or Israel would have required raising many tens of millions of dollars for well-run health charities in these countries. In fact, because the charities we support are so incredibly impactful, it is quite likely that our efforts over the past year will result in more actual human death and suffering prevented than the work of many large, well-known Jewish organizations that are associated with humanitarian relief and the developing world.
This brings me to the third way in which I look at these numbers: with some frustration and a bit of outrage. There is a dark, disturbing reason why it’s so easy to prevent this much death and suffering with such modest resources—it’s so very doable because (almost) no one bothers to do it. We live in a world in which around 15,000 children die every day from largely preventable diseases, and yet so few of us treat actually helping them as any kind of priority. While this is woefully true for the vast majority of people in most developed countries, it especially saddens me in the context of the Jewish World and the Reform movement. I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we all know that our movement cannot live up to its noble values in the 21st century without ensuring that it truly and regularly prevents at least some of the outrageously preventable suffering and sorrow we all know is out there. Not when we’re so well-off. Not when it’s so easy.
But this frustration with the current state of things reminds me, as it often does, that there is so much that can and should be done, and this leads me to the fourth (and main) way in which I see our initial achievement: with great anticipation.
It’s important for me to stress that, the way I see it, our impact thus far is just the very beginning of something much, much bigger that we are trying to build here—it is an initial achievement that, I hope, shows Jewish donors and other religious communities, both in and beyond the Jewish World, how much additional good they can do in the world with some very minor adjustments to their existing giving practices.
It’s pretty obvious to me that many of the congregations already involved with the initiative have several individual members in them who could very easily double the impact of our project thus far, and would gladly do so if they only knew how many people they would be helping and in what a deeply profound way. I am also confident that if we inspired over 30 Reform synagogues to pledge to save lives in the first year and a half of a new project, we can (and will) get hundreds of houses of prayer involved in the interfaith version of this initiative (which we are already planning). Now that we have a working blueprint and the beginning of an impressive track record, I can’t wait to see how many people we will be able to help in the coming years!
So if you are a rabbi or belong to a congregation involved with the project—please do tell your community about would we’ve been able to do together, and do take pride in your early participation in this life-saving effort!
And if you can think of someone whose own life would be enhanced by saving lives and protecting thousands of people—and inspiring others to take similar action—you know where to find me (and in case you don’t, my email is Adam@wupj.org.il).
*These estimates are based on GiveWell’s basic cost-effectiveness estimates and the 2022 directed grants spreadsheet. The units used are: every $5 donated to the Against Malaria foundation provides one bed net (which protects 1.8 people for around two years); every $7 donated to Malaria Consortium protects a child with a full course of antimalarial medicine; every $1.1 donated to Helen Keller International provides a vitamin A supplement; and every $128 donated to New Incentives results in a child fully immunised who wouldn’t have been vaccinated otherwise. The impact of the Top Charities Fund donations—which account for about a third of the contributions—was estimated based on the fund’s allocations in 2022.