While giving can feel good, it doesn’t always impact those that need your donation the most. Today’s guest is Anya Marchenko, a research assistant at Berkeley’s Center for Effective Global Action with a passion for development economics. Anya joins us to talk about effective altruism, a powerful approach that uses evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis.

In our conversation, Anya breaks down the science of giving by explaining that there are different types of donating and why donating to international causes that deal with chronic problems results in the most impact. Anya explores the theory that guides development economics and effective altruism while highlighting how these cash transfers respect the agency of the people these interventions aim to help. After sharing with us the practical skills from her discipline that can benefit you in life, Anya talks about how thinking about competitive advantage can help you make better decisions about where you can do more good. Anya shares her transformative experiences of conducting field research in Kenya and how she got to see the impact of giving first-hand. Finally, Anya talks about COVID-19 silver-linings and how it’s changing the perception of giving. In this episode, Anya gives us clear examples of how small donations can do a massive amount of good in the world. Tune in at one of the links below to learn more!

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Key Points From This Episode:

The different types of donations and which donations make the most impact

Anya describes four different ways people donate. First, there can be local donations vs. non-local/international. Within these two categories, people can either donate to address an acute problem like an emergency relief fund, or donating to address a chronic problem such as donating to criminal justice reform, global poverty, or HIV Research.

Why direct cash transfers are often the best form of donations

Anya and many other development economists argue that direct cash transfers are the best use of donations in terms of doing the most good for people in need. People know for themselves what their most immediate needs are, and research has shown that money given with no strings attached can significantly improve peoples’ day-to-day lives, often more cheaply and effectively than other forms of giving.

How to find organizations that are worth donating to

When donating money, Anya recommends charity evaluators like GiveWell, which has researchers look into the efficacy of the organizations you are looking to donate to. Another option is Animal Charity Evaluators. If you are going to do the research for yourself, try to figure out what the actual activity of the charity is, read research on the intervention or think pieces by sources like Vox or the NY Times, check if their financial information is transparent, and check who is funding them. All of these factors will help you determine where your dollar will have the most impact.

How to make decisions based on comparative advantage

The economic principle of comparative advantage helps make decisions like what product is more effectively produced in what country. This can be applied to everyday life decisions too. When deciding between two careers, for example, ask yourself what you can do that others can’t. That is the job you should pick, because you are more uniquely suited to it and will bring more to the table.


“It sounds haughty or up-in-the-clouds but I’m motivated by a deep feeling of anger at injustice.” — Anya Marchenko [0:05:00]

“A principle of helping people is to be proximate to the people that you are concerned about.” — Anya Marchenko [0:08:50]

“The feeling of meaning is at the root of a lot of job satisfaction. It’s the feeling of — nobody can do this job as well.” — Anya Marchenko [0:25:05]

“In Kenya, people didn’t spend the money irresponsibly. They spent it on housing and food and shoes for their kids. We can trust the poorest people in the world to know what would help them.” — Anya Marchenko [0:30:06]

“A silver-lining is how COVID-19 is going to change our conception of who deserves what kind of healthcare.” — Anya Marchenko [0:36:09]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Benjamin Von Wong
Impact Everywhere
Anya Marchenko
Center for Effective Global Action
Animal Charity Evaluators

Coming Up Next:

Tune in next week to hear from John Hocevar, director of Greenpeace’s ocean campaigns, to hear his insights on the mechanics behind Greenpeace’s multi-pronged campaigns. Subscribe here to be sure you don’t miss it.