The Case for Giving Internationally

The world is making rapid progress toward ending extreme poverty. Twenty years ago nearly 30 percent of the global population struggled to survive on the equivalent of US $2.15 per day, adjusted for local buying power (World Bank, 2016). Today, according to the latest World Bank estimates, that number stands at just under 9 percent (World Bank, 2022).

That’s great news, but 9 percent of the global population still amounts to more than 720 million people. Nearly all of these people live in developing countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. Many don’t have enough to eat, can’t afford to send their children to school, and lack access to safe drinking water. These people are vulnerable to diseases that have been eradicated in the developed world. Malaria, which was eradicated in the United States almost 70 years ago, killed an estimated 1,700 people—mostly young children—every day in the developing world in 2020 (WHO, 2022).

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to help. By giving even modest amounts to effective charities that work to prevent diseases and reduce poverty in developing countries, individuals like you can make a significant, lasting difference to hundreds of lives. You can save lives that otherwise would have been lost, and play a role in the historic effort to wipe out extreme poverty.

Here’s why it makes sense to focus most of your giving internationally.

You Can Help Those Who Need it Most

Poverty exists in all countries, and the lives of poor people are difficult no matter where they live. But the neediest live in the developing world, at a scale and level of poverty that is hard to imagine. They have no social safety nets, no access to services that are readily available to the poor in wealthy countries.

Americans give a lot to charity, but very little of that money ever reaches the world’s poorest people. In 2014, American individual donors gave a total of $484 billion to charitable causes—more than the combined amounts donated by foundations, bequests, and corporations combined.

Exactly how much is $484 billion? That’s enough to cover the combined annual costs of providing clean drinking water and sanitation for the entire global population—11 times over!

But here’s the reality: only 7 percent of American donation dollars went to international causes, and an even smaller fraction was allocated for effective anti-poverty relief. Unfortunately, this means that the majority of American charitable dollars never reach the people in the developing world, those who need our help the most.

Even if you don’t want to devote all your giving to international causes, any increase will help. You can help by increasing the portion of your own giving that goes to international causes, and by supporting the efforts of organizations such as The Life You Can Save that work to raise awareness of the need to reduce poverty and suffering worldwide.

Data on US Philanthropy by sector

(source: Philanthropy Roundtable, accessed December 2nd 2022)


You Can Help More People

Your charitable donation goes a long way in the developing world, where services and goods are typically much more cost effective than they are in the developed world. The median cost of just one emergency room visit for common causes in the United States is $1,223 (Caldwell et al 2013). In the developing world, however, $100 can cover the costs of high-quality healthcare to three patients at a hospital in rural Nepal. Likewise, that same $100 given to an effective charity can protect 1000 people from iodine deficiency disorders such as debilitating brain damage. The bottom line: your money goes further overseas.

You Can Be Confident in Your Giving

One of the common arguments against giving internationally boils down to a lack of trust: will your money be used for its intended purpose? But a new breed of highly effective charities has emerged in recent years that emphasizes transparency and accountability. The Life You Can Save recommends 22 highly effective charities working across several international development areas spanning maternal health, water and sanitation, hunger and nutrition, and disease prevention.

You Can Make a Difference

By shifting more of your giving toward reducing poverty and improving health in developing countries, you’ll accomplish more with every donation. And your gifts will make a tangible difference to the people who need it most. Use The Life You Can Save’s Impact Calculator to explore how much good different charities can accomplish with a given amount.

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