Activism in focus

How can we best use our resources to help others the most? Effective Altruism and Amnesty International give their answers.

I spoke with volunteers from  Effective Altruism university chapters and from Amnesty International to find out more about their groups and what they do.

Effective Altruism

What does Effective Altruism do?

Effective Altruism is about dedicating a significant part of our lives to improving the world, through our careers, our volunteering, or our donations. As effective altruists, we strive to use our resources to help others as much as we can, informed by rationality, evidence, and compassion.

The principles of effective altruism can be applied to social justice in a wide variety of ways. Two of the main social justice causes that we focus on are global poverty and animal welfare. However, effective altruism is not limited in scope to just one or two causes. We also focus on other causes, including existential risk reduction and cause prioritisation research (working out which cause areas are the most important to work on).

Effective Altruism chapters at universities promote our principles of using a variety of events, including guest speaker-led discussions, meet-and-greet debates, giving games, networking events, skill-building workshops and more. We aim to connect our universities to the global Effective Altruism movement and to grow a supportive community of people aspiring to accomplish as much good as we can.

Why is this an important area for students and young people?

As young people, we are at a crucial moment in our lives because we are planning what we will do with our futures. By thinking about effectiveness at a young age, we are better able to act sooner and better able to maximise the good we can accomplish over the course of our lives.

A good demonstration of this is the example of Oxford philosopher Toby Ord. By thinking about these things early in life he was able to calculate that with his modest income as a research fellow, he could over his lifetime give away enough money to prevent 80,000 people from suffering trachoma-induced blindness, without greatly sacrificing his standard of living, simply by adjusting some of his financial habits.

What’s the most challenging part of the activist space/student organising?

Trying to do good effectively is very satisfying, but also very difficult because of the careful consideration it requires. Since effective altruism is challenging by nature, the most difficult part is inspiring others to embrace the challenge with us. For more info, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj3RJi1n72s

We celebrate a diversity of opinion.

What’s something bizarre that most people wouldn’t know about your organisation?

We actually enjoy meeting people who are sceptical about our organisation, because it gives us a great chance to learn from them and to have thought-provoking discussions. We celebrate a diversity of opinion.

How did you personally get involved?

Like most local chapters, our society started when a group of us teamed up because we all have one thing in common: we want to dedicate a significant part of our lives to helping others. We started our society because we wanted to meet and support others with similar goals. Our goal for the future is to see the organisation continue to flourish, even after all of us original co-founders have graduated.

How can students get involved with Effective Altruism?

To find out more about effective altruism in general, watch the 6-minute TED talk by Beth Barnes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtWINl3C_7s

Then go to effectivealtruism.org and look around!

We also have a presence on some campuses:

To get involved with Effective Altruism MQ, visit: https://www.facebook.com/EffectiveAltruismMQ

To get involved with Effective Altruism UQ, visit: https://www.facebook.com/EffectiveAltruismUQ

There are also Effective Altruism groups in most major cities: https://eahub.org/groups

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Amnesty International

What does Amnesty International do?

Amnesty International is the world’s largest human rights organisation. We have teams on the ground in 150 countries – our researchers document human rights abuses wherever and whenever they occur. We expose what is happening and we use that research to hold governments and change makers to account when it comes to human rights and international law.  

But what makes Amnesty International so powerful is the mobilisation of our members and supporters. Everyday people around the world write letters, sign petitions, attend events … they take action to demand human rights are protected and respected.

What’s the most challenging part of the activist space/student organising?

Students are some of the busiest people going around. They are often juggling study and sometimes multiple jobs, moving out and that’s on top of all of the other life stuff. Working with students to find the time to be as active as they want to be definitely poses some challenges – but time and time again they find a way to make it work.

Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have.

What’s the most rewarding part of working in with Amnesty International?

The big wins are amazing for sure – but for me the most rewarding, the thing that inspires me the most are the activists I work alongside. They work so hard in their communities to build momentum for change on local issues such as securing an independent inquiry into youth detention in Queensland with recommendations that would hugely improve the youth justice system adopted in full by the Queensland Government. And they contribute to push for change on a global scale – such as securing the Federal Government’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

Grassroots activism and the people who show up everyday to create change – standing alongside them is definitely the most rewarding part of being in this space.

What’s something bizarre that most people wouldn’t know about your organisation?

Before Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling used to work for Amnesty International.

“I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared… I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries… I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before. Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.”

How can students get involved with Amnesty International?

The awesome thing about Amnesty International is that there are so many ways to get involved. Check out if your university has an Amnesty International club on campus – this is a great place to start. Campus groups lead on Amnesty campaigns at university, and are a vital part of our grassroots movement in Australia.  Head to www.amnesty.org.au to find out more about Amnesty on Campus, and the different ways to get involved.

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