Mishcon de Reya page structure
Site header
Main menu
Main content section

Now & Next: How To Do The Most Good Possible

Posted on 12 February 2020

A number of young people Britain say they want to lead more altruistic lives. How does this impact the world around us today? And why do some scientists believe that instead of thinking about the problems we face now, true altruism is focusing on the future of humanity?

Doing good…

Give me the knife.

…is increasingly about more than giving away money.

I have a spare kidney.  Why not share it?

A new movement is driving people to choose altruistic careers.

We’re just seeing a general upswing in care about ethical career choice.

And altruists are looking further than ever before into the future.

We are trying to make sure humanity survives.


The Future of Giving

Washington DC

Katie Acosta is about to go under the knife

Medstar Georgetown University Hospital

Katie Acosta

People either think I am kind of completely nuts or some saint of a human being.

She is giving away one of her kidneys.

Katie Acosta

I have a spare kidney, why not share it.          

But Katie isn’t given her organ to a friend or family member but to save the life of a complete stranger.

She’s in good hands.

Katie Acosta

I will be what is called a ‘non-directed’ donor so I am giving to somebody that I don’t know who they are yet.  It’s a possibility that I’ll never meet them.

Most kidney donations in America come from people who have just died but Katie is part of a rising altruistic trend. The number of living kidney donors has risen by 16% since 2014 and from 2017 to 2018 donations to complete strangers rose by 31%.

Katie Acosta

It’s just a feeling of purpose.  This idea that something I am doing could have such a big impact on someone else’s life.

But for living donors like Katie, saving a stranger’s life is not without risks.  Nearly 1 in 3,000 people die from the procedure.

So that’s the kidney right there.  That’s the one he is going to be taking out.

Now we are going to prepare the kidney for transplant.

Katie Acosta

This will most certainly either save someone’s life or increase their quality of life exponentially and the cost, at least to me, is nothing when I think about you know, the kind of effect it can have on someone’s life.

Like Katie an increasing number of young people in Britain say they want to lead more altruistic lives.  Research suggests that almost two thirds of British millennials want to work for a company that makes a positive difference.

We’re just seeing a general upswing in care about ethical career choice.

This Oxford University professor co-founded 80,000 Hours; a charity that gives career advice to altruistically minded people.  It’s part of the effective altruism movement that takes a scientific approach to calculating ways of doing good.

Professor Will MacAskill, Co-Founder, Centre for Effective Altruism

The kind of old fashioned career advice was this idea of just you should follow your passion.  You figured out what cause you really care about and then you go and work in that sector.  Whereas I think the most important thing is to figure out what problems are most important and then secondly, what does that cause need.

Increasingly the charity is suggesting careers in new fields such as AI and synthetic biology that is shaping the world’s future.

Professor Will MacAskill, Co-Founder, Centre for Effective Altruism

Some of the areas like novel technologies are much more in need of just very talented and sensible and altruistic people and so what we tend to recommend is people going into policy careers, often research careers and often working directly in non-profits in some of these kind of key cause areas.

So far the charity says it has helped 3,000 people make major changes in their career plans, affecting 80 million hours of work time.  The effective altruism movement also encourages people to give away a minimum of 10% of the money they earn.

Professor Will MacAskill, Co-Founder, Centre for Effective Altruism

Now I’ve made the decision to donate most of my income over the course of my life.  In fact, everything above £25,000 per year after tax.

Over 4,000 people have signed up to Professor MacAskill’s initiative – Giving What We Can – and so far over 126 million dollars has been donated.

Professor Will MacAskill, Co-Founder, Centre for Effective Altruism

It’s just becoming much more the norm that people think yes everyone on this planet is equal in their moral worth.

This thinking is leading some in the effective altruism movement towards a new focus.  The lives of people who will be born in the centuries to come.

We need to save humanity, end of story.

Funded by wealthy philanthropists these scientists are researching threats to the survival of the human race.

We are trying to look at risks and problems that may be facing us now that may have a long-term effect on the far-term future.

This team at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute works in an area known as existential risk.  They identify dangers both natural and man-made that could wipe out humankind altogether.

Dr Cassidy Nelson, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University

I work with mathematical models to look at pandemic risk that could be a threat to our species and try to decide on different counter-measures how would we prevent deliberate biological events from occurring, how would we deal with pandemics that might be much larger than something we’ve ever prepared for?

These scientists argue that altruism could be most effective when focussed on the value of human life in the far future.

Dr Anders Sandberg, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University

So why should we care about people who might live in a thousand years’ time?  Just as we shouldn’t be discriminating against people who are physically far away in space form us, we shouldn’t discriminate against people who happen to be far away in time.  The future human population dwarfs the current population enormously.  If we look around us the world is valuable but it was valuable yesterday and it will be valuable tomorrow so we better make sure tomorrow comes.


Sponsored by Mishcon de Reya

The Mishcon Academy offers outstanding legal, leadership and skills development for legal professionals, business leaders and individuals. Our learning experts create industry leading experiences that create long-lasting change delivered through live events, courses and bespoke learning.

How can we help you?

How can we help you?

Subscribe: I'd like to keep in touch

If your enquiry is urgent please call +44 20 3321 7000

I'm a client

I'm looking for advice

Something else