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The Secret To Giving Wisely

The Secret To Giving Wisely

It feels great to see hope light up in the eyes of a beggar in the street as you stop to look at them when others pass them by without a glance. Their faces widen in a smile as you reach into your pocket and take out your wallet. “Thank you so much” is such a heartwarming phrase to hear from them as you pull out five bucks and put the money in the hat in front of them. You walk away with your heart beaming as you imagine them getting a nice warm meal at McDonalds due to your generosity.

Yet you can multiply that positive experience manifold! Imagine that when you give five dollars, you don’t give just to one person, but to seven people. When you reach into your pocket, you see seven smiles. When you put the money in the hat, you hear seven people say “Thank you so much.”

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You can get that benefit through giving directly to people in the developing world. We don’t see those seven people in front of us and thus we don’t pay attention to the impact we can have on them, a thinking error called attentional bias. Yet if we know about this thinking error, we can solve what is known as the “drowning child problem” in charitable giving, namely not intuitively valuing the children who are drowning out of our sight. If we keep in our minds that there are poor people in the developing world, just like the poor person we see on the street in front of us, we can remember that our generosity can make a very high impact, much more impact per dollar than in the US, in developing countries through our direct giving.

GiveDirectly is a nonprofit that enables you to give directly to poor people in East Africa. It provides direct cash transfers to poor people who live on an average of $.65 per day. You certainly can’t buy a McDonald’s meal for that, but $.65 goes far in East Africa.

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GiveDirectly locates poor people who can benefit most from cash transfers, enrolls them in its program, and then provides each household with about a thousand dollars to spend as it wishes. The large size of this cash transfer results in a much bigger impact than a small donation. Moreover, since the cash transfer is unconditional, the poor person can have true dignity and spend it on whatever most benefits them.

Helida, for example, used the cash transfer she got to build a new house. You wouldn’t intuitively think that was most useful thing for her to do, would you? But this is what she needed most. She was happy that as a result of the cash transfer “I have a metal roof over my head and I can safely store my farm produce without worries.” She is now much more empowered to take care of herself and her large family.

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HelidaFamilyPhoto

    What a wonderful outcome of GiveDirectly’s work! Can you imagine building a new house in the United States on a thousand dollars? Well, this is why your direct donations go a lot further in East Africa.

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    With GiveDirectly, you can be much more confident about the outcome of your generosity. I know that when I give to a homeless person, a part of me always wonders whether he will spend the money on a bottle of cheap vodka. This is why I really appreciate that GiveDirectly keeps in touch and follows up with the people enrolled in its programs. They are scrupulous about sharing the consequences of their giving, so you know what you are getting by your generous gifts.

    GiveDirectly is back by rigorous evidence. They conduct multiple randomized control studies of their impact, a gold standard of evidence. The research shows that cash transfer recipients have much better health and lives as a result of the transfer, much more than most types of anti-poverty interventions. Its evidence-based approach is why GiveDirectly is highly endorsed by well-respected charity evaluators such as GiveWell and The Life You Can Save, which are part of the Effective Altruist movement that strives to figure out the best research-informed means to do the most good per dollar.

    So next time you pass someone begging on the street, think about GiveDirectly, since you can get seven times as much impact, for your emotional self and for the world as a whole. What I do myself is each time I choose to give to a homeless person, I set aside the same amount of money to donate through GiveDirectly. That way, I get to see the smile and hear the “thank you” in person, and also know that I can make a much more impactful gift as well. Whatever you choose, aim to supercharge your generosity to achieve your giving goals!

    Featured photo credit: Confidence via flickr.com

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    Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

    President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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