“Doing Good Better” (Book Review)

“When it comes to helping others, being unreflective often means being ineffective.”

Lots of us want to make a difference. Perhaps you buy Fairtrade coffee, or cycle to work when you can. But how many of us really know how much that helps? Is there a danger that despite our best intentions, we might even be making things worse?

In ‘Doing Good Better’, William Macaskill confronts that problem head on, in a research-driven – but still very readable – book. As an example, he discusses how to improve education in third world countries. It turns out that the most effective way to do this is not better trained teachers, more text books, or cleaner toilets. It’s deworming pills (because they increase attendance). A cheap, simple, but decidedly unglamorous solution.

He also discusses why we shouldn’t donate to disaster relief funds. Essentially, it’s because the money is rarely spent efficiently (something I actually witnessed first hand when I was in Sri Lanka during the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami). But we tend to have a knee-jerk reaction when we see harrowing images in our news feeds – we want to help, so we make a donation … without ever questioning what happens to the money.

Both of these examples contain lessons we can apply to our businesses. Do we really need to pay for the latest software updates, or does the cheaper, less glamorous version do the job? When a crisis hits, and our brain is screaming “Emergency! DO SOMETHING!” are we better off taking a deep breath, stepping back, and taking time to decide on a really effective and efficient solution?

The book isn’t a tirade against conventional charities and systems of giving. Instead, it’s a call for all of us to take a more measured, analytical approach to what we do with both our money and our time. Macaskill shows that through some remarkably simple actions, we can all improve thousands of lives – including our own.

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