Charlie Bresler – The Life You Can Save (https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/)
You have an interesting story- do you mind talking a little more about how you became the director of The Life You Can Save?
Sure. I’m not sure where to begin exactly… I have always been interested in wealth and equality, and thought that I would do something about it. When I was younger, I thought it would be in a more structural way like changes in tax laws that would help address situations relating to poverty- but then I took a lot of side trips and became a psychologist in grad-school and started a clinic that specializes in dealing with anxiety, OCD and agoraphobia. Then my wife and I decided to move to the San Francisco Bay area, and just as we were moving I got recruited to join the Men’s Warehouse that had just become a public company and I became the president of the company- almost CEO, when back in 2008 I decided I better get off of this treadmill I got on accidentally and try to do something that has more social value than selling suits. Then in 2012, I read Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save and it hit me that I was actually reading about the very things I’d been thinking about, my moral obligation to help people living in poverty, and I wrote Singer an email that said I’d like to help with the start of an organization that my wife, Diana, and I were willing to fund. We decided it was a good place to put our money with the goal of multiplying the number of dollars we raise by having our own marketing organization. That was 7 years ago, and you can say that’s how I became Peter’s executive director of The Life You Can Save.
Could you talk a little more about Effective Altruism or Utilitarianism? What is your organization moving towards?
Basically, the similarities between effective altruism and our team is that we ask the question “How can you do the most good?” And we feel a sense of obligation to use our personal and financial resources to do things that we think are highly effective. So we answer the question by curating non-profits that have a really effective, high impact work on people living in extreme poverty. These non-profits empower livelihood, save lives, and they reduce suffering among this group of people. There are about 734 million people around the world that live on less than $1.90 (US) a day. We support 22 organizations. We believe that we have evidence that you can save lives very inexpensively in the developing world and that’s the reason why I got excited about doing this work.
So you’re screening non-profits looking for some data-based, efficient and well-executed organizations… Are you looking for funds as well?
So, we curate these organizations and currently we have 22 on our website that we believe have the most effective, highly impactful interactions in the developing world. So a lot of this is about impact per dollar spent. We spend money that we raise from The Life You Can Save to make money for these recommended non-profits. We are essentially marketing the idea of effective, high impact giving and one’s obligation to help, but more specifically we are trying to raise money for these non-profits.
I like your broader address of clean water, hunger, women and girls issues. Can you tell us more about this?
We do have a broader list than most organizations. We do have non-profits that empower women’s livelihood and put them in groups of people to start small businesses and there’s tremendous evidence that this is highly effective. These programs are called graduation programs. There’s one called Living Goods where women go around and sell valuable health products that are hard to get in rural areas, so it’s a win-win because they make money by selling the products and inexpensively so people can have easier access to them, especially during COVID times. We also support a Malaria organization that distributes bed matts in Africa, you can buy a bed matt for $2 and it covers for two people for up to three years- they are insecticide-treated matts.
So you and your team have a screened list of organizations that you raise money for?
Correct – we are raising funds for those 22 organizations and we are also looking for people that see the value of the impact of donating to The Life You Can Save itself, as my wife and I have done- we’ve given almost 25% of our net worth now to The Life You Can Save itself because we raised many dollars for every dollar we spent, so we really liked that leverage.
You mentioned that there is randomized studies with control groups- is that a requirement or is that a prevalent standard?
It’s a prevalent standard for when it can be done- it’s very expensive to do randomized control trials.
I imagine there is a lot of different, flexible ways that people can give, to make it easier for some?
Sure- people can give from their funds, stocks. We got one piece of real estate that people donated, which I have to say, took a little while to sell and was a bit challenging cause we are not in the real estate business. But we can get bank transfers, checks, or if they are smaller donations it can be done on our website with a credit card. For example if you send a check, you can designate it to go to x number of charities or specify whether you want it for The Lives You Can Save to help multiply that number of dollars you donated.
You can read the updated edition of The Life You Can Save. We have a 10th Anniversary edition and you can download the audiobook from our website (thelifeyoucansave.org) or you can download the ebook from Amazon for $.99. I love for people to read this and also, I wrote an afterward about my own journey to get to be the executive director of The Life You Can Save organization.