When Kids Company collapsed last year, Camila Batmanghelidjh became, overnight, the poster girl for everything that’s wrong with charity. She was personally vilified, accused of offences ranging from doling out cash to children so they could buy drugs to hoodwinking the great and the good. Her fall from grace was spectacular, but what did it have to do with the City?
It coincided with a stirring sense of unease among City professionals about the Square Mile’s philanthropic reputation and the lack of organisational rigour in the charity sector. ‘Morgan Stanley was criticised for its partnership strategy with Kids Company – City corporate social responsibility is often perceived with cynicism,’ says George Howlett, a senior risk consultant at Deloitte UK. He is one of a growing group of City professionals embracing Effective Altruism – a movement taking hold in the wake of William MacAskill’s book, Doing Good Better. Along with another Oxford philosopher, Toby Ord, MacAskill is a leading figure in the movement and, together, they also started Giving What We Can, encouraging people to pledge 10 per cent of their income. ‘An Effective Altruism “stamp” indicates a charity is well run and has a strong, positive impact on those it seeks to help,’ says Howlett, a ‘pledger’. Last year, Deloitte UK gave Howlett two weeks of ‘community investment’ time to support his work on a project at the Centre for Effective Altruism.
‘The City’s full of business-minded, wealthy individuals who look to optimise the bottom line and be as productive and efficient as possible,’ says Mark Barnes, former global head of Forex for RBS. ‘Many City people already give generously, but if, each time, one asked, “Can I give more? And more effectively?”, the City could be a genuine force for good.’ Profoundly influenced by MacAskill’s ideas, Barnes joined Giving What We Can and took a retroactive pledge to give 10 per cent of his lifetime income to effective causes. He is now an advisor to the Centre for Effective Altruism. ‘The financial crisis undermined my faith in deregulated capitalism and forced me to question my moral beliefs. William has helped inspire me to give more and give effectively.’
The Centre for Effective Altruism is based in Oxford, where MacAskill is associate professor of philosophy at Lincoln College. At 28, he looks more like an eager student than an academic author with a global following. ‘My youth is a double-edged sword,’ he grins ruefully. ‘The movement doesn’t have a leader as such, but I seem to be becoming the public face of it, which is good, given that most of our donors are in their twenties and thirties.’
Words: Charlotte Metcalf
Illustration: Rob Bailey