PokerStars Team Pro, Liv Boeree took time out of her busy schedule at PokerStars Championship Bahamas to talk about a topic dear to her heart: Effective Altruism.
Boeree helps us all learn what effective altruism means, how she has been involved in raising money for charity and what we can expect in 2017 from the charitable organization (for which she is a board member) Raising for Effective Giving (REG).
Tell us a bit about REG, Effective Altruism and your role as a board member.
The idea behind it is: In the whole sphere of the world of non-profit and charity and so on, there are many problems in the world, which ideally all need solving. But some of these problems are bigger than others, and some of the charities that are out there trying to solve them are much more effective than others. The whole concept of effective altruism is identifying what are the most impactful causes out there. What are the best per-dollar donated, where can you do the most good.
What we did with REG is we took recommendations from the effective altruism community, the guys who run it are actually full time effective altruists as well, and identified the most promising charities, or currently the best-rated charities, and we fund-raised for them from poker players.
What do you as a board member?
Basically, promotion. I help with brainstorming ideas, what things can we do to fundraise, that kind of thing. But mostly, I’m doing stuff like this! That’s my role.
How much money was raised in 2016, and what were some of the leading causes that were helped with that money?
The number was around $500,000, a little over – until Dan Smith’s matching challenge. Dan did this amazing thing and he ended up raising a ton of money. And a couple of the donors, the Crowley brothers, one of them in particular Tom Crowley—he’s a REG member, so he’s been in the effective altruism with REG for a while—he donated an additional $500,000. So, our number is just a little over $1 million now for the year which is pretty cool!
What are some of the causes that will be helped with that money?
The vast majority of it is going to the top-rated ones on GiveWell.org, which I highly recommend people check out. It’s a really good source of information. It’s Against Malaria Foundation, and Give Directly. Against Malaria Foundation, as you would expect, is helping to solve the problem of malaria. Malaria is one of the most underfunded cause-areas out there right now. It kills over half a million people each year. And the thing is, it’s fairly easy to solve. To help protect people against it, like using bed nets and so on. That’s why it’s so well rated – basically it comes out as one of the most cost effective ways to save a life. On average it comes out at just over $3000 dollars to save a person’s life. If you compare that to many other cause areas, particularly in the Western world, you can save a life for a minimum of around $500,000, something like that. And it goes up to many, many millions, per human life.
Philosophically, I come from a perspective where I think human lives are pretty much equal. And if you are going to donate your yearly donation of $1000 or let’s say $10,000, would you rather save 0.04 of a life, or would you rather save three actual people’s lives? That’s why those charities are so well rated, and that’s why so much of the money we raised is going to those ones this year.
I see from the website that you have support from an online sportsbook and Jason Somerville’s Run It Up, might we see other corporate support or sponsors coming in 2017?
That’s the goal, yes! I feel like we’ve become fairly well established in the poker world now. People know what we’re trying to do, they’re behind the cause and are supporting it and the poker industry has been so generous and fantastic. But there are so many much, much bigger industries out there that also might identify with the idea of effective altruism.
I think poker players get it because they are very numerically-minded people. They tend to sort of be above average rationality. So we want to go for other industries like that. Perhaps the finance industry, they make a lot of money! And if we can get some of these big financial institutions … most of these have some form of corporate giving procedure…if we can get them to be more aware of giving to really effective causes, that would be great. So we could have a REG Finance, that would be pretty sweet!
Or surgeons, perhaps. Medicine, so on – they tend to understand the process of triage, these necessary ways of thinking about helping people that you have to do, like cause prioritization. So I think that’s going to be the plan in that respect, look for some new industries to branch into and spread the word.
Other plans for 2017, we have yet to run a big charity tournament. That’s the next thing on the agenda. We have a couple of potential avenues, I can’t say exactly where and when we are going to be doing it yet, but that’s on the horizon.
What’s the biggest challenge that REG faces in helping more people?
I have found there is less of a challenge if someone is already altruistically minded, particularly within the poker community, the arguments for them to give as effectively as possible make a lot of sense to people, and they get it fairly fast. I find the challenge is more getting people to appreciate how necessary and how little—f they decide to give 5% of their income, even post-tax income per year—how little difference that would make to their lives, and yet how much of a difference that can make to other people’s lives, because that money can go so far if given effectively.
Either my persuasion techniques are not good enough, or a certain percentage of people are just not ready to get that concept. I think also that people tend to give very knee-jerk, emotionally – like they’ll be sitting and they’ll see some terrible disaster has happened, and they’ll go 'oh’, and because it is right there in front of them and they see the image being poured in, they think 'yes, I should do something’, and they give. Which is still great, but it’s not necessarily the best place for them to have give to.
An interesting statistics was, in the Nepal earthquake, it was terrible and I think 10,000 people died, but that was a one-time thing. And they managed to raise a lot of money to help those people, and that is good, but 20,000 people die every single day from unnecessary poverty-related causes. They are living in such dire conditions and they don’t have basic sanitation, basic healthcare, basic nourishment, and yet there are ways to help them. There are effective ways of doing this, of solving these problems, it’s just no one is donating the money to it. But they will donate to a cause which is literally a one-time thing that is effecting half the number of people per day [that die from poverty-related causes].
So it’s about getting those folks who aren’t altruistically-minded to open up and go – “do I need to buy my third pair of shoes this year? Maybe just the one pair for the year.” Or some people buying ten pairs of shoes can scale it back to six! Who knows! There’s these very small relative sacrifices to ourselves can make such a huge difference if donated well.
So I think getting more people aware of that, and getting people away from this whole—because I think poker is very centered around money to a degree. It’s about freedom, but for a lot of people their main objective is to accumulate as much material wealth as possible. Or just currency. But I think people need to reframe how they think about money itself. Money is utility—utility to be able to do the things that you want to do. If you’re pretty much doing all the things that you want to do and you still have a bunch of utility left over, well that’s a really good cause to go and give because that utility will help to take someone who is right down here to now there – to make a big jump as opposed to taking you from when you were already up here to just there [a very small difference]. I think that’s the next big step is getting the folks who aren’t charitable and just starting to be a little bit more.
Poker players routinely set goals for the year. What are some of the goals REG has for 2017?
We’ve had a $1 million dollar year this year. Let’s make it $2 million dollar or more. I really think one of the most biggest, and also the most fun ways I can think of doing is having a couple of these big charity tournaments. You’ve seen the fantastic success of One Drop, some of the events PokerStars have. We have the contacts to do that, we have the locations. That’s what we want to knuckle down and do – one or two really fun, prestigious—probably more high roller-oriented charity tournaments. I’d really like to see that happen. I can’t remember the stats from One Drop, but I think they raised a couple of million from one tournament. So, if we do something even a quarter of that, that’s going to be a huge chunk.
We’ve also got an exciting thing going on, Roman Romanovsky is doing this bankroll challenge. His goal is get his bankroll up to $600,000. One he gets to $600,000 he’s giving away I believe 50% of it—you’ll have to double-check the number—but a large chunk of it!. He’s immediately going to give away to a couple of his favorite most effective charities. We hopefully going to see more lesser-known players doing these great deeds as well. And we’re just there to help support them and promote them and so-on.