Don’t Underestimate Your Ability to Make a Big Impact

A lot of people who want to make a difference fall into a common conundrum: wanting to help but not knowing how. 

It’s understandable to feel disheartened by everything that’s wrong with the world, especially when so many of our problems are global in scale (from widespread disease, to climate disasters, to vast wealth inequalities). 

But you might underestimate just how much of a difference one person could make. 

For instance, if you live in a high-income country—even if you’re not particularly wealthy personally—you’re likely better off than most people on the planet. Chances are, by donating 10% of your income, you can save the life of two people every single year and still be among the top 5% richest people in the world. This means that a single person could potentially save ~100 lives throughout their lifetime. That’s a pretty amazing feat! 

Using your career to help others

Donating money to effective charities can be a great way to help. Yet the vast majority of people can make an even bigger difference in the world by using their time and effort to help tackle these issues. 

With nearly half of your waking hours spent working, your career provides an incredible opportunity to support the causes you care about. And fortunately, there are all sorts of varied and interesting ways to leverage your unique skills and interests to create meaningful change. 

Maybe, for instance, you’ll start a highly impactful nonprofit or socially beneficial company. Or conduct research to develop new health interventions. Or influence government policy to enact systemic change. Helping others with your career doesn’t have to look one particular way. In fact, some of the less obvious options may even enable you to make a much bigger contribution. 

Examples of progress

Here are a few examples of how real people (like you!) have made incredible progress confronting some of the biggest issues of our time:

Global Health

The problem: Some of the most common causes of premature death worldwide occur from diseases we already know how to treat. Every single day, around 4,000 children die of malaria, diarrheal diseases, and respiratory infections alone. The majority of these deaths are in low-to-middle-income countries, where an estimated 700 million people still live in extreme poverty. 

Efforts to help: We’ve taken great strides in improving health worldwide in recent centuries. Just 200 years ago, about half of all children died before the age of 15. In the last 70 years, we’ve cut child mortality by 87%! Several evidence-backed nonprofits continue to deploy life-saving health interventions to further reduce premature deaths. For instance, Deworm the World has helped provide over 1.8 billion life-saving treatments for parasitic infections. The Against Malaria Foundation distributes cost-effective bed nets to prevent malaria—saving the lives of thousands of children and protecting 175 million people from infection.

Climate Change

The problem: In the coming decades, climate change will continue to wreak havoc—causing droughts, floods, famine, and widespread displacement. If current warming trends continue, up to 3 billion people could face chronic water scarcity and an additional 600,000 heat-related deaths could occur every year.

Efforts to help: Climate change continues to pose challenges, but the world has successfully tackled global environmental threats before. In the 1970’s, for instance, the ozone layer was significantly depleting. Several scientists discovered that CFCs were driving this and published their findings. Within a decade, the whole world banned the use of these materials, and the ozone layer has since recovered. Today, we continue to make pretty significant progress against climate change. Organizations like the Clean Air Task Force and Climate Policy Initiative are taking creative approaches to mitigating climate change—from decarbonizing the energy system to changing climate policy.


The problem: Since 2020, nearly 18 million people have died of Covid-19. As biotechnology advances, it will become easier and cheaper for anyone (including bad actors) to access dangerous pathogens, increasing the risks of much deadlier pandemics in the future.

Efforts to help: Humanity has already had amazing successes in tackling diseases. From effectively eradicating smallpox (the biggest killer of the 20th century) to developing a coronavirus vaccine in less than a year (which previously took about 10-15). To prevent future pandemics, biosecurity researchers at organizations like the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Nuclear Threat Initiative are actively working to influence policy, advance scientific research, and develop strategies to improve global health security.

Finding the best opportunities for you

Some of these efforts may seem exceptional, but above all, they’re strategic. 

All of these successes are the result of real people thinking hard about the best ways to tackle the world’s biggest problems. And while the world can sometimes seem awful, it can be much, much better—and you could play a meaningful part. 

What’s next?

This is the first article in our core career advice series. Next up, we’ll look at why some approaches to helping others are much more impactful than others.