Those of you who have been inspired, by The Girl in the Cafe or by some other means, to take an interest in the fight against global poverty might like to have a look at the following open letter I received from the well-known moral philosopher and activist Peter Singer:

Dear Penn State Students,

Is global poverty a cause that concerns you?

In 2009 I set up the organisation The Life You Can Save, to spread the ideas put forward in my book of the same name. The central point I make in the book is:

“If we could easily save the life of a child, we would. For example, if we saw a child in danger of drowning in a shallow pond, and all we had to do to save the child was wade into the pond, and pull him out, we would do so. The fact that we would get wet, or ruin a good pair of shoes, doesn’t really count when it comes to saving a child’s life.

UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, estimates that about 24,000 children die every day from preventable, poverty-related causes. Yet at the same time almost a billion people live very comfortable lives, with money to spare for many things that are not at all necessary.”

The Life You Can Save – both the book and the organisation – seek to change this. If everyone who can afford to contribute to reducing poverty were to give a modest proportion of their income to effective organizations fighting extreme poverty, the problem could be solved. It wouldn’t take a huge sacrifice. 

But first we need to change the culture of giving.

Research has shown that people are more likely to give if they know that others are giving. So I have encouraged people to publicly pledge a small percentage of their income to the most effective organisations that fight global poverty. 

Now I am looking to kickstart student groups of The Life You Can Save.

Would you be willing to join students across the world in starting a group of The Life You Can Save at your university?

By becoming the president of a The Life You Can Save group, you would be joining a community of people like yourself, who want to improve the world and save lives. You would be working with me to change people’s attitudes towards poverty and will receive a free signed copy of my book, The Life You Can Save. You will also get support and guidance every step of the way from the The Life You Can Save team.

Want to find out more? Watch our 3 minute video [see below] or check out Any questions? Email

To register your interest in starting a The Life You Can Save group at your university, please send an email to with the subject line “Interested in starting a student group”.

I am looking forward to meeting you,

Peter Singer


Now, before you send off your email expressing interest in starting a group here at Penn State, or (if you were so moved by the video that you have already done that) while you are waiting to hear back from The Life You Can Save with details, take a moment to reflect on the general argument that the video offers.
  • What kind of argument is produced by the comparison between the drowning girl and people suffering from poverty and starvation? What are the strengths of arguments like these? What are some of the weaknesses?
  • When someone says, “here is the short answer, for the longer version read my book”, does that raise any kind of suspicion for you? If so, what could you find out about the author or the book that might make you less suspicious? Are there ways to find these things out about Peter Singer and The Life You Can Save
  • The video assumes that the viewer will be somewhat cynical about what he or she is being asked to do. Why do you think that is? Why might a measure of reluctance be warranted in some cases that appear to be similar to this one? How can we decide that some particular situation is one in which our critical reflection is actually preventing us from doing something that we ought to do?
I would be very interested to hear your responses to these questions and to any others that occurred to you as you read the letter, watched the video, and thought about the real ethical challenges to which Peter Singer is calling our attention.
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