Over 100 ways YOU can make the world better
The world doesn’t have to be 💩
In December 2016 I resolved to spend more on charity than beer in 2017. I’d begun accepting terrifying speculations as inevitable — resource wars, fascist regimes, climate catastrophe, plastic oceans, Orwellian government control — and I’d felt sick to my core about the state of the world a few too many times.
I failed the resolution, but had a realisation:
Dread achieved not just nothing, it achieved worse than nothing. It turned me into a drain on myself and those around me and temporarily replaced all my motivation for positive contribution with hopelessness (melodramatic, but true).
So I looked for ways to make a positive impact.
Here’s what I’ve found since; the ones which intrigued me most have stars 🌟
Spread the word and add your own ideas in the comments.
- Donate a proper Christmas to a homeless person for just £28.18. This covers accommodation, a shower, clean clothes, health checks, advice and, most importantly, Christmas dinner and good company.
- 🌟 Choose Love. This is a new store where you can buy presents for refugees. You can choose gifts tailored to the arrival, camp, or future stages of their new life. Positive News have a good article about this lovely initiative.
- Ask people to donate instead of giving you Christmas presents. If you don’t want presents but people insist on getting you something, point them toward the above, or to the Oxfam store, where you can have things bought on your behalf like safe drinking water, a goat, or education for a child.
- 🌟 Ask for no disposable novelty gifts. If people still insist on getting you something, request it’s not wasteful. In 2012, only 1% of materials flowing through the consumer economy remained in user 6 months after sale; Christmas is a hotspot for easily-chuckable gimmick presents.
- Avoid wrapping paper. Most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable, and has to go in landfill. Re-use old bags and recyclable alternatives instead.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter over the Christmas period with Crisis. They have shelters all over the country, and roles range from general volunteering to specialist stuff like massage, entertainment, and catering.
- Open your door to someone less fortunate. Got a spare space at your table for Christmas dinner? Put a call-out on the grapevine and invite people to fill it. Welcome someone who’s lonely or far from home.
- Put the money you’d normally spend on Christmas cards in a charity tin. Send people an email or a text instead, let them know you love them but that you think the money is better spent elsewhere.
- 🌟 Plant a tree with a charity like Trees for Cities. Great exercise, and it’s lovely to see your tree grow.
- Save our soil with the Soil Campaign. We only have ~100 harvests left as it stands: doesn’t take much to see this could become quickly problematic.
- Conserve our grassland, heathland, wetland, arable farmland and coastal regions with a donation to Plant Life, to make sure they continue to exist.
- Donate seeds to the Hardy Plant Society, to preserve them and let future generations enjoy them.
- Plant flowers in your garden that are especially good at attracting bees and other insects, to give them somewhere safe to be. The Royal Horticultural Society has lists of such flowers.
- Give someone flowers through florists like Clare, who offer selected bouquets where 10–100% of the profits are donated to charity.
- Pick up litter in parks, on beaches, in streets, or wherever you can. Either through a group meetup or by yourself.
- Don’t litter. Hopefully this is obvious, but if you do drop litter: stop that sh*t now.
- Recycle. It’s so easy and it makes a difference. Help your local council climb the top ten waste collection authorities league table.
- Use a reusable water bottle. There is literally no need to buy a new water bottle every time you’re thirsty.
- 🌟 Use a reusable coffee cup. As above, and you get a discount in most places. Filter coffee at Pret is just 50p with a reusable cup.
- Offset your carbon emissions with trees planted on your behalf through a charity like Climate Stewards. Info on how this works and why it’s beneficial can be found here.
- 🌟 Switch to a renewable energy supplier. All suppliers’ energy comes from the same grid so technically you’re not using energy generated by renewables, but companies like Ecotricity and Good Energy contribute an increasing amount of renewable energy to the grid. A breakdown of the grid’s current status can be seen here: 18.9% green at time of writing.
- Install solar panels on your roof for free energy, or even for a profit if you generate more than you can use. Feed-in Tarrifs are government payments for excess electricity generated by solar, wind, hydro, or micro CHP tech.
- Insulate your walls for annual energy reduction equating to up to £145 in savings. You can also insulate your roof and loft, under the floorboards, behind radiators, and make various other energy reductions in your home.
- Turn off lights in rooms you aren’t in. You can reduce energy equivalent to £15 a year: not much, but as This is Money point out, “every watt of energy you don’t use is a reduction in carbon released into the environment”.
- Turn off the water while you brush your teeth. A campaign by Colgate explains that over 18 litres of water can be wasted if the tap is left on.
- Wash up in a bowl rather than under a running tap. Same logic as above, really. You’ll also save energy by not heating up a constant flow of water.
- 🌟 Prevent FATBERGS by not flushing wet wipes, cotton wool, and other sanitary products. Thames Water have a grimly fascinating fatberg primer which articulates well why we should avoid them.
- Use a cooler temperature for your washing machine. Washing at 30° is fine for most day-to-day laundry needs. So is washing at 20° if your washing machine offers it, and you could save enough energy to reduce running costs by 66%.
- Give blood. An easy, quick, and painless way to save a life. You also get a free drink.
- Join the bone marrow register. There are multiple ways to join, and your bone marrow can save the life of a matching recipient.
- Donate your organs. It’s macabre, but if something were to happen to you, your organs could save many lives. Sign up here.
- 🌟 Donate your body to medical research. The Human Tissue Authority state that you will be used in an “appropriate, respectful and well-managed way”. Uses include training healthcare students and professionals via anatomical examination, contributing to research, and more.
- 🌟 Donate your brain. This is a really meaningful way to contribute to research in Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and other dementia-based or neurodegenerative conditions.
- 🌟 Donate your genome..! This amazes me. It is possible to donate your entire genome for medical research, effectively immortalising yourself.
- Volunteer to cuddle drug addicted babies. Typing that sentence breaks my heart. A BBC article doesn’t mention specific organisations, but advises those keen to help “to look up local women and children’s shelters, which often provide services for mothers battling addiction”.
- Donate your computer’s unused processing power by downloading this program, and letting it run unobtrusively in the background. “These projects investigate diseases, study global warming, discover pulsars, and do many other types of scientific research.”
- Re-purpose old tech for asylum seekers and refugees through Solidaritech. Computers and handheld devices can these people to “resolve their immigration status, pursue studies and start their lives in their new country”.
Open source / Creative Commons.
- Proofread books for Project Gutenberg. They make books that have entered the public domain accessible to everyone. By signing up here you can make sure the books are uploaded freee of errors.
- Donate to Project Gutenberg. If you don’t feel like reading, throw them a few quid instead. You are directly contributing to the preservation and archiving of human knowledge.
- 🌟 Record audiobooks for LibriVox. This organisation create audiobooks of books that have entered the public domain: you can donate your voice.
- Edit Wikipedia, from small grammatical edits to large structural edits and everything in between. Editor info is here.
- You can also donate to Wikipedia. Self-explanatory, and everyone has seen the prompt. It’s easy to under-appreciate what a truly magnificent undertaking Wikipedia is: free, open source knowledge for everyone. Surely worth donating to.
- Donate to the Wayback Machine. These guys are trying to preserve an archive of the internet so that its previous incarnations are always available to see. It’s a cool project because you can see how far the internet has come, but it also needs money to survive.
- Contribute to the source code for open source software. If you’re tech savvy you can share your code on Github, contribute to projects like Wordpress, and help in many other ways.
- Upload photos to the Creative Commons to let people use them for free. All the pictures in this post are CC from Flickr or Pexels: a legal way to use quality images for free.
- Help kids learn to read with Beanstalk. 98% of children they support have increased confidence and enjoyment of reading.
- 🌟 Volunteer at a reading group with an organisation like The Reader. Bring people together, boost confidence, and share your enjoyment of reading.
- Run a reading group for non-English speakers. There isn’t a centralised place for this, but people I know have volunteered to host such groups at their local libraries.
- 🌟 Walk the pet of someone with a terminal illness with the Cinnamon Trust, so they can keep their companion for as long as possible.
- Let guide dog puppies board with you while they are trained. There are different types of boarding available, but all involve taking the dog to training in the morning, picking them up in the evening, and looking after them in the mean time.
- Have a hearing dog puppy or guide dog puppy live with you: give them the foundation for their life of offering support.
- Foster a hearing dog mum so she has a home while birthing litters of hearing dog puppies. Info here.
- Check out the other volunteer roles for hearing dogs and guide dogs: there are too many to list here.
- Rescue an animal instead of buying a puppy, kitten, or other baby. The RSPCA, Blue Cross, and Battersea are a few places to look.
- Adopt an animal for yourself or as a great gift. Choices include leopards, dolphins, elephants, gorillas, and tons more.
- Help pets being re-homed with one of many volunteering opportunities, from walking, to fundraising, to kennel cleaning, and more.
- Offer to walk the pets of an ill or elderly neighbour: you’ll have to talk to your neighbours for this one.
⚠️ Disclaimer: here be mild political views⚠️
- VOTE. People died for your right to do so. Politicians should be held accountable. You can get time off work to do it. Whatever your reason, participating in democracy is a privilege with real, meaningful impact. Check you’re registered and know when the next elections are.
- Knock on doors for your preferred political party. Using Labour as an example, you can find opportunities in your local constituency. Canvassing is important around election time: you will be trained and transported, and have a real opportunity to convince voters sitting on the fence.
- Hand out leaflets for them. As above, but with less expectation of conversation.
- Attend their local meetings. This is a great way to get involved in the discussion in your area.
- 🌟 Pay your f*cking taxes. They fund the emergency services, hospitals, education, pensions, defence, and myriad other things required for a stable, functional society.
- 🌟 Campaign for companies to pay their f*cking taxes. It is a travesty that avoiding taxes is seen as commendable in certain circles: we should be proud of being able to contribute to society. UK Uncut campaign in this area and offer support for actions.
- Write to your MP. They represent you, and are obliged to reply to your concerns. Find their contact information here and learn about contacting your MP here.
- Visit your MP in person. You can also attend your MP’s surgery to chat about your issue in person. Info here.
- Join a union. Collective action is controversial but, in my opinion, it shouldn’t be. It’s a way for individual voices in an organisation or industry to be made stronger. Find out how to join and the benefits of joining here.
- Attend demonstrations for issues you care about. Stick to the planned route, avoid trouble, don’t make trouble. A protest is a vital part of a democracy despite the tendency for trouble-making elements to do naughty things, and the media to report disproportionately on them.
⚠️ This section is aimed at employers. If you’re an employee, campaign for your employer to do these things⚠️
- 🌟 Pay the Living Wage. The Real Living Wage is calculated to cover the actual cost of living, and is higher than George Osborne’s hijacked attempt.
- Publish gender pay gap information. Even if your organisation pays equally, publishing the information lends credibility and momentum to the fair pay movement. There is a fine example here.
- Publish salary bands on job vacancies rather than saying “competitive”: this is a proven cause of the gender pay gap, and 42% of people surveyed said their organisations do it.
- Commit to having no all-male committees or panels or events: this is another way to reduce gender inequality in the workplace. There’s a pledge you can sign to not participate in any, either.
- Emphasise shared parental leave. It is theorised that increased uptake in parental leave relative to maternal leave will reduce the gendered division of labour.
- Offer good maternity and paternity policies. The government stipulates a minimum; longer leave is believed to let parents form stronger bonds with their child.
- 🌟 Pay your fair taxes and become a Fair Tax business. As above: you may do this already. If you do, flaunt it.
- Commit to not participating in modern slavery through the Modern Slavery Registry. Again: this doesn’t imply you do or plan to hire slaves, but you lend your voice to the movement.
- Partner with a charity. A company I worked with have a longstanding partnership with 1moreChild, for whom they’ve raised a huge chunk of money. It’s win-win-win for the company, the charity, and the people being helped.
- Pay for overtime or give time off in lieu (TOIL). Implementing unpaid compulsory overtime reduces trust and creates a less pleasant working environment.
- 🌟 Reduce energy consumption in office buildings: office lights left on waste the energy to power a home for 3 months. The Carbon Trust have a hugely comprehensive guide for saving energy in an office environment (register to view), and funding is available to help your efforts.
- Reduce your meat intake. In 2006 an estimated 30% of the world’s land mass was devoted to raising animals and growing their feed. Meat has a huge environmental impact. Cutting down is a great way to make a difference while still enjoying the taste and sensation of eating meat.
- Give up fish. Another 2006 study predicted that “at prevailing trends, the world would run out of wild-caught seafood in 2048”. Commercial fishing is damaging to fish habitats and populations: giving it up is a way to vote with your wallet for more sustainable and less damaging practices.
- 🌟 Go veggie. If you manage with reduced meat, try giving up completely. You open yourself up to a delicious and unexpectedly large range of new dishes, and vegetarian diets are correlated with good health (and despite what people will say, it’s very easy to get protein).
- Go vegan. The next step? Veganism, & forgoing all animal products. I’ve never managed this but I know many people who have, and have never looked back.
- Donate food to a food bank. The Trussell Trust report that the number of people in the UK using food banks is climbing. It was 913,138 in 2013–14; 2017–18 is 1,332,952. Most supermarkets have areas where you can donate food: get in the habit of buying a few things to donate with each shop.
- Volunteer at a food bank with The Trussell Trust or another organisation. Roles include distributing food, supermarket runs, warehouse management, and more.
- Donate food to PAYF cafes like the Real Junk Food Project, whose goal it is to abolish food surplus and food waste by intercepting food that would otherwise be thrown out, and creating safe, delicious, and nutritious meals. Customers can pay what they feel (PAYF), making the food accessible.
- 🌟 Compost. This is “the most environmentally friendly way of dealing with kitchen and garden waste”, and it’s easy. You can compost for your own use, or donate to a local allotment or green-fingered neighbour.
- 🌟 Host people through Couchsurfing. This is a community of people offering a sofa, bed, or bit of floor for passing travellers to sleep in. There’s a strong sense of community: conversation and shared experiences are encouraged in a way that similar paid equivalents (AirBnb) miss out.
- Host cyclists through WarmShowers. Like the above, but the community is geared exclusively toward touring cyclists.
- Offer your spare room for refugees or asylum seekers in need of accommodation through a charity like Refugees At Home.
- Go on a working holiday with the Youth Hostel Association. You get room, board, and the chance to meet like minded people in a beautiful setting, in exchange for “painting and decorating, garden and grounds work and cleaning”.
Listening and supporting.
- Answer the phones for Samaritans at night time. “Light up the night for callers by offering emotional support for people struggling to cope”.
- If you’re a student, answer the phones for Nightline, a confidential hotline offering listening and support to students. Volunteering info here.
- Offer supportive and non-judgemental listening for groups like The Listening Place, whose users experience chronic suicidal feelings.
- 🌟 Listen to and hear what your friends are saying. The Campaign Against Living Miserably gives great advice on what to do if you’re worried about someone.
- Provide companionship to an elderly person by participating in a befriending scheme. The NHS reports that “more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member”.
- Volunteer to give face to face support to women in the sex trade with organisations like Beyond the Streets.
- 🌟 Become an Appropriate Adult to safeguard the rights and welfare of children and vulnerable adults being detained or interviewed by the police.
- Get to know your neighbours. Looking out for each other and helping out with small errands is a great way to check in on people and foster community spirit.
Sharing skills and knowledge.
- Bring your expertise to a community by answering questions in the Stack Exchange network: niche Q&A sites where users vote on answers to crowd-source the best.
- Contribute to Wikipedia. Do you have a specialist subject? Why not look through their list of articles needing improvement to see if you can share your knowledge.
- Offer your skills pro bono for charitable organisations. I’ve done free web design stuff for local organisations; a small group I’m involved with benefited from free grant-writing mentoring, usually billed at £650 per day for larger charities.
- 🌟 Volunteer for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). This is heroism, in my opinion. Volunteering medical knowledge to save lives in countries and region where healthcare has been disrupted or does not exist. Non-medical roles are available too.
- Volunteer for mountain rescue. Keen mountaineer? Put those skills to very good use by helping people in precarious situations outdoors.
- Volunteer as life boat crew. Fit and experienced at sea? Put those skills to very good use by helping people in precarious situations at sea.
- Donate money to any of the charities or organisations mentioned above, either on a one-off or recurring basis.
- Donate time to any of the charities or organisations mentioned above. Many need help with general admin: the stuff that isn’t glamorous enough to excite potential volunteers, but is necessary to keeping things going.
- Join the board or steering group of an organisation you care about. This is a way to have a continued, meaningful say in their future direction and activities.
- Look at other ways to get involved with the charities or organisations mentioned above. Pretty much every one of them have more volunteer opportunities listed than were included in this guide.
- Do a sponsored thing. Could be a 5k run, a sky dive, a funny moustache, a month of sobriety, or pretty much anything. If you can convince people to donate money for you doing it, happy days.
- Shop through Amazon Smile and they’ll donate 0.5% of your purchase to charity. There may be an evil catch somewhere, but I couldn’t find it.
Some closing thoughts on the theme of making the world better.
A thing to bear in mind: a huge list of problems that need solving doesn’t need to be dispiriting. Sure, there are a lot of problems with the world. But for almost every single one of them, multiple people are working on solutions.
Two reasons to stay motivated, one from a particularly articulate Guardian comment:
A reasonable aspiration for all of us ought to be the creation of a society in which the number of people being bad exploited in all of these ways is steadily reduced. There have been times when the direction of travel was positive. This is not one of those times. I don’t think we should be complacent about that.
The second by a really great man who sang: “while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth”. He’s not here any more, but those words leave a beautiful legacy.
Let’s make tiny changes to Earth.
Thanks for reading, there are plenty more to come.
If you have any ideas that aren’t mentioned stick them in the comments below.