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The Five Plus Project owes its existence to Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save. Singer is an Australian moral philosopher with a chair at Princeton University. Thomas Nagel has described him as ‘an important figure in moral philosophy’ who has had ‘a larger practical impact on the world than any other philosopher of our time’. In The Life You Can Save, Singer offers a compelling case for wealthy people to give, and give generously, to reduce the poverty of others or alleviate its effects.
Hugh Corder and Anton Fagan are professors in the Law Faculty of the University of Cape Town. Their academic interests span constitutional law, administrative law, the law of delict and legal philosophy. After reading The Life You Can Save they decided that, given the extent of poverty and inequality in South Africa, they should start a project aimed at achieving the general moral objectives set out in The Life You Can Save, but with a specific South African focus. So the Five Plus Project was conceived.
The first step was to recruit a group of founder members. Over a two-month period, about 300 friends, colleagues, and acquaintances were approached. The response was overwhelming. 120 agreed to take the Pledge. That is an incredibly high acceptance rate of 40%. Some declined, but generally after expressing their support for the Project and wishing it well. Many of those approached provided invaluable suggestions as to how to fine-tune the Project. The final wording of the Pledge and the answers to the FAQs owe a great deal to this input.
The Five Plus Project was publicly launched on 17 March 2014, with an op-ed in Business Day (privileged-south-africans-join-hands-to-help-the-poor) and this website.There were subsequent op-eds and reports concerning the Project in The Cape Times, Die Burger, City Press, GroundUp (what-you-can-do-reduce-poverty), and The South African (five-plus-project-supporting-the-fight-against-inequality-in-south-africa). In an interview with Die Burger, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu praised the Project and encouraged all South Africans to support it. Peter Singer has also endorsed the Project:
"All of us who are fortunate enough to have money to spare have a responsibility to use some of it to save lives and reduce suffering. I'm delighted that the Five Plus Project is encouraging people to pledge to use some of their income/wealth to help people living in extreme poverty."
By the end of the Project's first year, its membership had more than doubled, to almost 280. It is critical to keep this momentum going. With 280 members, the Project made a meaningful difference. But imagine how great a difference it will make with a membership of 5000 or 10 000! So please take the Pledge and encourage your family, your friends, and your associates to take it too.
It would be great if the Project’s membership could be as diverse as possible. The group of founder members showed a bias towards the legal and academic professions, and towards Cape Town and UCT. This was neither planned nor desired, but was rather a by-product of Hugh Corder and Anton Fagan’s professional and geographic situation.
The Five Plus Project is not linked to any political party, religion or other grouping. Its membership is open to all, regardless of political, religious or other affiliation.
Poverty in South Africa will not be eliminated by the kind of giving which the Five Plus Project requires. Many other interventions are needed, involving not only private individuals but also public institutions, and tackling not only poverty’s consequences but also its causes. The Five Plus Project is not meant to replace such interventions, but to supplement them.