It shows that in countries with few doctors, an additional doctors will greatly improve the health of that nation. However, at a certain point ( about 200 doctors per 10,000 people), there is a minimal improvement in overall national health for each new doctor.
My guess is that the same principle holds true for pressing problems. If you choose to work on a problem that is already mainstream, with lots of awareness, resources, and human capital being dedicated to solving it, you will have a much smaller impact than if you would if you had chosen a more neglected problem (considering that all other variables are kept constant).
So for example, while improving the health of the developing world may have a huge scale, it is one of the least ignored problems. Your additional help will have an impact but for the same amount of work you could have more of an impact spending time building solutions for the United States opioid epidemic, a problem with a much higher score of being ignored but still has a relatively big scale.
Taking these four variables, I made a Google Sheet. I listed out all of the pressing problems that I could think about. Both big and small. For each problem, I gave a somewhat subjective rating on a scale of 1-10 for each variable. At the end, the problems with the highest scores were the problems that if solved (or improved) would yield the most social impact based.
From there, I sorted the pressing problems by score and choose to focus on the top six.
Why six? Sam Altman and a number of other influential folks advise that it takes anywhere from 7-10 years to build a successful solution to a problem. With my 54 years of life left, I will have 9 years to make a significant contribution to each of the six problems.
Here are the six problems that I determined will allow me to have the greatest social impact if solved or improved.
1. Early childhood education/literacy gap
2. Access to technology
3. Financial illiteracy
4. Preventative health care
5. Lack of beneficial welfare benefits
6. Lack of awareness for current problems, causes, and potential solutions
Now, it is important to realize that the world is moving at an ever increasing rate. In ten years, there is a good chance that many of the world’s problems will be very different. So, the reason why I go through these exercises is not really to create a 56-year life purpose or plan. It is to give me something concrete now that I can work towards. Every now and then I will be able to take another look, reevaluate my scoring of the variables and iterate on what projects I should and shouldn’t dedicate time to working on.
For the sake of the present and having a plan and path that I can set for myself to follow now, I took some time to think about what I want to get done in the next five years. While things could very well change in this time period, because it is relatively short, we can assume with some confidence the 5-year future will not be substantially different from today.