AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell

post by ElieHassenfeld · 2020-03-17T02:38:52.167Z · score: 28 (14 votes) · EA · GW · 33 comments

Contents

    Please try to post your questions by 6:00 pm PDT on Wednesday, March 18th. That's when Elie will record his video.
  About Elie
None
32 comments

Note: Aaron Gertler, a Forum moderator, is posting this with Elie's account. (That's why the post is written in the third person.)

 

This is a Virtual EA Global AMA: several people will be posting AMAs on the Forum, then recording their answers in videos that will be broadcast at the Virtual EA Global event [EA · GW] this weekend.

Please try to post your questions by 6:00 pm PDT on Wednesday, March 18th. That's when Elie will record his video.

 

About Elie

Elie Hassenfeld is the CEO of GiveWell, which he co-founded in 2007 alongside Holden Karnofsky. He also helps to set the strategy and oversee the work of Open Philanthropy, and chairs EA Funds' Global Health and Development Fund.

Before launching GiveWell, Elie graduated from Columbia University with a degree in religion and spent several years in the hedge fund industry.

33 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Halstead · 2020-03-17T17:54:46.808Z · score: 23 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What do you make of Lant Pritchett's arguments against the RCT-based approach to development, and for focusing on national development?

comment by Halstead · 2020-03-18T10:24:15.247Z · score: 16 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

GiveWell seems to be unusually well run.

  • What are your top organisation, management and strategy tips? Research management tips would be especially useful
  • Allocating time to research is a difficult optimal stopping problem - how do your researchers decide when they should stop researching a particular question or subquestion?
comment by Derek · 2020-03-19T13:01:06.802Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you think adopting subjective wellbeing as your primary focus would materially affect your recommendations?

In particular:

(a) Would using SWB as the primary outcome measure in your cost-effectiveness analysis change the rank ordering of your current top charities in terms of estimated cost-effectiveness?

(b) If it did, would that affect the ranking of your recommendations?

(c) Would it likely cause any of your current top charities to no longer be recommended?

(d) Would it likely cause the introduction of other charities (such as ones focused on mental health) into your top charity list?

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-03-18T10:08:20.023Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

You and Holden Karnofsky have worked together on GiveWell and Open Philanthropy for more than twelve years at this point. I'm really interested in this partnership, which may be unique within the EA movement in its longevity and the scale of what you've accomplished together.

One element of a good partnership is that partners often have complementary strengths.

What are some things you do well or enjoy doing that aren't in Holden's wheelhouse?

What are some things Holden does well or enjoys doing that aren't in your wheelhouse?

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2020-03-17T15:30:52.134Z · score: 13 (9 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Since GiveWell has been founded, a lot of the EA movement has drifted away from global health and economic development as a cause area. What do you think of that?

comment by MichaelPlant · 2020-03-19T14:05:01.683Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Relatedly, what do you say to donors to wonder if their money would be better spent on (a) the long-term or (b) animal welfare?

comment by Khorton · 2020-03-18T02:51:15.722Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

You started hiring people to look into policy interventions last year, right? How's that going?

comment by Linch · 2020-03-17T05:00:47.526Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you have thoughts on whether there are public health funding opportunities [EA · GW] (particularly those aimed at the developing world) in COVID-19 that are plausibly on par with Givewell's current top charities?

comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-03-17T18:33:43.688Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What kind of research do you think could change GiveWell's recommendations most?

comment by Misha_Yagudin · 2020-03-17T09:03:20.307Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What have you changed your mind on recently?

comment by Derek · 2020-03-18T21:46:20.442Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

How likely is it that GiveWell will ultimately (e.g. over a 100-year or 10,000-year period) do more harm than good? If that happens, what is the most likely explanation?

comment by Louis_Dixon (bdixon) · 2020-03-18T13:35:02.898Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

In a blog from 2019, Kimberly Huynh from the GiveWell team mentioned they were intending to do further research on climate change mitigation. At present it seems to be that only Founders Pledge is doing this research. Is climate change something GiveWell is looking into more generally?

comment by Linch · 2020-03-18T06:44:25.452Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you think it makes sense for EAs to treat global health and economic development as the same cause area, given that they seem to be two somewhat separate fields with different metrics, different theories of change, different institutions etc?


(I may not be formulating this question correctly).

comment by MichaelPlant · 2020-03-19T14:22:26.557Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

To what extent does GW base its recommendations of cost-effectiveness estimates?

Some parts of the GW website seem to argue (or caution) against using them.* However, if you're not using cost-effectiveness estimates, what criterion is being used instead?

For what it's worth, I think GW (and many others) should be trying to use cost-effectiveness estimates. One can distinguish implicit vs explicit estimates, 'naive' vs 'sophisticated' estimates, estimates of 'direct' effects vs total effects, so maybe GW objects to some of these but not others, and it would be helpful to know which ones.

*In an old (2011) blog post, Holden wrote

"we are arguing that focusing on directly estimating cost-effectiveness is not the best way to maximize cost-effectiveness"

and the cost-effectiveness part of GW website says

"We do not make charity recommendations solely on the basis of cost-effectiveness calculations "

comment by Ben_West · 2020-03-18T02:28:28.962Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

One for the World was incubated by GiveWell and received a sizable grant from the GH&D Fund.

The average American donates about 4% of their income to charity. (Some discussion about whether this is the correct number here [EA(p) · GW(p)]). Given this, asking people to pledge 1% seems a bit odd – almost like you are asking them to decrease the amount they donate.

One benefit of OFTW is that they are pushing GiveWell-recommended charities, but this seems directly competitive with TLYCS, which generally suggests people pledge 2-5% (the scale adjusts based on your income).

It's also somewhat competitive with the Giving What We Can pledge, which is a cause-neutral 10%.

I'm curious what you see as the benefits of OftW over these alternatives? I'm also curious if you have visibility into your forecasts (namely, whether they will move 1-2x the money to top charities as they received in support this year)?

(This question mostly taken from here [EA(p) · GW(p)].)

comment by Ben_West · 2020-03-18T02:21:34.450Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The GH&D Fund on EA Funds is unusual in that it almost exclusively gives large ($500k+) grants. The other funds regularly give $10-50k grants.

Do you think there is an opportunity for smaller funders in the GH&D space? Do you think there are economies of scale or other factors which make larger grants more useful in the GH&D space than in other cause areas?

comment by Misha_Yagudin · 2020-03-17T21:17:56.747Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What do you think an EAG attendee is likely getting wrong about global health and poverty?

comment by Misha_Yagudin · 2020-03-17T21:16:52.363Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What do you think an EAG attendee is likely getting wrong about GiveWell?

comment by lucy.ea8 · 2020-03-18T04:20:40.304Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Developing countries are very patriarchal, e.g. China, India have a distorted gender ratio at birth, women/girls lag in access to health care, education, power etc..

Given this, as far as I know GiveWell charities don't have a gender lens, neither do your reports talk much about gender.

Do you think a gender focus would be useful? If yes, why has this not been done.

If not, then why not?

comment by Derek · 2020-03-19T15:43:02.106Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you think GiveWell top charities are the best of all current giving opportunities? If so, what is the next best opportunity?

comment by juliette · 2020-03-18T14:53:26.889Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

How much leverage do you think is created (if any) when a new charity joins the list of GiveWell's top charities (in terms of total amount of funding allocated to all of them based on your recommendation)?

comment by Derek · 2020-03-18T21:37:21.469Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

A recent post [EA · GW] on this forum (one of the most upvoted of all time) argued that "randomista" development projects like GiveWell's top charities are probably less cost-effective than projects to promote economic growth. Do you have any thoughts on this?

comment by Tanor85 · 2020-03-18T13:09:41.371Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The most cost effective way to save a life has long been Malaria prevention. At this moment in time, is it more cost effective to save lives via COVID-19 prevention measures?

For example: buying facebook ads to convince people to stay home; or perhaps paying people in Bangladesh 1$ a day to stay home.

comment by RandomEA · 2020-03-18T04:56:33.021Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Has your thinking about donor coordination evolved since 2016, and if so, how? (My main motivation for asking is that this issue is the focus of a chapter in a recent book on philosophical issues in effective altruism though the chapter appears to be premised on this blog post, which has an update clarifying that it has not represented GiveWell's approach since 2016.)

comment by Ben_West · 2020-03-18T02:31:30.395Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

GiveWell hired a VP of Marketing last fall. Do you have any insights from marketing GW that would be applicable to other EA organizations? Are there any surprising ways in which the marketing you are doing is different from "traditional" marketing?

comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-03-17T19:07:42.261Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Which views, both ethical and empirical, do you think (should) lead most to prioritizing global health and poverty over other causes?

comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-03-17T18:32:47.779Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

How much longer do you expect GiveWell's current top charities to remain top charities? How many more new top charities do you expect to see (each year or over the next few years, say)?

comment by NunoSempere · 2020-03-19T15:51:36.889Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is there a point at which "maximizing total impact" and "doing the most cost-effective things" start being subtly different? How does it look like when that happens?

comment by RandomEA · 2020-03-18T03:54:47.899Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

(This comment assumes GiveWell would broadly agree with a characterization of its worldview as consequentialist.) Do you agree with the view that, given moral uncertainty, consequentialists should give some weight to non-consequentialist values? If so, do you think GiveWell should give explicit weight to the intrinsic value of gender equality apart from its instrumental value? And if yes, do you think that, in consider the moral views of the communities that GiveWell operates in, it would make sense to give substantially more weight to the views of women than of men on the value of gender equality?

comment by lucy.ea8 · 2020-03-22T20:49:03.244Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Answer from Elie Hassenfeld source

Q) On Gender Inequality, reproductive health, etc., GiveWell hasn’t done much work on this. Do you see gender equality as having intrinsic value? What are your thoughts on women’s empowerment?

A)

  • We’re broadly consequentialist in the giving that we do - focused on the direct impact on the world
  • We take that utilitarian perspective rather than the philosophical value of justice or helping the least
  • Focusing on equality per se has not been a focus for that reason
  • We could treat this differently by seeing gender inequality as an intrinsic value, rather than just an instrumental value.
  • Within the broader framework, we could treat it as an intrinsic value
  • It’s been a major challenge to weigh different good outcomes that charities do
    • Some charities improve health, some improve well-being
    • We try to solve this by using moral weights, to compare the good achieved by different charitable outcomes
    • These are things that we don’t have the right answers, and our approach to answer these have evolved over time
    • We used to take the median of what staff believe, to IDInsight to hear from beneficiaries on what they value
    • We now have a part of our team assigned to these questions, to decide which outcomes would have intrinsic weight
  • On reproductive health specifically, we’ve looked into that, and we couldn’t find charities that are competitive with our top charities
    • That’s still in the scope of where we’ll look into
comment by RandomEA · 2020-03-23T14:55:46.518Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Lucy! Readers should note that Elie's answer is likely partly addressed to Lucy's question [EA(p) · GW(p)].