EA Meta Fund Grants - March 2019

post by agdfoster · 2019-05-23T08:55:23.292Z · score: 61 (30 votes) · EA · GW · 5 comments


    Grant recipients:
  Grant rationale
  (1) 80,000 Hours - $170,000
  (2) Founders Pledge - $110,000
  (3) Harvard University, the Greene Lab and Lucius Caviola - $80,000
  (4) The Forethought Foundation - $64,000
  (5) Operations Camp run by Effective Altruism Norway - $18,000
  (6) Policy research project run by Effective Altruism Geneva - $18,000
  (7) Tax deductible status project run by Effective Altruism Netherlands - $17,000
  (8) One for the World - $15,000
  (9) Rethink Priorities - $10,000
  (10) Book relaunch of The Life You Can Save - $10,000

This post contains our allocations and some explanatory reasoning for the grants made by the EA Meta Fund in the March 2019 grant round. This post was written in March, and was published on the EA Funds page here at the time. We wanted to wait until CEA had completed its due diligence process before posting our allocations on the EA Forum. CEA has now completed due diligence and approved these grant allocations. For future rounds, our approved grant allocations will be published on both the EA Funds page and the EA Forum only after CEA has completed due diligence.

Fund: Effective Altruism Meta Fund

Payout date: March 8, 2019

Payout amount: $512,000.00

Grant author(s): Luke Ding, Alex Foster, Denise Melchin, Matt Wage, Tara Mac Aulay

Grant recipients:

Grant rationale

In this grant round, we decided to write a mixture of larger grants to more established meta groups and smaller grants to fund both younger organisations and specific projects. We are actively looking for more earlier stage work to fund, but also recognise the importance of filling the funding gaps of established high-impact groups that are not yet experiencing significant diminishing returns. We believe there is significant value in experimenting with supporting one-off projects and younger initiatives, which is traded-off against increased uncertainty. We are keen to fund a variety of projects and expect to continue to write grants in this way in future rounds.

If there is a meta initiative that you would like us to consider for a future grant, please complete this form. A number of our grantees in this round applied through this process.

Below are some of the key reasons why we chose to make each of the grants. As with the previous grant round, these summaries have been written to explain some of our primary considerations and are not exhaustive. They are based on a series of conversations between the fund managers, incorporating our past experience, knowledge and judgement. While risks and reservations for these organisations have been taken into account, we do not discuss these below. If you would like to discuss our decision-making process with us further, please complete this form and we will put you in touch with the appropriate fund manager.

(1) 80,000 Hours - $170,000

Categories: Talent-leverage, Scale-stage

(2) Founders Pledge - $110,000

Categories: Capital-leverage, Scale-stage

We discuss these groups together because our reasoning behind both grants is largely similar.

80,000 Hours aims to solve the world’s most pressing problems by getting more talented people working on them. To do this, they carry out research into how talented individuals can maximise the impact of their careers, produce online advice, identify readers who might be able to enter priority areas, and provide these readers with free in-person advice and connections to mentors, job openings and funding.

Founders Pledge encourages founders and investors to sign a legally binding pledge to donate a percentage of their personal exit proceeds to charity. Once the pledge is realised, Founders Pledge supports pledgers to decide where to give in order to have the most positive impact.

  1. We believe 80,000 Hours and Founders Pledge are among the highest impact per dollar organisations in the meta space.
  2. We have medium to high confidence that both 80,000 Hours and Founders Pledge have been highly impactful and cost-effective in the past, and that they will be able to either maintain or increase their impact and cost-effectiveness in the future. We discussed our key reasons for this in the previous grant round, and we believe these reasons still stand.
  3. Both groups are going through a period of significant growth. As a result, their budgets have increased considerably and the room for more funding at each organisation is much larger than it has been in previous years.
  4. Neither group has filled their funding gap yet. Partly due to this, we expect marginal donations to these groups at this stage to have high additionality.
  5. We also wanted to highlight what we believe to be the most plausible major potential upside for each group. We believe there is some chance that these big upsides, while highly uncertain, represent a significant portion of the organisations’ expected value.
  6. For us, Founders Pledge’s big potential upside is that they could have a long-lasting positive effect on the culture of smart major philanthropy. We expect smarter, better informed donors to have many positive downstream effects.
  7. For us, 80,000 Hours’ big potential upside is that they could reduce talent bottlenecks in crucial, highly technically challenging cause areas. Reducing these critical bottlenecks would likely have an accelerating (and compounding) effect on progress in these cause areas.

(3) Harvard University, the Greene Lab and Lucius Caviola - $80,000

Categories: Information-leverage, Specific one-off

This grant will contribute towards funding two years of postdoc research at the Greene Lab at Harvard University, undertaken by Lucius Caviola.

  1. Lucius Caviola is a well-respected PhD-level academic, with a focus on effective altruism and long-termism. He has a strong reputation and an impressive publication record: so far, Lucius has published 11 peer-reviewed articles, including two papers in top psychology journals.
  2. Lucius has been accepted to work for two years as a postdoc researcher in psychology at the Greene Lab at Harvard University, run by the highly renowned professor Joshua Greene, on the condition that he can bring his own research funding.
  3. Funds will go directly to Lucius covering his two-year budget including research costs and mandatory contributions towards Harvard's own costs.
  4. We think that very high-quality academic research is a highly impactful activity in expectation. We discussed this in relation to our earlier grant to the Global Priorities Institute, of which Lucius is a research collaborator.
  5. While psychology is not as intuitive a target subject as economics or philosophy, at the higher levels it has been potentially highly influential. Steven Pinker is one notable example.
  6. We believe that where foundational researchers focusing on effective altruism have displayed excellence, they should not be bottlenecked on funding considerations wherever possible.
  7. This is a time-bounded, specific opportunity that requires funding to initiate and explore. We believe the value of information from this speculative grant is high, and that the project could have a large potential upside through increasing the quality and quantity of information available to address the world’s biggest problems.

(4) The Forethought Foundation - $64,000

Categories: Information-leverage, Early-stage

The Forethought Foundation works towards building an academic research field for global priorities in economics and philosophy. It aims to promote academic work that addresses the question of how to use our scarce resources to improve the world as much as possible, with a focus on long-termism — the idea that the primary determinant of the value of our actions today is their effects on the very long-run future. The Forethought Foundation is a project of the Centre for Effective Altruism, and works in close collaboration with the Global Priorities Institute at Oxford University.

  1. Much of our reasoning behind this grant is similar to that behind our grant to fund postdoc research, discussed above, and our earlier grant to the Global Priorities Institute, discussed here.
  2. In short, we believe academia is an excellent means of distributing important and impactful reasoning from very far upstream.
  3. We think academic literature is one of the higher fidelity forms of advocacy (this post covers the concept in more detail). Other forms, such as talks, blog posts and articles, tend to be less exhaustive, and even well-networked experts can miss out some considerations, especially in complex or nuanced reasonings.
  4. We think that getting thoroughly researched and well-written papers into top journals in such a way as to become cited by influential academics in the future is highly valuable. Academic literature has strong benefits; in particular, permanence and cascade effects.
  5. This process is also likely to be expensive and slow. It requires well-trained, highly skilled talent, yet only a few papers per year may be accepted into leading academic journals. We think that the potential large upside warrants this investment.
  6. We believe foundational research is also, crucially, one of the best ways of pushing forward the frontiers of our best reasoning about how to do good.
  7. The Forethought Foundation is hoping to raise funds for 2019 and 2020 during their current funding round, both to give them runway and to avoid having to undertake multiple funding rounds. This grant will contribute towards filling their remaining funding gap of £400k to £800k (the range depends on the number of programs they decide to run and the amount they decide to grant out).

(5) Operations Camp run by Effective Altruism Norway - $18,000

Categories: Talent-leverage, Specific one-off

This grant will fund Effective Altruism Norway to run an Operations Camp in Oslo, with the aim of upskilling promising talent and providing opportunities to test fit in key operations roles.

  1. 80,000 Hours has previously identified the unmet demand for operations experts as one of the biggest bottlenecks in EA. This is both a current and future challenge as EA continues to grow.
  2. Our impression is that operations at EA organisations is a high-impact career path that many people may consider, but few high-quality possibilities exist for candidates to test their fit and train for operations roles. As hiring mistakes are costly, reliable signals of a candidate’s fit and skills may improve the hiring process for both applicants and EA organisations.
  3. We expect this project could have outsized returns if the bootcamp is well-run and results in more highly skilled candidates applying to operations roles to which they are particularly well-suited. The event plans and curriculum could also be relatively easily transferred to other EA groups to repeat the camp elsewhere.
  4. EA Norway will be developing the application process, curriculum, projects and activities with advice from operations experts and managers at EA organisations. They have a clear plan to follow up with attendees to maintain interest and measure impact.
  5. We have a positive impression of the EA Norway team. We believe there is significant value of information to be gained from a sensible group trying to successfully run a project of this type and writing up their experiences.

(6) Policy research project run by Effective Altruism Geneva - $18,000

Categories: Information-leverage, Specific one-off

This grant will fund Maxime Stauffer and Jan Pieter Snoeij of Effective Altruism Geneva to conduct research on prioritization in policy-making, and write a research agenda on improving policy-making from an altruistic and scientific point of view.

  1. There is a vast literature on how to go about prioritization in policy settings. Through this project, EA Geneva aims to determine which prioritization models are most appropriate to apply under which circumstances. We believe this research is potentially promising.
  2. Their research agenda will cover the current evidence base and open research questions related to understanding policy-making dynamics. We think that policy is a crucial instrument to improve the world, and to our knowledge there is no existing thorough systematic write-up on policy-making and strategies to improve it. We expect that this write-up has the potential to be a valuable tool that could be used to inform research, career decisions and funding allocation.
  3. We have a positive impression of the EA Geneva team and of their approach to this project, based on both our own experiences and on feedback from others. EA Geneva will have two people working on this project full-time, both with a background in policy.
  4. One of the EA Geneva team working on this project will be contracted to the Geneva Science-Policy Interface at the University of Geneva to test hypotheses identified in the research agenda. We think this grant could have longer-term value through facilitating this future work.
  5. This is a time-bounded, one-off project. We believe that there is a significant value of information in making a speculative grant at this stage.

(7) Tax deductible status project run by Effective Altruism Netherlands - $17,000

Categories: Capital-leverage, Specific one-off

This grant will fund Effective Altruism Netherlands to obtain tax deductible status in the Netherlands for all GiveWell and Open Philanthropy Project recommended charities.

  1. We expect this project has the potential to increase the amount of capital moved to highly effective charities at a very low cost.
  2. During 2018, a Dutch philanthropist included a €10-15 million donation in their will to a GiveWell charity that had recently acquired tax deductible status in the Netherlands. Tax deductible status was a requirement to include this donation in their will. If EA Netherlands is able to achieve a similar result for other GiveWell and Open Philanthropy Project recommended charities, this would be an excellent multiplier.
  3. The project currently covers 35 charities. EA Netherlands expect they will be able to obtain tax deductible status for 75% of willing target charities within one year, and for the remaining 25% the following year.
  4. We have confidence that the EA Netherlands team will be able to run this project successfully as the group has previous experience of working on this type of initiative. They also receive advice and guidance from several experienced professionals working within EA.
  5. We expect this project to directly support the work of Effective Giving Netherlands.
  6. We are happy taking more risk for one-off projects as our grant is less of a signal to others, however we also consider this one of our lower risk grants.

(8) One for the World - $15,000

Categories: Capital-leverage, Early-stage

One for the World (OFTW) encourages students and young professionals to pledge at least 1% of their future income to highly effective charities working to reduce and eliminate global poverty. They support the creation and growth of chapters at undergraduate, MBA and law schools. Chapter leaders and student ambassadors encourage their classmates to commit to donating a percentage of their income upon graduation.

  1. OFTW has achieved impressive growth with a team that, until recently, has been made up entirely of volunteers. Since OFTW started in 2014, they have grown to over 1,000 donors and 30+ chapters at top undergraduate, MBA and law schools across the US.
  2. Since making their first hire in July 2018, OFTW’s growth has increased dramatically. The value of pledges signed in the first half of the academic year (July to December) is up nearly 500% year-on-year, from $70k to $404k. In the same period, the value of realised donations (from pledgers who are now giving) to OFTW’s recommended charities has increased from $67k to $110k.
  3. OFTW is planning to transition from their current volunteer leadership team to a full-time leadership team (more details here). Given that bringing on one full-time hire seems to have played a large role in significantly increasing the number of new pledgers they have signed, we have good confidence that this move will facilitate further growth.
  4. We have a highly positive view of OFTW’s advisory board and have been consistently impressed with their reporting and impact measurement. OFTW’s expenditure in July to December 2018 was $36k. After making a number of conservative adjustments and discounting to present value, OFTW estimate that every $1 spent will result in $11 worth of donations to GiveWell-level charities.
  5. Members donate to GiveWell-recommended charities through OFTW’s online platform, which allows them to accurately track donations and measure progress. This level of visibility is unusual among pledge groups; many have to rely on asking their pledgers where they donated.
  6. Until recently, OFTW has been fully funded. However, they currently have a modest funding gap of ~$17,500 in their 2018-20 budget, as a result of increased chapter costs due to faster-than-expected growth and a small increase in operational costs. This grant will contribute towards filling that funding gap.

(9) Rethink Priorities - $10,000

Categories: Information-leverage, Early-stage

Rethink Priorities is a cause prioritisation research group that focuses on neglected cause areas. Their research agenda is currently focused on how to apply cost-effectiveness frameworks to uncertain domains, interventions aimed at animals welfare and understanding EA movement growth. Rethink Priorities is a project of Rethink Charity.

  1. In general, we believe well-executed cause prioritisation research is highly valuable. We want to encourage groups to enter the field with a variety of exploratory strategies, while also minimising and mitigating downside risks.
  2. We have a neutral-to-positive impression of the research published by Rethink Priorities that we have reviewed, although we have not reviewed all of their current research in detail.
  3. Rethink Priorities’ research agenda and approach are still in the very early stages, and they expect these may change significantly as they grow and learn. We view their willingness to adapt as they learn favourably and we have been impressed with their responsiveness to feedback so far.
  4. We think that there is significant value in making this grant for exploratory purposes, as we believe that the idea and the team behind Rethink Priorities are potentially promising and we want to encourage ourselves and others to investigate their work further.
  5. We expect there is particular value in Rethink Priorities undertaking commissioned research into neglected areas, where there is a specific need for independent evaluation. Rethink Priorities expect commissioned research projects to be a strong part of the work they take on in the future.
  6. In addition to evaluation-level research, Rethink Priorities has the potential to act as a talent pipeline and provide valuable training, especially as future capacity for EA philanthropic advisory. We see this as significantly offsetting the risk of the group's written work having minimal readership or not causing behavioural change, and so having low impact.
  7. Rethink Priorities currently have a funding gap of $120k in their 2019 budget and this grant will contribute towards filling that gap. They intend to continue their focus on animal welfare research in 2019, and cover other areas such as improving mental health, strengthening the EA movement, reducing catastrophic risks, and improving the long-term future.

(10) Book relaunch of The Life You Can Save - $10,000

Categories: Information-leverage, Specific one-off

The Life You Can Save (TLYCS) is the name of both a book by Peter Singer and an independent charity of which Peter Singer is the founder and board chair. This grant will fund Peter Singer and the organisation TLYCS to launch and promote an updated 10th anniversary edition of the book, including free ebooks, audiobooks and publication in new markets.

  1. It seems that a significant number of people initially learnt about effectiveness principles through Peter Singer and his book, The Life You Can Save, although we have not attempted to estimate the impact quantitatively. In the past, GiveWell have many of their users find them through Peter Singer. From 2013-18, GiveWell received ~$21 million from donors who were referred by Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.
  2. We are uncertain about the probability that the book relaunch will be successful, but we think it has the potential to be highly impactful if it does succeed.
  3. This project has an immediate, one-off funding requirement. We think this is an unusual funding opportunity that has the potential to promote effectiveness principles to a wide audience. The 10th anniversary edition of the book will include updates from the original version, and free ebook and audiobook versions will be available. Peter Singer is already a well-known figure and we expect this could contribute to making the book launch a success.
  4. This funding is conditional on TLYCS raising the remainder of the project's funding requirement.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Ben_West · 2019-05-30T15:35:43.552Z · score: 29 (10 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this up!

Question about One for the World: the average American donates about 4% of their income to charity. 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?

comment by Jon_Behar · 2019-06-02T23:13:13.305Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Copying something I wrote [EA · GW] in response to a similar question about OFTW:

FWIW, I don’t think [the average giving level] is a great reference point. The 2015 Money for Good study found a median gift of ~.4% of income in their sample (which overweighted high income households), and 1% giving would be something like to top quintile. So getting young people to (initially) donate 1% to effective causes seems like an excellent win.

(I work at TLYCS, OFTW’s fiscal sponsor).

comment by Denkenberger · 2019-06-07T06:42:00.686Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Very interesting! This highlights a number of issues. They mention 2% of GDP is charity. But I believe not all GDP shows up as gross household income. And typically EAs use pretax income (adjusted gross income in the United States), which is lower than gross household income. Some surveys use "disposable income", which is probably even lower than pretax income. So there could easily be a factor of two difference here, and indeed this study found 3.6% average giving (though it was only of people with household income greater than $80,000 per year). There is also the question of whether mean % donations should be person-weighted or donation-weighted (the latter would agree with the GDP number better). But in other studies, I think I've seen that even in low income groups, average giving is still over 1%. Some have even claimed that higher income people give a lower percent of their money, but I am skeptical of this. So I'm not sure what's going on here.

comment by jpaddison · 2019-05-23T17:59:25.282Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

The link to the rethink priorities team 404s. It should be this: https://www.rethinkpriorities.org/our-team

comment by agdfoster · 2019-06-12T10:49:28.418Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for flagging, now updated